Huntington, WV (SportsNetwork.com) – The Marshall Thundering Herd moved up two
spots in the AP Top-25 Poll to No. 23 in the nation, and will try to remain
perfect this weekend as they play host to the FAU Owls in a Conference USA
clash at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
FAU has won two of its last three games, including a 45-38 edging of Western
Kentucky last weekend in Boca Raton. The Owls are 3-4 on the season, and
haven’t had back-to-back wins all year long. This will be the third time this
season the Owls have taken on a nationally ranked opponent.
Marshall trailed for the first time all season last weekend, when FIU
quarterback Alex McGough kept the ball and carried it into the end zone for a
7-0 Panthers lead. That didn’t phase the Herd much, who came back to defeat
FIU in the contest, 45-13. The team has scored at least 42 points in all seven
games this season.
These two programs have only met once before on the field, which occurred last
season. The Thundering Herd walked away with a 24-23 escape victory in mid-
FAU made a nice comeback effort against Western Kentucky last weekend when the
Owls trailed the Hilltoppers, 31-14, at the half. FAU limited WKU to just one
second-half touchdown while the Owls scored five times – four touchdowns and
one field goal. Quarterback Jaquez Johnson was sensational for the Owls by
completing 23-of-34 passing for 325 yards and three touchdowns. He added 95
yards and two touchdowns on the ground for a total of five scores in the win.
The Owls are averaging 24.6 ppg through their first seven contests, largely
thanks to the efforts of Johnson under center. The quarterback has passed for
1,323 yards and 10 touchdowns against just one interception, and has rushed in
a team-high five touchdowns on the ground. Johnson has found top wideout Lucky
Whitehead44 times this season for a team-best 436 yards and four touchdowns,
which includes Whitehead’s 125-yard, two-touchdown effort against WKU.
Take away Johnson from the running game, and the Owls have had some trouble.
Jay Warren leads the team with 83 carries for 435 yards, but the starting
running back has scored just one touchdown. In fact, Johnson is the only
player for FAU that has scored multiple touchdowns on the ground. The team is
rushing for 153.9 ypg, and has scored eight times all season via the ground
There has been a struggle defensively for the Owls this season, as the team
currently gives up 35.7 ppg and 465.7 offensive ypg to opponents. In five of
the team’s seven games played, the Owls have surrendered at least 37 points to
their challengers. That certainly doesn’t look good going up against one of
the nation’s best and most potent offenses, especially on its home turf.
FAU has allowed teams to score 20 times on the ground this season, so stopping
the Marshall run game will be the key (but don’t forget to stop Rakeem Cato).
Damian Parms (58 tackles) will be extremely busy trying to slow Cato, the
Herd’s dominant quarterback, while Andrae Kirk (52 tackles, four tackles for
loss) will likely focus on the run game. The Owls will need to put constant
pressure on the Marshall backfield if they want to be at all successful in
Marshall started slowly against FIU, trailing for the first time all season
and then going into the half with only a 14-7 lead. But the Thundering Herd
turned it up in the second half, and Cato became a national record holder in
the process. With a first-quarter touchdown pass, Cato broke the all-time NCAA
record for most consecutive career games with a touchdown completion. The
senior has completed one touchdown toss in 39 consecutive games, passing
Russell Wilson’s old mark of 38 from 2009-11.
Later in the game, Cato moved passed Chad Pennington for first place in
Marshall history with 120 career touchdowns responsible for, breaking
Pennington’s record of 119. Cato now has 19 touchdown passes this season and
1,912 passing yards for an offense that averages 47.4 ppg (second in the FBS
behind Baylor) and 574.9 offensive ypg (also second in the nation behind
“The coaches don’t need to say a whole lot at this point. (The team)
understands they want to be a great football team, understand what’s at
stake,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said following the win against FIU. “The
bottom line is seeing how your team responds to be able to overcome the
adversity. There was no panic. I thought our kids came out, worked in the
second half, and played like they have been playing.”
It’s not just Marshall’s passing game that is damaging. The run game averages
284.7 ypg, and has scored 23 touchdowns through seven games led by Devon
Johnson’s 11 touchdowns and 931 rushing yards. Cato contributes to the cause
too, having scored five rushing touchdowns himself.
Don’t forget the team’s stifling defense. Johnson and the Owls will find it
extremely hard to reach the end zone considering the Herd are holding
opponents to a 16.6 ppg clip. Only twice this season has Marshall surrendered
more than 17 points to an opponent, and only 15 offensive touchdowns have been
scored on the Herd in those seven games.
Linebacker Neville Hewitt leads the team with 44 tackles on the season, adding
in a team-best seven tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks. A.J. Leggett has three
interceptions, while Taj Letman has recorded two. They’ll be looking to force
Johnson, who has only one thrown interception this season, into making more
mistakes. Hewitt and D.J. Hunter (5.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks) will try to
collapse the pocket against Johnson to get him on the move. And to not let the
Owls have much hope in the first half, like FIU did last weekend.
“Games like (that) – it was tough at first – that brings us together and it
definitely will help us down the road,” Hewitt said after the FIU game. “We
haven’t had a game this close all season (in the first half), really, and so
this is going to help us honestly see where we are as a team.”