As most expected early and throughout the MAC conference, Marshall (2-0) has been lighting up the scoreboard picking up where they left off a season ago. Led by junior Rakeem Cato at QB (38/62 483 6 TD 1 INT), the Thundering Herd sports an offense which doesn't tend to waste much time hurrying up the tempo and gaining yards while scoring points against the majority of the opposition whether it be within the conference or outside. In week 3 Marshall pays a visit to Peden Stadium where they will face Ohio (1-1) in an 8pm EST rivalry tilt.
For Marshall, Cato threw for 4,201 passing yards in 2012 which was nearly 1,100 more than any other Conference USA quarterback. It was also good for the third most yardage in school history. His 37 touchdown passes last year were two shy of Chad Pennington's school record 39 set in 1997. One thing Cato is also fortunate he has in his backfield is a dominant running game which has gained nearly 600 yards in their 2 wins holding a 370 yard edge to their opponents. After crushing Miami Ohio in the season opener 52-14,Marshall somehow was able to schedule a cupcake in Gardner Webb whom the Thundering Herd shut out 55-0. The Runnin' Bulldogs managed just 184 total yards last week in what was a perfect tune-up for their defense for the conference opener this Saturday. Things could have gotten uglier had it not been for head coach Doc Holiday to call off the dogs in the 4th quarter. Cato threw for 230 yards last week and a TD while also adding a keeper score before yielding to mop-up time for Blake Frohnaphel late. Stewart Butler (26-258 9.9 3 TD) gained 151 yards on just 9 carries (16.8) finding the end zone 3 times. Tommy Shuler (14-152 2 TD) and Devon Smith (5-104 1 TD) lead a core of balanced receivers that leave plenty of options for Cato in the high powered mix attack.
The Herd have been better defensively this season under first-year coordinator Chuck Heater, who has plenty of experience facing Ohio. He was Temple's defensive coordinator during the Owls' last run through the MAC. The concentration is on MLB Jermaine Holmes who is known as the freak evident of his 5-11 243 frame. His combination of speed, size and strength could be motivation to get teammates like Alex Bazzie and Jeremiah Taylor to make plays this season that were overlooked in last year's 5-7 campaign. That led to the resignation of former DC Chris Rippon.
Ohio bounced back from its season-opening loss to the Louisville Cardinals, as it picked up a 27-21 victory over North Texas last week. In this battle of the bell Ohio will look to maintain their toughness at home and no doubt likes to play a lot more of a conventional conservative approach. Under head coach Fred Solich the Bobcats are led by QB Tyler Tettleton (30/53 379 2 TD 2 INT) who following a dismal performance in a 49-7 opening whitewashing at Louisville, rallied to throw for 195 yards and a couple of scores last week. He's been a lot more disciplined in previous matchups against Marshall, but you don't want to awake a sleeping Giant giving a defense that's struggled confidence by making mistakes. Tettleton's top targets (try saying that five times fast) include the duo of Chase Cochran (9-151 1 TD) and Donte Foster (8-115) while sporting Ryan Boykin (26-132 5.1 1 TD) and Beau Blankenship (26-105 4.0) in the running game. Ohio may need to establish patience in order to stick around to keep Marshall's explosive offense off the field. Also the Bobcats will need to be more effective on third down conversions where they have only converted about 30% thus far. The playbook could be open with some tricks up Solich's sleeve before the night is done.
On defense, Ohio will be without several key pieces. LB's Jon Lechner and Sam Johnson were both injured in the season opener and could be further undermanned with CB Ian Wells and OL Ryan McGrath trying to overcome injuries. What's more is that The Herd will likely play a lot of man coverage, in an effort to get an extra defender in the box to stop the run and bring pressure in passing downs against Ohio's young front seven and in the secondary.
So perhaps after two early season blowouts I wanted to adjust my focus on a more competitive matchup in week 3 as most conferences begin head to head combat. It's anybody's guess how these two contrasting styles will compare in the MAC opener featuring a battle of the bell conference rivalry, but it's tough to underestimate a surging Cato through what we've seen up to this point. Ohio will have it's hands full on defense under the circumstances containing the Thundering Herd's explosive offense, and making a statement early should lead to a fairly convincing win to start out the 2013 season at 3-0. Best of luck however you play!
YTD: 2-0 1.000