Marshall football: Cato rides hot streak into East Carolina game
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Rakeem Cato walked off the field after the Marshall football team lost on the last play to Middle Tennessee, he felt emotions he detested. He was disappointed and frustrated and it was evident in the sharp tone of his words to reporters in the minutes after the game.
He never wanted to feel that way again. So far, he hasn't.
Cato leads the Thundering Herd into Friday's noon game against East Carolina - a contest on CBS Sports Network that will decide the Conference USA East Division champion - wielding one of the hottest hands in college football. He'd like to see that streak continue versus the Pirates.
Since the calendar turned to November, no quarterback in the Football Bowl Subdivision has thrown for more touchdowns than Cato. He's tossed 17 in the last four games against just one interception. Second on the list is his adversary Friday, ECU quarterback Shane Carden, who's thrown 16 touchdowns and two interceptions.
It's Cato's way of ensuring the bad feelings after the MTSU loss don't return. He didn't like that he had to watch the game be decided, rather than have the ball in his hands.
"I just felt like I couldn't really do nothing," Cato said. "As an offense, I feel we have to be one point better than the next team. Our job is to score one point better than the team we're playing against. I feel like I couldn't do that.
"After that game, I wanted to leave no regrets on the field," he added. "Every time we play, I want to make sure we do everything right and that everything's crisp."
On top of his touchdowns, Cato has completed 60.6 percent of his passes in the last four games for 1,235 yards, the fourth-best November total in the FBS. Included in that four-game streak is a game-winning fourth-quarter drive at Tulsa, where Cato found Tommy Shuler for an 18-yard score.
Cato has thrown at least one touchdown in every game this season, extending his school-record streak to 29 straight games.
His 32 touchdowns this season with at least two games to go - the ECU game and the Herd's upcoming bowl game - is eighth best in program history.
He already owns the third-best single-season touchdown mark, throwing 37 last year.
The junior credits his preparation through the week for his performances at the end of the week.
"Like I say every time, it's practice," Cato said. "I make sure and stick it in my head that I've got to have a good practice. So when we look at the film the next day, I want to make sure (offensive coordinator Bill) Legg only talks to me about one mess-up, or not even one mess-up, to make sure I'm doing everything possible to make myself a great quarterback."
Cato's teammates see that dedication to perfection, too. They also hear it. Tight end Gator Hoskins, who's tied with Shuler and two others for an FBS-best six touchdown catches in November, said his quarterback expects every player to focus during practice.
"The way he prepares, watching film, coming out to practice, if he makes a mistake in practice, he's down on himself," Hoskins said. "He's a person with a lot of emotion. He doesn't just get on us. He gets on himself. He wants to be perfect."
While many of Cato's numbers have eclipsed most, if not all the other quarterbacks in the FBS this November, Legg said Cato's greatest contribution has been how he's affected the rest of the offense. Legg pointed out Cato, Hoskins, Chris Jasperse and Shuler among others as team leaders who wanted to eliminate the bad taste of losing.
In doing so, the coordinator said, they've elevated the play of those around them.
"I don't know if it's so much that he's that much more locked in or he's working that much harder, because he's always been locked in and he always works hard," Legg said. "He wants to come out here and have a perfect practice. As much as it is to do with him playing better, but what's significantly better is the players playing around him."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.