UCF Coach George O'Leary has been impressed with the maturation of Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato. The sophomore struggled against the Knights last year in an Orlando downpour, throwing for just 87 yards.
This year, the Herd quarterback is the most prolific passer in the Football Bowl Subdivision with 2,651 yards and 21 touchdowns.
The veteran coach said where Cato has improved the most is that he's no longer holding onto the ball and waiting for the perfect play, releasing the ball much quicker.
"He's done a great job of knowing where the receivers are going to be and throwing before they even break," O'Leary said. "He's really progressed in that area, as far as understanding what the coverages give him and understanding the weaknesses of the coverages."
And while the running game may get overshadowed by the Herd's stunning passing numbers, O'Leary said it's foolish to ignore it. The freshman running back trio of Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson are leading Marshall to its best rushing numbers since Coach Doc Holliday arrived, averaging 178.4 yards per game.
O'Leary said Marshall's passing game is so explosive because its running game has improved so much.
"I think all three running backs are all good cutback runners," he said. "They plant the foot and get north-south quickly. That's what spreads the field. I think if you just had to defend the passing attack, it's difficult, but it's not as difficult as when you have to defend the running game with it."
Saturday's game pits the conference's best on one side of the ball against its best on the other side. Gray said it's crucial that the defense rebounds and play like the best versus the Herd. UCF, he added, is up to the challenge.
"We're very excited, but you don't want to circle one game and say you're excited for this game," Gray said. "You want to treat every game like that. But, seeing as how our defense the last two weeks hasn't played up to par, we need to step it up. This is a good point for us to turn it around."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.r...@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.