Marshall (3-2) at Florida Atlantic (2-4)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 12, 5:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: FAU Stadium (29,419) -- Boca Raton, Florida. Television: Fox College Sports. Home Record: MU 3-0, FAU 0-1. Away Record: MU 0-2, FAU 2-3. Neutral Record: MU 0-0, FAU 0-0. Conference Record: MU 1-0, FAU 1-3. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Miami native Rakeem Cato will return to his home state as the Marshall Thundering Herd hit the road for a Conference USA bout with the Florida Atlantic Owls.
Cato extended his streak of games with a touchdown pass to 23 last week as Marshall coasted to a 34-10 win over Texas-San Antonio at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The victory improved the Thundering Herd to 1-0 in league action, making them one of only three teams left in the East Division without a loss to a C-USA foe. Coach Doc Holliday's squad desperately needed to dispatch the Roadrunners after losing to Ohio University by three points and also to Virginia Tech in triple-overtime in its only two road games of the campaign.
FAU has a solid field general of its own to counter Cato in the first-ever meeting between these schools on the gridiron. Jaquez Johnson was named the Conference USA Player of the Week for his performance in the Owls' 37-23 win at UAB last week. Johnson accounted for 404 of the team's 579 total offensive yards and three touchdowns as FAU secured its first C-USA win. The Owls are still just 1-3 versus league rivals including their overtime loss to Middle Tennessee on Sept. 21 in their only home game to date. Coach Carl Pelini's team is not going to challenge for the conference title in its first season as a member of the C-USA, but it is only one win away from tying its 2012 total.
Marshall is definitely a contender to win the C-USA Championship due to its excellence on both sides of the ball. With Cato leading the charge, the Herd are pacing the C-USA in scoring (38.6 ppg), total offense (469.4 ypg) and first downs (81). The junior signal caller finished last week's win over UTSA with 279 yards and two touchdowns on 22-of-32 passing efficiency. Now in his third season as the team's starting quarterback, Cato is currently the program's all-time leader in completion percentage (65.3) and is approaching Chad Pennington's school records for passing yards, touchdowns, completions and attempts.
Cato has great chemistry with his number one receiver Tommy Shuler, as the two were high school teammates. Shuler has been one of the most productive wideouts in the C-USA with 38 catches for 419 yards. Tight end Gator Hoskins has only made 10 receptions, but his value as a red zone weapon has been made evident by his four touchdown grabs. Marshall's offense is capable of establishing the run as well. due to its tailback tandem of Essray Taliaferro and Steward Butler. Taliaferro paced the team versus UTSA with 58 yards and a touchdown on 14 carries.
The Herd's defense has soared to new heights this season under coordinator Chuck Heater. After ranking last in the C-USA in points allowed (43.1) and just two slots in higher in total defense (456.6) in 2012, Marshall is the conference leader in both categories with allowed averages of 278.8 total yards and 17.4 points permitted per outing. It limited UTSA to 254 total yards in its last appearance. Junior linebacker Neville Hewitt is an impact player for Heater and has registered a team-best 34 tackles with one interception.
Although FAU had an impressive performance against UAB's porous defense last week, it comes into its game against the Herd averaging only 22.2 points and 368.8 total yards per tilt. Johnson's spectacular performance came after he was forced to miss the Owls' prior game against Rice due to an injury. He is still netting only 188.5 total offensive yards per tilt. The sophomore is clearly a bigger threat with his legs, as he is the leader among the conference's quarterbacks with 263 yards and four touchdowns on the ground, despite missing one game.
Johnson is not the leading rusher for FAU due to the presence of Jonathan Wallace, who has amassed 418 yards on 82 attempts. In last week's triumph over the Blazers, Wallace contributed 105 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries. Jay Warren added 59 yards with a score on only seven rushes. William Dukes tied for the team-lead with four catches, which he turned into 56 yards and a touchdown.
The Owls played tough defense last week also, holding UAB to just 307 total yards. FAU has held four of its six opponents under 320 offensive yards and allows 26.3 ppg to place fifth in the C-USA in scoring defense. Adarius Glanton is the heart and soul of the Owls's defensive unit with a team-high marks of 49 stops and 6.5 tackles for loss. He has also registered 2.5 sacks. D'Joun Smith will be locked on Shuler looking to improve upon his season totals of three interceptions, nine break-ups and 12 deflections.
Johnson won't find as many rushing lanes against a Marshall swarming defense that was able to contain Virginia Tech's dual-threat QB Logan Thomas. Both of the Herd's losses came in games decided late in the fourth quarter against teams that seem destined for the bowl season. FAU's celebration of its first- ever C-USA victory will be short-lived unless Johnson can find a way to duplicate his elite performance.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 34, Florida Atlantic 17
10/09 10:36:18 ET