Saturday, September 22, 2012

Marshall Offense Re-Writing Record Books

Marshall Offense Re-Writing Record Books

In Marshall’s pantheon of offensive greats, Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich sit atop the charts. Rakeem Cato’s fast start to the 2012 season makes a case that he may well join them before his tenure with the Herd is up. In fact, Cato has already put himself at the top of single-game completions with his 44 against Ohio, breaking Leftwich’s record of 41 set in the double-overtime thriller at the 2001 GMAC Bowl.

Cato currently ranks 16th in total offense with 3,369 yards and 12th in passing touchdowns with 32. Chad Pennington holds both records with 13,048 yards and 115 touchdowns. Cato still has a ways to go, but when projecting the true sophomores averages forward, it is conceivable that he may indeed make a case to be near the top.

So far in the 2012 season Cato is averaging a staggering 422.6 yards per game (407.3 YPG in the air, 15.3 YPG on the ground). Cato has outgained 66 other teams so far this season. If projected out for the full 12 game season, Cato is on pace for over 5,000 yards of total offense. If projected further to account for 13 games in his remaining two seasons of eligibility (this projection assumes the Herd will go to a bowl game both seasons), than his total offense could reach a jaw-dropping 18,582.6 yards, which would easily put him at the top of Marshall’s all-time charts by a large margin. In fact it would put Cato among the NCAA all-time leaders and within striking distance of the NCAA total offense leader Case Keenum, who amassed 19,217 yards over his six-year career at Houston.

The young quarterback says humble though. It is not realistic to think that Cato will continue to throw the ball for over 400 yards per game for the rest of his career. But it is some food for thought when putting the young gunslinger’s record pace in perspective.

Speaking of records, one of Cato’s primary weapons is moving up the all-time charts as well. With his touchdown catch against Ohio, senior wide receiver Aaron Dobson now as 23 touchdown catches, tying him for 5th most all-time along with Cody Slate, Josh Davis and Tim Martin.

With one more touchdown he will move into a tie for 4th with Troy Brown (more on Brown later). It is possible that Dobson could claim 3rd all-time by the end of the season if he can eclipse Mike Barber’s 26 from 1985-88. Third is probably as high as Dobson can climb, as it would take a herculean effort to touch Darius Watt’s 47 career touchdowns or Randy Moss’s all-time record of 53.

Troy Brown was enshrined in the New England Patriots Hall of Fame during the Patriots home game against the Arizona Cardinals Nov. 16. After scoring once every eight times he touched the ball at Marshall, Brown got to the NFL the hard way, being drafted in the now non-existent 8th round of the NFL draft and being cut by the team several times before earning a starting role. When asked about Brown, Randy Moss once said “I always consider myself the second-best receiver to come out of Marshall”.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Herd vs. The Lone Star State

            It is well documented that the Herd does not have much success in the state of Texas to the tune of 0-8. This fact has not helped the Herd in Conference USA, which features 4 teams from the Lone Star State. 7 of the Herds 8 losses in Texas have come at the hands of Houston, Rice, SMU and UTEP in conference play. Though none of these schools are in the same division as the Herd, their inability to defeat the western division has  been a contributing factor to the Herd never truly competing for a conference championship since joining the league in 2005.


            The 8th loss in the state of Texas came in the 2004 Ft. Worth bowl against the Cincinnati Bearcats. This was the first game played by Marshall in Texas, more specifically at Texas Christian University, and is now seen as the bitter farewell of Head Coach Bobby Pruitt, who would resign unexpectedly the following spring.

            The bright side of this troubling statistic is that the record is reversed when Texas schools travel to Huntington. The Herd is 8-0 at home against schools from Texas, starting with a non-conference win over North Texas in 1988 (when the Herd was still a 1-AA school) and victories over Houston once and Rice, SMU and UTEP twice. The Houston game in particular, played in 2008, was of note because at the time Houston, as it was for many years, was the odds-on favorite to win the C-USA West division. Thanks to a huge effort from the defense, the Herd sent the Cougars home with a 37-23 loss, made even more remarkable when considering the Herd had lost three straight games proceeding Houston and lost the remaining four of the season.
            This season the Thundering Herd will only play once in Texas when they travel to Rice this weekend. They will also only play one Texas school at home when they host the Houston Cougars on November 17th.  Will the peculiar relationship between the Herd and the Lone Star State continue? Only time will tell.

The Herd roams to Houston to take on the Owls

In recent years playing in the state of Texas has not gone well for the Herd. Since joining Conference USA in 2005, the Herd has yet to knock off a Texas school on the road. Despite this curious fact, Marshall looks primed to win one in the Lone Star State this Saturday as they travel to Houston to take on the Owls of Rice University.
            The Herd will take on the Owls at Rice Stadium, the largest on-campus stadium in C-USA despite the schools small enrollment of about 6,000 students. In the three game series between the two schools Marshall leads 2-1, with the home team coming away with the win every time. Last season the Herd hosted the Owls in Joan C. Edwards Stadium, where it took 3.5 sacks from the departed Vinny Curry and 120 rushing yards and two touchdowns from then starting quarterback A.J. Graham to subdue the Owls 24-20. Though Graham has since left the team, there are none of the question marks surrounding the Marshall Quarterback position that hung over the team this time last season. This year Rakeem Cato is the man.
            Cato, a true sophomore who split starts with Graham last season, has been sensational for a Marshall team in need of something to celebrate. The Miami, Florida native has tapped into the energy of Marshall Quarterbacks of old, throwing the ball all over the field to the tune of 1,222 passing yards, the most in the NCAA. Cato has also managed to throw 8 touchdown passes against only 2 interceptions, a clear sign of growing maturity after Cato compiled a 15 TD/11 INT season in his freshman campaign. Unfortunately for the Herd, Cato’s gun-slinging has only translated to one win in the first three games.
            After a 413 yard, two touchdown performance against the West Virginia Mountaineers on opening weekend, Cato said that Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg had “unleashed” him and the offense. Cato’s success has been facilitated by a deep receiving corp. 16 different receivers have caught passes, including 24 catches and 247 yards a piece for senior Aaron Dobson and sophomore Tommy Shuler. The running game, however, has suffered. The Herd is averaging only 125.3 yards per game on the ground, including an abysmal 59 yards in a close loss to the Ohio Bobcats. Whether the ground game has been diminished as a result of Cato’s success or Cato has had to make up for lack of production on the ground has become a classic “chicken or the egg” question for Herd fans.
            Rice will try to check Marshalls Cato with their own quarterback, redshirt junior Taylor McHargue. Much like Cato, McHargue had to split time with another quarterback last season, Nick Fanuzzi. Also like Cato, McHargue’s competition at signal caller is no longer on the team, allowing the 6’1” 210 lb. native of Cedar Park, Texas to settle in and become a team leader. So far this season McHargue has completed a shade fewer than 62% of his passes for 619 yards and four touchdowns against two interceptions. McHargue has also shown his ability a duel-threat, racking up 206 yards and four more touchdowns on the ground. The threat of a rushing quarterback is not new to the Herd this season as Ohio’s Tyler Tettleton and Western Carolina’s Eddie Sullivan displayed many of the same types of skills.
            Defensively, however, the Owls have struggled. Through three games the Owls own the 119th ranking against the run (out of 120 FBS teams), as well as the 109th ranked defense against the pass. Opposing running-backs have been able to gash the Owls defense at will, compiling a staggering 7.2 yards per carry. Whether or not the Herd can take advantage of the Owls porous defense against the run will be a major factor in this game.
            Conversely, the Marshall defense has made great improvement after giving up over 650 total yards to the Mountaineers high-powered offense. Last week the Herd defense was able to hold Ohio to 399 total yards, fewer than Marshalls 491, in a losing effort. Safeties Dominick LeGrande and Okechukwu Okoroha, transfers from Boston College who have anchored the new-look defense. The two have combined for 56 tackles over three games and have brought a physical presence in the defensive backfield that had been missing.
            If the Herd is to win this game, the running game must show up in Houston. As previously stated, Rice has not been able to present much resistance against the run. This presents the perfect opportunity to not only gain yards on the ground, but to rebuild the confidence of the Marshall running-backs, who have to be disappointed with their collective 3.0 yards per carry average. Recent games have proven that Cato cannot win with his arm alone.
            From a Rice perspective, they must slow down the high-powered Marshall passing game. Though the gun-slinging Cato has only been able to win one of three games, allowing an opposing quarterback to throw for over 400 yards is never a recipe for success. Double-teaming Aaron Dobson is not the solution, as the Herd has a very deep receiving corp. Putting pressure on Cato and making him roll out of the pocket and make plays with his legs is the Owls best bet to slow down the Herd passing attack.
            Marshall is 0-8 in the State of Texas, but this weekend the Herd has a chance to put one in the win column. Rice’s porous defense is simply not strong enough to slow down the Herd’s air-raid attack and should give Marshall running-backs more lanes than a super highway. Rice will keep it close, but look for the Herd to prevail by at least a touchdown.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Assignment 5

The Bloggers Blogs

Its difficult to be a New England Patriots fan in West Virginia. It seems like it's nothing but Steelers with a sprinkle of Browns and Bengals. People accuse you of being a fair-weather fan for supporting a successful team a thousand miles away and you need to be up on your Patriots to stave off any such accusations. Seeing as how coverage is absent in the papers, on TV and on people lips, West Virginian Patriots fans need coverage from closer to the source. Luckily, ESPN has not one but two quality blogs to keep fans around the world informed about the New England Patriots 
     ESPN Boston Patriots Blog

     This blog does a good job of making the average Patriots fan feel like an insider. The writers, led by Mike Reiss, give the Patriots fan everything from feature pieces about players to positional analysis to practice reports. And, of course, with the resources of ESPN behind it, the blog is very trustworthy and chock-full of credible stats and information.

     Fan interaction is also a big part of the ESPN Boston Patriots Blog. They have the typical methods, such as fan polls, but also have a weekly mailbag series where the Patriots Bloggers (typically Reiss, but sometimes other contributors such as Field Yates or Mike Rodak) answer questions sent in by fans about depth chart issues, last weeks game, whatever is pertinent. This, combined with weekly podcasted chats with experts make the reader feel like they have an inside track to being on top of what is going on with their favorite team.

   The wide-spread readership of the blog is apparent when reading the hometowns of fans sending in questions for the mailbag. Of course there are plenty of New Englanders, but fans from as far away as Arizona, Austrailia, China or even deployed military personel trust the bloggers of ESPN Boston to give them quality, reliable reports and answers.

    ESPN AFC East Blog

     This blog, somewhat similar to the Patriots blog, covers the division in which the Patriots play. From a Patriots fan point of view, this is a less-focused blog that give you a chance to look at the competition inside the division (if you want to call them competition). It also gives the fan a chance to see the Patriots from a point of view outside of Boston.

     The main difference between the blogs (ESPN Boston and AFC East) is that the AFC East covers four teams rather than one. At first glance it would seem like with the exclusively Patriots blog on ESPN Boston the AFC East blog would be useless to a die-hard fan, but using them together actually give a more complete view of the Patriots.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

     Fresh off the annual Coal Bowl defeat at the hands of the Mountaineers, the Marshall football team returns to action Saturday against the Western Carolina Catamounts, an FCS opponent with a long-dormant rivalry with the Herd dating back to Marshall's days in the Southern Conference. Looking back at last weekends performance and forward to the showdown with the Catamounts, several things stick out.

1. What is wrong with the Defense?
     69 points. The Thundering Herd defense gave up 69 points to the Mountaineers, a number that is simply unacceptable. True, West Virginia has an overpowered offense that features a Heisman-hopeful quarterback surrounded by talented receivers and linemen led by a coach who isn't afraid to air it out. It is also true that this is the same offense that put up 70 points against the Clemson Tigers in last year's Orange Bowl. But it was more the manner in which the Herd gave up so many points that needs to be addressed. The secondary played coverage softer than a kitten's coat.

     Defensive Coordinator Chris Rippon will surely have his unit practicing tackles after it seemed like the Mountaineers broke at least two every play. By this point in his time with the Herd, we know Rippon will never willingly use zones closer to the line of scrimmage or, dare I say, man coverage. It almost goes without saying that the Catamounts are not the Mountaineers. Regardless, the Marshall defense must get their act together going forward.

2. No pass rush
     None whatsoever. Sure, the Herd sent blitzes occasionally, but they were a non-factor in the game. I don't think many Herd fans truly understood how much graduation had cost the defensive side of the ball until they watched Geno Smith sit comfortably in the pocket for what seemed like ages drive after drive. Not only was there no double-team demanding end like Vinny Curry, but there weren't enough big bodies to collapse the pocket, formerly the jobs of Delvin Johnson and Brandon Bullock. Jeremiah Taylor and Brandon Sparrow have the physical tools to be difference makers, but the on the field product has yet to come together for them. Once again, the opposition cannot be ignored and WVU had a very strong offensive front. But there were plays where Geno Smith could have literally sat on the field to tie his shoe, gotten back up and thrown to a wide open Stedman Bailey. Marshall needs to figure out how to disrupt the quarterback, maybe blitz more, maybe blitz corners, do something.

3. Return of Eddie Sullivan.
     For many fans the Western Carolina Catamounts might as well be known as the Fighting Eddie Sullivans. Sullivan was a short lived sensation at Marshall, making a push for the starting position in the spring before falling down the depth chart in the fall. Sullivan was suspended from the Fight Eddie Sullivans first game and his backup, freshman Troy Miller, guided the team to a 42-14 win over Mars Hill, completing over 69 percent of his passes and earning conference freshman of the week honors. Marshall fans would be disappointed not to see Sullivan playing at the Joan again. ""No bad blood towards Eddie," Marshall defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said Monday, "but when he comes in here we're going to rough em' up."

4. Rakeem Cato unleashed.
     At the beginning of the 2011 season, Rakeem Cato was a scrawny kid fresh out of high school playing in front of 60,000 very hostile fans in the season opener against West Virginia. He kept his composure however, completing 15 of 21 passes for 115 yards with no touchdowns or turnovers. This season, Cato looked like an old-school Marshall gunslinger, staring down blue and yellow blitzes and throwing for 413 yards and two scores. Cato completed 38 passes to 13 different receivers, including 6 for 60 yards and a touchdown to sophomore Tight End Eric Frohnapfel. The 413 yards were the most for a Marshall quarterback since Bernie Morris in 2007, and the 38 completions were the most since Byron Leftwich in the classic double-overtime Miracle in Mobile in 2001. The point is, Cato is legit. He has shown that he can put up numbers and lead the offense and should have a much easier time against the Fighting Eddie Sullivans in front of the home crowd. I admit, I didn't believe in Rakeem Cato when it was announced he would start as a true freshman. I wanted the taller, faster, more exciting A.J. Graham to start, and he got his chances when Cato had a rough start. But now Cato is worthy of the at least some trust from the fans.

 (Yes, yellow. WVU wears blue and yellow uniforms, not blue and gold. Georgia Tech wears gold, Central Florida wears gold. WVU wears yellow. I don't care what they say.)

5. Put Up or Shut Up.
     The Herd is coming off two 7-6 seasons and expectations are growing. Doc Holliday constantly adds talent through recruiting and transfers and fans are expecting a real step forward this season. Most fans acknowledged early on that West Virginia would probably beat the Herd, and accordingly picked the visit from the Fighting Eddie Sullivans as the Herds first W of the season. Part of being a good team is winning the games that you are supposed to. Marshall is supposed to win this game. When looking at the bright spots in the otherwise dismal performance against WVU, Marshall should win this game in convincing fashion as long as the proper adjustments are made (and perhaps re-teaching tackling to the defense.)

                                                                                                                     You've Been Thunderstruck