Miami, FL (SportsNetwork.com) – The Marshall Thundering Herd have broken into
the nation’s Top-25 after earning a No. 25 ranking earlier in the week. The
Herd will try to maintain their success as they travel down to Miami to face
the FIU Panthers in a Conference USA clash at FIU Stadium.
Marshall is currently 6-0 on the season – the only unbeaten team in Conference
USA and one of six perfect teams in the entire FBS through the first seven
weeks. The Herd made yet another statement this past weekend with a 49-24
defeat of Middle Tennessee at home on Homecoming.
After winning back-to-back games in conference play, the Panthers were downed
by fellow C-USA member UTSA, 16-13, last Saturday. FIU had been on an
offensive tear through those two wins, racking up 72 combined points, yet
could only manage 13 against the Roadrunners.
The two programs have met just twice on the field in their program histories,
with Marshall owning the 2-0 all-time series advantage. Their first meeting
came back in the 2011 season at the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl, and then the Herd
took down the Panthers last season, 48-10, in the regular season.
Marshall’s offense has been seemingly unstoppable this season, having scored
at least 40 points in every game in 2014 (the only college football team to do
so). And while the Herd keep on rolling as a unit, the team’s offensive
leader, quarterback Rakeem Cato, continues to pile up the accolades. Cato had
thrown for at least one touchdown pass in 38 consecutive games (and counting)
which ties the FBS record held by Russell Wilson from 2009-11.
“It’s a blessing to tie Russell Wilson,” Cato said. “I think Russell’s a great
quarterback; he’s someone I look at on my own time. I just want to thank coach
(Doc) Holliday and coach (Bill) Legg for putting me in the position week-in,
week-out so I can throw it to those guys.”
Speaking of records, Marshall has won 11 consecutive home games, and has
played 20 games of putting up at least 500 yards of total offense in the
team’s last 32 outings. Last season, Middle Tennessee gave the Herd’s defense
fits in an eventual 51-49 Blue Raiders victory. That wasn’t the case this
season, as Cato and the offense posted 589 yards, including 337 through the
air to down their conference rival.
Marshall is averaging 47.8 ppg and 594.5 total offensive ypg through six games
(both ranked second in the nation behind Baylor). Cato is the team’s main
offensive weapon with 15 touchdown passes to five interceptions this season,
along with five rushing scores. Running back Devon Johnson has gained 814
yards and scored 11 times through six contests, averaging 135.7 rushing ypg.
It’s an offense that seemingly can’t be stopped, and one that will certainly
give FIU fits.
With the mindset of the team’s defense, it’s no wonder the offense gets so
many opportunities to score. Linebacker Neville Hewitt said after last
Saturday’s win that the defense tries to set the tone and get to ball back to
Cato as fast as possible. It’s evident in the team’s 17.2 ppg average allowed
to opponents this season.
In six games, the team has forced 12 turnovers, is holding opponents to a 26
percent third-down conversion rate, and has recorded 14 sacks. Hewitt and
Darryl Roberts lead the team with 36 tackles apiece, while Hewitt’s five
tackles for loss is a team high. Defensive backs Taj Letman and A.J. Leggett
have recorded two and three interceptions, respectively.
“(I’m) excited about where we are at this point. This football team is a
special bunch,” Holliday said. “These kids like each other. They are fun to be
around. They care about each other. That is why we are good.”
FIU and UTSA played to a fairly even battle all the way through their last
contest, but it was the Roadrunners who got two late-game field goals to help
lift them over the Panthers. Offensively it was a fairly dull game, as FIU
could only manage 259 yards of total offense, which was largely led by
quarterback Alex McGough’s 141 yards through the air.
As a team, the Panthers are averaging 22.7 ppg through seven contests played
this season, and sport a bleak 175.7 passing ypg behind McGough, who has taken
over the reins as the primary starter under center. In seven games, McGough, a
freshman, has 953 passing yards with eight touchdowns against four
interceptions. His 48.2 completion percentage isn’t a pretty statistic.
Running back Alex Gardner leads a weak rushing attack for the Panthers, who
have just six touchdowns on over 264 carries. Gardner has toted the ball 112
times for 478 yards (4.3 ypc) with one touchdown. Tight end Jonnu Smith has
been one of the lone bright spots, owning 34 receptions for 411 yards and four
Despite the loss last weekend, the FIU defense was able to hold the UTSA
attack to just 16 points. In the last three games for FIU – all conference
matchups – the team has held its opponents to a combined 46 points, while the
Panthers have scored 85 points in the same span. Although the team has a
losing record, the defense has done a solid job of holding opponents to 19.9
ppg and 327.1 total ypg.
The Panthers lead the nation with 16 fumbles recovered – six more than the
group of programs knotted in second with 10 fumble recoveries. With 16 fumble
recoveries and eight interceptions, the Panthers lead the nation in turnovers
gained (24) and are fourth in turnover margin (plus-1.57). Richard Leonard
leads the team with four interceptions, while he and Davison Colimon are tied
for the team lead with three fumble recoveries each.