Wednesday, September 19, 2012

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment