With five seconds left in the first quarter, what everyone was waiting for happened with far less fanfare as people as hoped. Some were expecting some highlight catch by Tommy Shuler over the middle. Some were waiting for a 90-yard go route to a speedster like Angelo Jean-Louis. But off play-action, Cato found true freshman tight end Ryan Yurachek in the back of the endzone on a 1-yard pass. With that pass, Rakeem Cato took sole possession of the NCAA FBS record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass at 39 straight games.
As the Marshall offense took the field, it seemingly had one goal in mind. Get the record. Many fans who watched the game would say that it hurt the offense. Instead of letting Devon Johnson and Remi Watson establish the running game or connecting with Tommy Shuler and Eric Frohnapfel in the short passing game, Cato was letting the ball fly on every possible deep route. While Cato broke the record, his statistics failed to impress, with many incompletions on the attempted deep passes. Cato finished his record-setting day going 15-27 for 214 yards with 4 touchdowns and 1 interception.
When Marshall did run the ball, it was business as usual. Devon Johnson went over the 100 yard mark for the sixth time this season, as he carried the ball 9 times for 117 yards. Johnson's numbers are somewhat deceiving after Johnson's early 71 yard rush that set up the first Herd touchdown. Johnson's lack of rushing touchdowns was made up by increased use out of the backfield, where he had 3 receptions for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns. Outside of Johnson's stats, Marshall's other rushing star was Steward Butler, who ran for 76 yards and 1 touchdown after Remi Watson left the game early with a shoulder injury.
Defensively, the Herd looked very average during the first quarter. Marshall's defense allowed Alex Gardner to have some early success on the ground, primarily on cutbacks and counters. Marshall did much like they did on their run defense against Old Dominion, sitting back and letting FIU come to them. When Marshall began working on the run defense, Jonnu Smith had a day with yards after the catch. On their second drive, FIU drove 80 yards and scored their first touchdown of the game and was the first team to lead Marshall this year. After the first quarter, Heater dialed up more pressure on the FIU offense and manned up outside, forcing the Panthers to commit earlier and make mistakes.
FIU played the game they wanted to play. They established the run and won the time of possession battle almost 2-to-1. The Panthers' best defense was their offense, controlling the clock and keeping Cato and Johnson off the field. For FIU, Alex Gardner and Jonnu Smith gave the Panthers their best efforts offensively. Before he left the game with an injury, Gardner carried the ball 25 times for 104 yards. While the Panthers offense has struggled this year, Gardner, if healthy, will give them a chance to compete in the remainder of their games.
The FIU defense was as advertised and showed why they are one of, if not the best in Conference USA. FIU's defense held Marshall's offense more than 200 yards under their season average. While Perine and Wakefield did not have a big numbers night, Richard Leonard was active, intercepting Rakeem Cato and blanketing multiple Marshall receivers throughout the evening. FIU's defense was put into some poor situations and short fields throughout the second half, which allowed Marshall to finally put some separation between the two teams. While many might have scoffed at the Ron Turner hire at FIU, the Panthers are young, talented, and improving. If Turner can keep up his recruiting of south Florida, FIU could be a contender within the next year or two.
Player of the Game
Devon Johnson - Though Cato set the record, he seemed to be forcing the ball early and through a VERY bad interception into what looked to almost be quintuple coverage. While he might have not gotten the touches Marshall fans wanted him to get, Johnson made his presence known throughout the game. Johnson finished the game with 196 all-purpose yards and 2 touchdowns receiving out of the backfield. By the end of the game, the FIU safeties seemed scared to try and tackle Johnson downfield.
When It Was "Over"
Three words. Fat. Guy. Interception. While he might not be the heftiest defensive lineman of all-time, no one can deny the game felt out of reach when 6'4", 273 lb. Jarquez Samuel intercepted Alex McGough on the first play of the 4th quarter and returned the ball to the FIU 27 yard line. With the next play, Cato connected with Johnson for a touchdown and made the game 31-7.
Where We Go From Here
— Thundering Herd Zone (@TheHerdZone) October 19, 2014
The Herd is halfway to their ultimate goal. Since the beginning of the season, the Herd faithful have been looking for 14-0. The Herd returns to Huntington, looking to hold on to their top 25 ranking against an upset-minded Florida Atlantic, coming off a late comeback victory over Western Kentucky. The Herd will look to start much faster, after looking like they might have enjoyed South Beach a little too much before the FIU game. Even though the Herd has made it past the Blue Raiders and Panthers in consecutive weeks, they cannot become complacent if they want to achieve their goal of not only a divisional title, but a Conference USA title.