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Breaking Down the Gate Crashers: Marshall Thundering Herd

The Marshall Thundering Herd may be the longest of shots that have been highlighted in this collection of potential teams that could grab the at-large big in the major bowl games, more so than Louisiana-Lafayette. Marshall faces a difficult challenge: its schedule. It’s not difficult in terms of whom Marshall plays; it’s difficult in that the Thundering Herd has no chance for a win of any kind of significance.

The coaches viewed Marshall on a higher level than the media did in the preseason polls. Marshall didn’t receive a vote in the AP poll. The biggest challenge for the Thundering Herd this season is going to be gathering respect. Style points matter in this situation, because Marshall football isn’t going to be on a lot of televisions. The Herd will play two national TV games. Marshall has to put up lopsided numbers while plowing through Conference USA, but the good news is that the team should be able to do just that.

2013 Record: 10-4, Military Bowl champions

About 2013: Marshall opened 2013 as it should open 2014, with back to back 50-point outings in blowout victories. Adversity came quickly. Marshall went to Ohio, fell behind by 14 points in the fourth quarter, and was unable to rally for a victory in a 34-31 defeat.

The following week, the Herd rallied to give Virginia Tech all the Hokies could handle. The Herd gained a 21-14 lead that held deep into the fourth quarter. Virginia Tech put a 14-play, 83-yard drive on Marshall to tie the score. Marshall moved to the Tech 39, but a third-down pass was intercepted. Marshall had a chance to win in the first overtime, but a 39-yard field goal on a messy playing surface was missed. Marshall blew its chance in the second overtime inning, but Virginia Tech responded by missing its second field goal in overtime, this one from 32 yards. Hokie quarterback Logan Thomas punched in a 2-yard touchdown, followed by the 2-point conversion, to put Tech up eight. Marshall got down to the 14 on its next possession, but came up short.

Marshall was able to display late-game heroics against Florida Atlantic. Gator Hoskins pulled down a 41-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Rakeem Cato. Justin Haig, who missed a game winner against Virginia Tech, drilled a 41-yard kick as time expired for a 24-23 win. Marshall was on the losing end of a dramatic game the next time out against Middle Tennessee. In a back-and-forth firefight that was 38-35 going into the fourth quarter, Marshall rallied from a 45-35 deficit to take the lead, 49-45, with 2:29 left. The Herd’s defense couldn’t make a last-second play, however, as Tavarres Jefferson caught a 9-yard touchdown pass with no time left for the Blue Raiders.

The Thundering Herd started a string of six straight games with at least 45 points in the Middle Tennessee loss. The Herd put up 61, 56, 45, 48 and 59, all in wins, as they coasted to the Conference USA title game against Rice. Marshall had its doors blown off in that game, giving up nearly 500 yards in a 41-24 loss.

Marshall ended the season in the Military Bowl against Maryland. Marshall broke a 7-7 tie with an 8-yard touchdown pass from Cato to Hoskins late in the first quarter, and it managed to hold the lead until the fourth quarter. Maryland took the lead on a 2-yard touchdown pass early in the quarter, but on the next drive, Essray Taliaferro ended a drive by punching in a 7-yard touchdown run. Hoskins, who keeps getting his name typed because Gator Hoskins is his name, capped the scoring with his second touchdown. Cato threw for 337 yards and 3 TDs in the victory. Hoskins had 104 yards and the 2 TDs.

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All Conference Selections

Offensive Player of the Year – Rakeem Cato

Defensive Player of the Year – James Rouse

QB – Cato

OL – Chris Jasperse

OL – Clint Van Horn

WR – Tommy Shuler

DL – Ra’Shawde Myers

DL – Rouse

LB – Evan McKelvey

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Players to Watch

Rakeem Cato

298-of-499, 59.7 % completions, 3,916 yards, 39 TDs, 9 INTs; 294 rushing yards, 6 TDs

Highlight Performances In Various Individual Games From 2013

22-34, 253 yards, 5 TDs; 59 rushing yards

30-45, 366 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 30 rush yards, 1 TD

22-32, 279 yards, 2 TDs

21-28, 262 yards, 5 TDs

14-20, 276 yards, 3 TDs; 1 rush TD

33-58, 456 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT

241 yards, 4 TDs

17-28, 272 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT; 2 rush TDs

28-44, 337 yards, 3 TDs

Rakeem Cato had a laundry list of standout statistical performances in 2013. The yards per attempt were at a career best, the TDs were a career best, and the INTs were a career low. Yet, Cato’s rating was only .7 higher than in 2012. That reason jumps out when you look at his stats: 59.7 percent of his passes were completed. That was down 10 percent from his 2012 total. The rest of the numbers received a big boost, considering Cato threw 90 fewer passes in 2013, but the completion percentage has to be improved. It’s the main thing holding back his game… because what else could you say is holding him back?

Five of his INTs came in the losses, but that’s 5 INTs in four games, not one or two. It’s also 5 INTs against 10 TDs in those four games. That’s a fine ratio. Last season was the proof that Cato’s arm can lead Marshall to a lot of offensive success. His legs can also play a part if he is flushed out of the pocket. Cato’s worst game was in Marshall’s biggest game at Virginia Tech. In 2013, Cato proved capable of completing 48 percent of his passes and completing 75 percent as well. Cutting off the lows would make him even more the best quarterback in Conference USA. Rakeem Cato is on the short list of best quarterbacks you haven’t heard of.

Tommy Shuler

106 receptions, 1,165 yards, 10 TDs

Highlight Performances (receptions – yards – TDs)

9 catches – 67 yards – 1 TD

5 – 85  – 1 TD

10 -120 (Virginia Tech)

10 -76 – 2 TDs

6 – 100 -1 TD

9 -105 – 2 TDs

9 – 147

9-68 – 1 TD (bowl game vs Maryland)

Tommy Shuler has posted back to back 1,100-yard seasons as a Marshall starter. He and Rakeem Cato have established a connection that pretty much no one Marshall plays can stop. The low in receptions for Shuler in 2013 was five. The best competition didn’t slow Shuler down, and the worst competition couldn’t handle him. Health aside, there is no reason that Shuler shouldn’t put up even better numbers as he ends his Marshall career. He’s been a fantastic receiver, one I wasn’t educated about until I sat down to reseaerch this team. Hats off to ya, Tommy Shuler.

Chris Jasperse

Clint Van Horn

Jasperse is your starting center, Van Horn is the right tackle. Jasperse is a senior, Van Horn a junior. These two anchor a Herd line that is returning three starters. The third returning starter is the left tackle Sebastian Johansson. If Marshall is going to continue its high-flying ways, it starts with the offensive line. In Chris Jasperse and Clint Van Horn, Marshall has a very solid foundation.

James Rouse

39 tackles, 14 tackles for loss, 6 sacks, 5 QB hurries, 3 passes broken up, 1 blocked kick

The Marshall defense has a huge impact player back on the field in 2014 thanks to a medical hardship waiver. Rouse was the team MVP in 2013, and having him back in 2014 is a huge boost. His teammates love him, the coaches love him… and opposing offensive linemen hate him. In his first season at defensive tackle, James Rouse was blowing things up left and right like he was in a demolition crew. His blocked kick came against Virginia Tech to keep the game tied in overtime. Here’s hoping for what Rouse has never had at Marshall, back to back healthy seasons.

Ra’Shawde Myers

51 tackles, 5.5 for loss, 4.5 sacks, 7 hurries, 1 INT

While Rouse holds down the middle, Ra’Shawde Myers attacks off the end. Attack he does. The combination of Rouse and Myers put up 10.5 sacks on a team that had only 32. A rush end complemented by strong tackles is a rush end that is going to have success. In the case of Myers, that was true in 2013. Myers started 11 of the team’s 14 games. A full season of starting would give his numbers a little boost.

Evan McKelvey

97 tackles, 55 solo, 5 for loss, 0.5 sacks, 1 INT, 1 forced fumble, 3 break ups, 3 hurries

The most impressive thing about Evan McKelvey’s 2013 stat line is that he was a part-time starter with seven starts. He obviously played a much larger impact than the starts suggest. Only one player started all 14 games for Marshall’s defense in 2013. (Just a little fun fact.) Marshall’s defense is strong at the line and in the middle. When you bring back your returning leading tackler; your returning leader in tackles for loss; and your top guys at sacking the quarterback, that’s a tremendous foundation for a good defense. McKelvey showed off some cover skills as well as his natural tackling ability. That balance will be needed as the season moves along.

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2014 Schedule

August 30 – at Miami University

September 6 – vs Rhode Island

September 13 – vs Ohio

September 20 – at Akron

October 4 – at Old Dominion

October 11 – vs Middle Tennessee

October 18 – at FIU

October 25 – vs FAU

November 8 – at Southern Miss

November 15 – vs Rice

November 22 – at UAB

November 28 – vs Western Kentucky

CBS Sports Network Games

Ohio

Fox Sports 1 Games

Western Kentucky

ESPN3 Games

Miami University

There is no meat in this schedule. Miami didn’t win a game last year, Rhode Island is an FCS team, Akron had a losing record, Old Dominion is in its first full year of FBS competition, FIU and Southern Miss each won a game, UAB won two. FAU’s 6-6 record looks great by comparison.

All the teams with winning records in 2013 — Ohio, Middle Tennessee, Rice and Western Kentucky — play at Marshall. The better news for Marshall is that these games are all spaced out. Only Rice won double-digit games in 2013. The Owls are expected to finish second in the West. The team picked to win the West was North Texas, which Marshall is not scheduled to play.

If that path is not easy enough, Marshall plays the teams projected 2-4 in their division at home. This team shouldn’t lose a conference game. It shouldn’t lose a non-conference game. Marshall should go undefeated. The major question is if there is going to be any win on the schedule that offers even a little bit of quality. Going 13-0, counting the conference title game, would be great. Going 13-0 while not beating anyone significant would be hollow. Would it even be enough to get the at large spot? That’s the question surrounding Marshall. Will perfection be enough?

 

Rakeem Cato photo via NFL Draft Diamonds

Scott

About Scott

I write Bearcats Blog and also on the Student Section.

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