www.charlestondailymail.com Marshall Sports http://www.charlestondailymail.com Daily Mail feed en-us Copyright 2014, Charleston Newspapers, Charleston, WV Newspapers MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Herd wants to keep hot starts going against Florida Atlantic http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141023/DM03/141029500 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141023/DM03/141029500 Thu, 23 Oct 2014 22:16:51 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - It's been a long time since Marshall's football team felt what it did during last season's game at Florida Atlantic University - uncertainty.

The 23rd-ranked Thundering Herd has trailed all of 1 minute, 55 seconds this season, that coming in the first quarter of last week's 45-13 win at Florida International. Marshall has won all seven of its games in 2014 by an average margin of 30.8 points.

Against the Owls last October, it took a last-second 41-yard field goal from Justin Haig to cap a 10-point comeback in the game's final 10 minutes for the Herd to prevail, 24-23.

"I don't think we're going to have to convince our kids that these guys can play," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said this week.

When FAU visits Marshall at 3:30 p.m. Saturday on Fox Sports 1, the Herd (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) would like the game to resemble the rest of the 2014 campaign and look nothing like last year's game.

In order for Marshall to complete last year's comeback over the Owls (3-4, 2-1 C-USA), the Herd needed to convert two third downs and a fourth down on its touchdown drive, including a 41-yard scoring pass from Rakeem Cato to Gator Hoskins on fourth and 5. Then Cato had to convert another third down and find receiver Devon Smith for a 35-yard gain to get into field goal range for the game winner.

It was a matter of intensity, sixth-year defensive lineman James Rouse said. FAU had it and Marshall knew the Owls would. The Herd needed it and didn't show it until late in the game.

"We knew they were going to be amped up and ready," Rouse said. "I think we just didn't prepare like we should have. That made it a close game coming down to the last seconds."

"We didn't match their intensity," he added. "So this year, we're just trying to make sure we start fast at home."

The Owls know plenty about comebacks this season. FAU came from behind in two of its three wins. The Owls trailed by 11 in the third quarter versus the University of Texas at San Antonio before pulling out a 41-37 win on their final drive. Last Saturday versus Western Kentucky, the Owls fell behind by 21 at halftime and trailed by 10 to start the fourth quarter, but scored 17 unanswered points in the final 15 minutes to win, 45-38.

While FAU head coach Charlie Partridge appreciates his team's resiliency, he'd rather the Owls not fall so far behind so early.

"The way we're kind of looking at it is that we need to kind of get games started faster," Partridge said. "At times, we've allowed teams to get up on us in the first quarter, with the exception of one game. So we've had to come back a number of times this year. Marshall has the ability to strike quick on you, whether it's the first quarter or the fourth quarter. It doesn't matter."

"But there's certainly the ability where, if something were to happen against Marshall, or anybody down the road, we can say, listen, guys, we've been down this road before," he added. "Just stay the course and let's figure out our problems and keep moving forward."

Fast starts have been no problem for Marshall this season. The Herd has outscored opponents 104-21 in the first quarter in its first seven games, and 83-16 in the second quarter. The margin dips slightly in the third quarter, 83-24. In the fourth quarter - when the game normally is in hand for Marshall and the coaches start rolling in the reserves - the Herd outscores opponents 62-55. And that margin got a big boost when Marshall outscored FIU 21-6 in last week's fourth quarter.

Marshall has memories of last season's FAU game on which to rely, memories of some of the clutch plays the Herd had to pull out to steal that win. The players also saw what the Owls were able to do last week versus WKU, neutralizing the Hilltoppers' normally potent offense to claw back into the game.

Rouse said this isn't the week to jog across the finish line. The Herd must sprint through.

"It's really important that we keep going for four quarters," Rouse said, "and just don't look at the scoreboard until the game's over."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL BASKETBALL: Sane tries to evolve in new system http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141023/DM03/141029502 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141023/DM03/141029502 Thu, 23 Oct 2014 22:07:48 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - When Cheikh Sane joined the Marshall men's basketball team under then-head coach Tom Herrion, the 6-foot-9, 225-pound forward was considered more of a conventional low-post player.

Yet with new coach Dan D'Antoni's everyone-runs, everyone-shoots scheme, there's not much room for convention.

Sane wasn't concerned, though. As the Thundering Herd moves closer to the start of its season, Sane has buckled down and tried to mold himself into a better fit for D'Antoni's gameplan.

"I never worried about it," the Dakar, Senegal native said. "I just believed in myself and worked hard."

Sane saw plenty of action in his first season after transferring from Snow College in Utah. He played in 31 games, starting 20, leading the Herd with 27 blocks and finishing second with 5.0 rebounds per game. Scoring wasn't his top priority, as he averaged just 3.2 points per game.

He knew, though, that he might be called upon to take on more of a scoring load on any given night, as D'Antoni doesn't dissuade those who are open from shooting the ball. Sane might have to take shots he's not used to taking, and he couldn't tell you the last time his game resembled anything near a wing's.

"I don't know," he said. "It's been a while."

Yet that didn't mean Sane couldn't try to diversify his game, so he's spent the offseason working on his mid-range play. Teammate DeVince Boykins has watched Sane work on catching the ball in the post, turning, pivoting and shooting jumpers off the glass, and he said the fruits of the forward's labor have started to show.

"In this offense, man, everything is spread out, so there may be times where Cheikh will catch the ball on the wing," Boykins said. "He's done a great job of being able to make passes from the wing spot. As you guys will see, our offense is filled with back cuts and coming off of curl screens and stuff like that, so we have to have bigs that can pass the ball and make a good pass."

Sane figured there was no reason to remain a strictly low-post option. He's a senior who would love to spend his final season helping the Herd pull itself off the canvas after a dismal 2013-14 season. Marshall finished 11-22 last season and 4-12 in Conference USA. It was the Herd's second consecutive losing season following its 2012 NIT berth, which led to the coaching change.

"We just have to adjust and adapt and try to change our game and try to do whatever (D'Antoni) wants us to do, and try to do whatever it takes to help the team win. I thought, why not just try to change my game and try to work on my 15-footer, run the floor more, face the basket, pick and roll, pick and pop? It's a new style and a new year and different coaches. But I really like the pick and roll and stuff and I really think it's going to be a great offense."

D'Antoni doesn't like sticking limitations on players. He understands that some limitations are just facts of life, but he doesn't handcuff a player into one role and prohibit him from evolving. Sane might not become a 3-point marksman, but if he can develop an effective short jump shot, he could grow as scoring option.

"I always leave the door open where, if they work hard, they can improve that part that maybe I'm limiting a little bit," D'Antoni said. "So next year or a month from now, we take that governor off and just let it go."

It's a different style of basketball than what he's used to, and not the style he signed with Marshall to play, but Sane remains confident he can become a valued asset in the Herd's strategies.

"When I knew Coach D'Antoni was going to be our coach, everybody knew the D'Antoni family and how they like to run the pick and roll," Sane said. "I just had to get used to it, work out more and come to the gym more and just try to be a better player than last year. This is my last year and I just want to be a more productive guy."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Major PR firm to help plead Herd's playoff case http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141023/DM03/141029524 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141023/DM03/141029524 Thu, 23 Oct 2014 20:06:30 -0400 By Derek Redd Marshall's football team will get the help of a major public relations firm in pleading its case for its spot in the College Football Playoff. Conference USA, of which Marshall is a member, has retained the Los Angeles-based firm Brener Zwikel & Associates. According to USA Today, the firm sent a statement Thursday touting Marshall's credentials to the College Football Playoff committee.

The firm's clients include the Rose Bowl, the Los Angeles Dodgers and Speedo.

"It's a PR firm that does great work and we thought we really had a great story from a conference standpoint," said C-USA associate commissioner Courtney Morrison-Archer. "We're excited to keep focusing on the great things around the program."

Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick said Thursday night that the conference wanted to highlight the Thundering Herd's accomplishments this season so far.

"Marshall University did not hire a PR firm," Hamrick said. "However, I'm aware that Conference USA has engaged with a PR firm to not only promote Marshall, but to promote Conference USA football. I'm very appreciative that our conference feels this strongly about our football season to date to do this."

According to USA Today, the firm's statement mentioned Marshall's 7-0 record, No. 22 ranking in the Amway Coaches Poll and its C-USA affiliation. It also mentioned statistics for Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato and the Herd's undefeated seasons in 1937, 1996 and 1999, plus a plea to consider the team for the playoff.

This season is the first that a 13-person selection committee will decide which four teams will compete in the College Football Playoff. It also will decide which team from the "Group of Five" conferences - the Mountain West, Sun Belt, Mid-American, American and Conference USA - will fill the group's spot in a marquee bowl. This season, that bowl would be the Cotton Bowl, Fiesta Bowl or Peach Bowl.

The College Football Playoff Committee will release its first rankings next week.

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Derek Redd: Herd RB's stiff arm gaining renown http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141022/DM03/141029689 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141022/DM03/141029689 Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:29:53 -0400 HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall running back Devon Johnson is becoming a Twitter darling.

Well, at least his arm is.

In the grand tradition of Twitter handles like @FauxPelini, the parody account spoofing Nebraska coach Bo Pelini, and @RakeemCato, which is the handle of an account titled "not Rakeem Cato," RockHeads Stiff Arm, with the handle @47sStiffArm, has been born.

"I am an equal opportunity abuser," the account's bio reads. "Linemen, LBs, Dbs, doesn't matter."

The real Devon Johnson has been quite liberal in his distribution of that punishing move. Plenty of opposing defenders have felt the 6-foot-1, 243-pounder's meat hook pistoning into their chests or helmets. It has powered him to 931 rushing yards in seven games, ninth best in the Football Bowl Subdivision, and 11 rushing touchdowns, tied for fifth best in the FBS.

Not bad for a fullback-turned-linebacker-turned-tight-end-turned-tailback.

Johnson, who has his own Twitter handle @devon_johnson47, learned just recently that his stiff arm grew a mind of its own and dipped its toe into social media.

"I'm still shocked," Johnson said with a wide grin in his face. "I got it sent to me early (Monday) morning and I was like, 'What in the world?'"

That Twitter account surprised him as much as he has surprised opponents, or at least he did until a few games in, when they realized the yards he was churning out weren't a fluke. Now they know they must account for him as much as they do any other aspect of the Marshall offense.

Florida Atlantic University coach Charlie Partridge compared Johnson to John Clay, a 6-1, 255-pound back that was Big Ten offensive player of the year and a Doak Walker Award finalist at Wisconsin when Partridge was an assistant there under Bret Bielema.

Yet opposing coaches are quick to point out Johnson isn't just a one-move back. Sure, that stiff arm is devastating, but Florida International coach Ron Turner said Johnson has plenty of weapons in his arsenal.

"He's big, but I wouldn't say he just barrels in there and runs people over," Turner said. "He has outstanding vision. He has really good vision and quick feet, the vision to see the hole and the quick feet to hit it. He's more than just a big back that pounds it up in there."

Turner offered that assessment before Johnson recorded his fourth-straight 100-yard rushing game and ninth overall against the Panthers, then added three catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns in Marshall's 45-13 win. That included a 71-yard sprint where Johnson exhibited the vision and speed Turner mentioned, then threw in some power, throwing one of those patented stiff arms at Jeremiah McKinnon and dragging a trio of FIU defenders to the Panthers 3.

He wasn't done. Davison Colimon, a 6-1, 217-pound linebacker, tried to stop Johnson on his 46-yard catch and run for a touchdown, but the diving junior simply bounced off Johnson's trunk as he dashed away.

"I felt him a little bit," Johnson said after the game, with that same grin on his face.

That grin shows up a lot. It's there when he lauds the rest of the offense - especially the linemen, who he always makes sure to call the best in the country, and Cato, whose decision making he says allows him the opportunities to rumble for big yards. It's there when he mentions how much pleasure he takes in contributing in whatever fashion is needed.

But the grin doesn't have its own Twitter feed. Nor do the vision and the quick feet. That honor belongs to the stiff arm. It's a growing following for that stiff arm, with 298 Twitter followers as of Wednesday afternoon. Chances are if Johnson throws a few more on his way past 1,000 rushing yards for the season, those numbers will grow.

Johnson laughed off the revelation that his arm now owns real estate in the Twitter-verse, and his hopes for the account are rather simple.

"Hopefully, he don't put nothin' stupid on there," Johnson said.

No worries on that end, RockHeads Stiff Arm, said.

"Don't worry Devon, I won't put anything stupid on Twitter," he wrote. "You complete me."

And he means that in both the figurative and literal sense.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: FAU rebounding from rough start http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141022/DM03/141029694 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141022/DM03/141029694 Wed, 22 Oct 2014 16:25:22 -0400 By Derek Redd CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Few college football teams in the country experienced the dizzying highs and dreadful lows that Florida Atlantic University's did in the span of a few months in 2013.

The Owls started the season 2-6. Then the players watched head coach Carl Pelini and defensive coordinator Pete Rekstis amid drug use allegations. Then those players rallied to win their last four games and finish the season at 6-6, only to stay home during bowl season despite being eligible.

The topsy-turviness has continued in a less drastic form this season, but new FAU coach Charlie Partridge feels the team is rallying as it prepares for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game at No. 23 Marshall (Fox Sports 1).

The 3-4 Owls have yet to put together a winning streak this season, but they're 2-1 in Conference USA, and Partridge feels the adjustments he's made in the program since he arrived in December have paid off.

"What I'm certainly encouraged by is ... one of our goals this year was to make some foundation-level changes," Partridge said, "from the way we recruit to the behavior that's expected of our kids on and off the field and we're seeing great signs that we're moving in the right direction that way.

"My experience has been that all those things correlate," he added, "and when you make good decisions in all parts of your life, it will lead to more victories, so I'm encouraged by the overall direction of our program, which is what we're working to build here."

FAU's win streak stayed firmly in 2013 after a pair of rough non-conference games to begin this season. The Owls visited Nebraska - then ranked 22nd, now ranked 16th - and Alabama - then ranked second, now ranked fourth - in back-to-back weeks and lost by a combined score of 96-7.

"They came off of Alabama and Nebraska and I think they were staggering off the ropes," Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said. "Now it looks like they're starting to get themselves together."

The Owls thumped former C-USA foe Tulsa, then lost at Wyoming, rebounded to beat the University of Texas at San Antonio, then gave up four turnovers in a four-touchdown loss to Florida International. It looked like things would go further south when the Owls trailed Western Kentucky by three touchdowns last Saturday, but FAU rallied in the second half to pull out a 45-38 win.

FAU quarterback Jaquez Johnson keyed that victory, throwing for 325 yards and three touchdowns, and running for 95 yards and two more scores. The 6-foot-1, 225-pound junior did well as a dual threat last season when the Thundering Herd needed a last-second field goal to beat the Owls in Boca Raton. He's done the same this season, leading the team in passing (1,323 yards, 10 touchdowns, one interception) and ranking second in rushing (277 yards, five touchdowns), but Partridge said his greatest strides have come in becoming a more complete quarterback.

"We had 10 guys catch the ball last Saturday, and that's a testament to the decisions he's making," Partridge said. "And even more prominent are the things he's showing from a leadership standpoint. He's becoming more vocal. He's an encourager. He's a guy our players look to, and that's what you want out of a quarterback. With his growth in all aspect, I'm excited about his progress."

Johnson isn't the only talent on the roster. Senior receiver Lucky Whitehead leads Conference USA with 6.3 catches per game and all-purpose yards at 170.6 per game. Freshman running back Greg Howell got his first playing time of the season versus WKU and rushed for 118 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries. Senior linebacker Andrae Kirk is second in the conference to Marshall's Darryl Roberts in passes defended. None of these things surprise Marshall head coach Doc Holliday.

"I have said many times, anytime you're located in Boca or Miami and all the players around them, they are going to have really good players," Holliday said. "They are athletic and can run. We are going to have our hands full."

Partridge said there is no surprise as to what the talent on Marshall's roster has been able to accomplish. In facing a Herd team at 7-0 overall and 3-0 in the conference, mistake-free football is a must.

"There's not a lot of weaknesses that have been exposed on their football team," Partridge said. "When you're going against a team that doesn't have any glaring weaknesses, what you have to do is perform at your best. You've got to execute. Florida Atlantic cannot beat Florida Atlantic on Saturday."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: DL Samuel feels benefit of better conditioning http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141021/DM03/141029748 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141021/DM03/141029748 Tue, 21 Oct 2014 21:42:09 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - An extraordinary circumstance put Marshall defensive lineman Jarquez Samuel in the spotlight.

On the first play of the fourth quarter against Florida International, the redshirt junior plucked the Arnold Blackmon deflection of an Alex McGough pass out of the air at the Marshall 46-yard line, cradled the football and barreled 27 yards to the Panthers 27.

"I was tired after that," Samuel admitted. "I was a little winded."

That fatigue comes less and less often these days. That comes from Samuel's desire to improve his mental and physical toughness, both of which he'll need when the No. 23 Thundering Herd hosts Florida Atlantic University at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium (Fox Sports 1).

Samuel was an occasional starter as a redshirt sophomore, running out with the first team in four of 11 games in 2013. The Valdosta, Ga., native battled Steve Dillon for the starting nose tackle spot throughout preseason camp, winning the job for the Miami (Ohio) game and never relinquishing it. He's started all seven games for the Herd (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) this season alongside Conference USA preseason defensive player of the year James Rouse. And Rouse has an up-close look at Samuel's improvement from last season.

"He's come a long way," Rouse said. "Going back and watching film from last year, it's 100 times better from last year, 100 times difference."

Samuel has climbed steadily since he first took the field for the Herd. After nine tackles in 11 games of reserve work in 2012, he bumped that up to 24 tackles, 3.5 for a loss, last season. This season, he already has 14 tackles, 1.5 for a loss, plus his interception return.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday said Samuel's slow build isn't uncommon for players at his position.

"Sometimes defensive linemen take a little longer to develop," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "He started to really come around last year and he just continues to get better and better and he's playing at a really high level right now."

Offensive tackle Clint Van Horn could see Samuel's growth from the other side of the line. The key to that improvement, he said, simply was Samuel's ability to play harder for longer stretches.

"It's effort and being in shape," Van Horn said. "It really got important to him. He had a really good spring and his camp was phenomenal. He really didn't put forth as much effort. I don't think he did that on purpose. He just couldn't because he wasn't in shape.

"For him to come out this year and be a guy who plays a considerable amount of downs for us, it's huge because of his athletic ability," he added. "He's an athletic freak."

Samuel credits Marshall strength and conditioning coach Scott Sinclair for that transformation. When Sinclair arrived in Huntington in 2013, he drove Samuel to improve his physique and stamina. That motivation made the difference.

"It's a whole lot," Samuel said. "Coach Sinclair helped me out a lot. It was a big step. At first it was rough. I had to get used to the way he was running his program and the weight room and, after that, he just kept pushing me and kept pushing me, and I love it."

Holliday feels Samuel has started to shine because the 6-foot-4, 273-pounder is mentally tougher. He's embraced the challenge of excelling in a physically taxing role.

"Defensive line's not a whole lot of fun," Holliday said. "You get beat up every day in practice and you're constantly pounding on each other. It's fun on game day, when you get a chance to go in there and play, but there's a lot of work that goes into it during the week. Those guys have got to be mentally tough. His mental toughness, he practices every day and goes to work every day and it's paying off."

Samuel agreed that his improved mindset has been as important to his game as his improved body.

"I'm not going to feel healthy every play," Samuel said. "If I feel healthy every play and every game, I'm not doing something right. It's just mental. I have to just push through it and fight through it."

Holliday said that interception actually was a repeat of a play Samuel made during practice earlier in the week preceding the FIU game. Samuel wants more of those plays to transfer from the practice field to the game field. With his added energy and the cast around him - the defensive line's depth allows Samuel to play just 30 to 35 snaps per game - he feels he's on his way.

"I just have to keep my head on straight, not get cocky or nothing," Samuel said. "I have to keep on the path of being great. I have room to get better, so I'll just take the coaching, do it to the best of my ability and keep moving forward."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: ESPN to pay a visit to Herd practice http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141021/DM03/141029749 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141021/DM03/141029749 Tue, 21 Oct 2014 21:35:34 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's football team will enjoy even more of the spoils of a standout season.

ESPN will arrive in Huntington on Wednesday and follow around the 23rd-ranked Thundering Herd for the day as it prepares for Saturday's 3:30 p.m. home game versus Florida Atlantic University (Fox Sports 1). The "All-Access" segment will air on ESPNU on Tuesday.

Wanting to keep practice week as free as possible of distractions, Marshall coach Doc Holliday considered telling the camera crews to stay away. Yet he reflected on past experiences and changed his mind.

"I thought back on when we were at Florida and really good and had some really good teams," he said. "That's what happens to good teams. You get that kind of press and you get people wanting to talk to you and you get people coming in. And that's not a bad thing. That's a great thing."

The buzz began in the preseason, when Marshall (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) was picked by conference coaches to win the East Division and quarterback Rakeem Cato and defensive lineman James Rouse were named preseason offensive and defensive players of the year, respectively. Through a seven-game stretch where its defeated opponents by 30.8 points per game, the Herd has reached the top 25 for the first time since the 2002 season.

It had been one of Holliday's goals to bring Marshall back into the national spotlight, and he's very happy the Herd is there.

"It's great, because, hell, three years ago, nobody even wanted to talk to us," he said. "It's great for our university and great for our community, and anytime we have people talking about us and wanting to find out our story, it's a hell of a deal."

At the same time, he remains cautious of distractions, especially since the Owls (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) had the Herd on the ropes until Justin Haig's 41-yard field goal with time running out gave Marshall a 24-23 win last season.

"Along with all this stuff that's happening for them comes responsibility," Holliday said. "And if we don't go to work every day and get better as a team, then we're going to get beat and all those goals and expectations go out the window pretty quick.

"We embrace it," he added, "but we've also got to be able to handle it."

*

THE HERD finally was able to take advantage of its new digs Tuesday, the new indoor practice facility. The cold, drizzly weather spurred the team to take practice indoors for the first time.

"We could've gone outside today, to be honest, but I kind of wanted to change things up a little bit," Holliday said. "We're in the eighth week of the season, and I thought we had a great practice."

Marshall christened the building the Chris Cline Athletic Complex, in honor of Cline, a prominent Marshall benefactor, during a September ceremony. On top of the 120-yard indoor practice football field, the facility soon will have a Hall of Fame, an academic center, and the Marshall University Sports Medicine Institute.

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FAU COACH Charlie Partridge made a pretty lofty comparison when discussing Herd running back Devon Johnson.

"The last time I'd seen someone with his stature was when I was at Wisconsin with a guy named John Clay," he said.

Clay was the 2009 Big Ten offensive player of the year and the finalist for the 2010 Doak Walker Award for the nation's best running back, rushing for 1,517 yards and 18 touchdowns in 2009 and 1,012 yards in an injury-shortened 2010. Standing 6-foot-1 and 255 pounds, Clay spent the 2011 season with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's not just size that makes the 6-1, 245-pound Johnson similar, said Partridge, former defensive assistant for Bret Bielema at Wisconsin and Arkansas. It's the ability, too.

"He's averaging over 130 yards for a reason," Partridge said. "He made some breakout plays last week that helped them get going against Florida International. For us to think we'll be able to get him down one-on-one without great pursuit, we'd be fooling ourselves."

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FRESHMAN TIGHT END Ryan Yurachek will have his name nestled in Marshall - and national - record books as the guy who caught Rakeem Cato's record-breaking touchdown pass, giving the quarterback a scoring throw in 39 straight games.

"I was wide open and it was like a beach ball coming at me," he said. "I'm just glad that I caught it."

That catch was one of eight he has so far this season in his growing role as a reserve tight end. He's been a special teams contributor since the season began, but Herd coaches started using him more and more in the offense. Yurachek has gained 74 yards on those eight catches with one touchdown.

Once the Myrtle Beach, S.C., saw Deon-Tay McManus move from tight end to receiver, freeing up more playing time behind senior starter Eric Frohnapfel, he knew it was serious.

"Me and Tay battled all the way through camp for those second tight end reps," he said. "Obviously, when they moved him, he's done a tremendous job outside. I feel that's where he belongs. It really started hitting me when he moved there that the coaches really trusted and that's when it kind of hit me."

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CAPTAINS FOR the FAU game are tight end Eric Frohnapfel, offensive tackle Clint Van Horn, defensive lineman Jarquez Samuel and corner Corey Tindal. It is the second selection this season for Frohnapfel, Van Horn and Tindal and the first for Samuel. ... Holliday said running back Remi Watson, who injured his shoulder against Florida International, would "practice a little" Tuesday, but Steward Butler would be ready for more carries if needed. Butler gained 76 yards on six carries and scored his first touchdown since scoring two against Rhode Island.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL BASKETBALL: Herd to have 10 games televised this season http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141021/DM03/141029795 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141021/DM03/141029795 Tue, 21 Oct 2014 18:25:34 -0400

FROM STAFF REPORTS

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - With the announcement of the American Sports Network schedule, the Marshall men's basketball team will now play 10 televised games this season - seven on ASN, two on CBS Sports Network (Dec. 1 vs. South Carolina and Dec. 6 vs. Penn State) and one on ESPNU (Nov. 21 vs. Louisville.).

ASN has announced it will carry 63 Conference USA men's basketball games during the 2014-15 season, bringing the total number of C-USA televised games on the schedule to more than 100.

ASN is an initiative of the Sinclair Networks Group, LLC, which owns and operates, programs and provides sales services to 164 television stations in 78 markets, reaching approximately 40 percent of U.S. television households. It includes FOX, ABC, CBS, MyTV, CW, NBC, Univision and Azteca affiliates.

Thirty-nine of the 63 games will be conference matchups, including the men's first round and quarterfinals of the 2015 C-USA Tournament that opens March 11 in Birmingham, Ala.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL; Herd defense continues its climb http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141020/DM03/141029878 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141020/DM03/141029878 Mon, 20 Oct 2014 22:29:09 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall defense made waves last season with a whiplash-inducing turnaround.

What was one of the worst units in college football became one of the best between the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

So far, the 2014 version is even better.

Entering Saturday's 3:30 p.m. game against Florida Atlantic at Joan C. Edwards Stadium (Fox Sports 1), the 23rd-ranked Thundering Herd's defensive numbers eclipse last season's, when Marshall vaulted from the bottom of the rankings to near the top. The defensive players said their climb even higher is a matter of trust.

"In the beginning, it was sort of a surprise," linebacker Neville Hewitt said of the defense's continued improvement. "And then as we started to buy into what the coaches were saying and started to see what everybody else was seeing, and how good we really are, I think that helped."

Marshall (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) is seventh in the Football Bowl Subdivision in points allowed per game, giving up just 16.6 a contest. That tops last season's average of 22.9 points allowed, which tied MU for 31st overall and blows away the 43.1 points allowed in 2012, next to last in the FBS.

The ascension is similar in total defense. Marshall's 336.3-yard average this season is 27th best in the FBS, better than last season's 368.7-yard average (35th-best) and vastly improved from 2012's 456.8-yard average (103rd-best).

Hewitt - the team leader in tackles (44), tackles for loss (seven) and sacks (3.5) - goes back to the concept of the defense buying in, taking to heart the lessons the coaches offer. Among the most important messages, he said, was for each defender to win his one-on-one battles.

"If you have to make the tackle, make your tackle," Hewitt said. "If you have to beat your block, beat your block. That's where a lot of people are buying in and that's why you can't find just one person on defense that stands out."

Marshall's defense features several standouts. College football expert Phil Steele released his midseason all-Conference USA team and seven Herd defenders made either first or second team. Hewitt, defensive tackle James Rouse and corner Darryl Roberts were first-teamers, while defensive end Ra'Shawde Myers, linebackers Jermaine Holmes and D.J. Hunter and safety Taj Letman were on the second team.

In comparison, the Marshall offense had five first-teamers - quarterback Rakeem Cato, receiver Tommy Shuler, running back Devon Johnson and linemen Chris Jasperse and Clint Van Horn - and no second-teamers. Tyler Williams was first-team punter and Shuler was second-team punt returner.

A defense that commands that type of respect should put up those numbers, Rouse said.

"We always say we have a lot of playmakers on defense," Rouse said. "And on third down, third and long, that's when your playmakers are going to show up and get us off the field."

Third down is among the Marshall defense's specialties, as is the red zone, or rather, Marshall's ability to keep opposing teams out of it.

Marshall is 14th in the FBS in third-down conversion percentage, allowing opposing offenses to convert just 30.09 percent of them (34 of 113). The Herd is tied for 22nd in the FBS in red zone conversion percentage (75 percent), and it isn't very often that opponents get inside Marshall's 20 yard line. The Herd is tied for 29th with opponents getting to the red zone 20 times, fewer than three times per game.

Van Horn said those performances make it easy for the offense, ranked second in the FBS in both yards (574.9) and points (47.4) per game, to trust the defense.

"I have complete and total trust in those guys to do their job," Van Horn said. "I don't worry about them when they're out there. If something goes wrong, I know they won't let adversity get in their way. It's just the resilience of that group of guys."

It's also a group that knows it can still improve. Rouse said the defense counted about 18 missed tackles against Florida International, the first game in which the Herd trailed when it went down 7-0, though ultimately won 45-13. That'll be a point of focus this week, Hewitt said.

"Each game, we see something we can fix, and if we fix it, we'd be that much better of a defense," Hewitt said. "We don't want to be just a good defense. We want to be the best defense."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Cato's homecoming ends with record-setting day (with video) http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019109 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019109 Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:22:33 -0400 By Derek Redd

(Reading on our app? Click here for postgame video)

MIAMI - Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato joked last Monday that his dream scenario for his first touchdown pass against Florida International - the one that would set the major college record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass - would be a 99-yard throw to freshman backup tight end Ryan Yurachek.

Cato's prediction fell about 98 yards short.

The record-setting touchdown was just a 1-yarder, but it still went to Yurachek, the first of four Cato scoring throws in the 25th-ranked Thundering Herd football team's 45-13 blowout at FIU.

That first touchdown, the culmination of a four-play, 74-yard drive, gave the senior a touchdown pass in 39 straight games. Cato had been tied with former North Carolina State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson at 38 in a row.

"That's a record, guys, that may never be broken," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "And if any guy deserves it, he does. I was happy when he got it, and I think it took a little bit of heat off of him."

Cato finally admitted after the game that he felt a little of that heat. It's not just that he was on the cusp of solely owning a national passing mark. It was that he had that chance in front of an army of family, friends and mentors in his home town. Cato won a Class 6A state championship at Miami Central and ended his high school career as Dade County's all-time leading passer.

It might have played a part in the Herd (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) stalling out on its first two drives. He completed just three of eight passes on those drives for 22 yards. Yet Marshall got no deeper than FIU's 43 on either drive and punted on both.

"Once I threw the touchdown, I knew that it was back to normal," he said. "I could run the offense again and just keep focused. It was a lot of pressure taken off me. I knew how much I wanted it and I knew how much my teammates wanted it for me. I just came out and just executed the play."

Cato said that the play to Yurachek wasn't even one that was in the Herd playbook.

"I knew that play was going to work," Cato said. "It's a play we don't have in our system. We know it. The whole offense knows it and when that play is called, we just know what to do."

Once Cato got that play out of his system, the scoring floodgates for him opened wide. The senior's four touchdown passes against the Panthers (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) marked his second four-touchdown game of the season - Ohio was his first - and the ninth game of his Herd career where he's thrown at least four. He tossed for 214 yards on 15-of-27 passing and threw one interception.

Besides Yurachek, two of those touchdown passes went to running back Devon Johnson and another went to fellow Miami native Angelo Jean-Louis. Cato's best friend, senior slot receiver Tommy Shuler, didn't take part in Marshall's touchdown parade. He caught two passes for 20 yards. But he made sure to be the first person to congratulate Cato after he set the record.

"That's my brother and I'm happy for him," Shuler said. "He deserves every bit of it. He works so hard in practice and it comes out and shows on the field."

That he could set the mark in front of so many friends and family members made it even more special. There were nieces and nephews. There were coaches who worked with him from youth leagues through high school. There were familiar faces and ones he hadn't seen in a while. Yet they all arrived to cheer Cato to a national record.

"For those guys just to be here, I was shocked," Cato said. "I'm still shocked to see tons of family members come to watch what I've been doing throughout my college career. I've seen faces I ain't seen in four years, since I've been in high school."

Cato's passing day allowed him to reach a few more milestones. He has been responsible for 122 touchdowns in his Marshall career, 110 passing and 12 rushing, which broke Chad Pennington's record of 119. He passed Wilson in another category, too. The current Seattle Seahawks quarterback had thrown 109 career FBS touchdown passes. Cato also is second in Marshall history in career passing yards. His 12,088 so far put him ahead of Byron Leftwich (11,903) but still behind Pennington (13,143).

The number Cato feels is most crucial is the zero Marshall still sports in the loss column. While individual records are reasons to be proud, he wants to keep the Herd undefeated for as long as possible.

"I just want to continue doing my best job and just continue making everybody who supported me smile, make the Herd family proud and continue getting Ws."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Johnson paces Herd with his hands and feet http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019111 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019111 Sun, 19 Oct 2014 21:03:07 -0400 By Derek Redd MIAMI - Before he became Conference USA's leading rusher, Marshall tailback Devon Johnson was a member of the Thundering Herd's tight end corps.

The junior hearkened back to those pass-catching days in the Herd's 45-13 win over Florida International. Johnson hauled in three passes, two for touchdowns, as Marshall's football team (7-0, 3-0 C-USA) won its eighth straight game dating back to last season's Military Bowl.

Johnson's first scoring catch was the Herd's first of the second half, and the first of four straight Marshall touchdowns. He grabbed a Rakeem Cato throw across the middle, watched a would-be FIU tackler bounce off him, and picked up speed for a 46-yard touchdown.

"I didn't see him," Johnson said of that defender. "I felt him a little bit and I knew he didn't wrap up, so I just knew I had to keep my legs going and knew that I could end up in the end zone if I could break that tackle."

Johnson scored Marshall's next touchdown, too, a 27-yard pass from Cato that made it 31-7.

He also made an impact on the ground, finishing with 117 yards on nine carries, his sixth 100-yard rushing game this season. The Marshall major college record for 100-yard games in a season is seven, shared by Ahmad Bradshaw (2006) and Darius Marshall (2008). The overall record is 10, set three times by Chris Parker in 1993, 1994 and 1995, when the Herd was a part of the Football Championship Subdivision.

Most of Johnson's rushing yardage Saturday came on his first run of the game, a 71-yard burst up the middle that put the Herd on the FIU 3.

"The coaches told me, hey, let's go, get it going," Johnson said. "I was feeling a little sick before the game. I was a little under the weather and they told me to push through it, fight through it, and that's what I did.

*

THAT WIN over FIU helped Marshall move up in the Associated Press sportswriters and Amway coaches top 25 polls. The Herd moved from 25th to 23rd in the AP poll and from 24th to 22nd in the coaches poll.

The only other team in the top 25 from a "Group of Five" conference, East Carolina of the American Athletic Conference, was 18th in the AP poll and 17th in the coaches poll. Marshall sits ahead of West Virginia in the coaches poll, where the Mountaineers are 25th, but behind WVU in the AP poll, where the Mountaineers are 22nd.

*

WHEN THE HERD fell behind 7-0 in the first quarter, it was the last time Marshall had trailed at any point in a game since the fourth quarter of last season's Military Bowl against Maryland. Yet the players didn't get nervous after falling behind.

"All we heard on the sidelines is, 'We're good,'" receiver Tommy Shuler said. "We knew we could respond. We knew our offense was good enough to respond. We knew our defense was getting cranked up. We went out and responded as great teams do."

On the drive after FIU scored, the Herd went 76 yards in just four plays, featuring Johnson's 71-yard rumble and Cato's first touchdown pass of the night. The Herd scored the next 45 points, and the Panthers finally scored again on their final drive.

Marshall coach Doc Holliday said at the half, when Marshall led 17-7, there was no anxiety or panic.

"We went into the locker room at halftime and there were no worried looks on their faces," Holliday said. "They knew what they had to do. All the leadership on that football team, the coaches don't have to say a whole lot at this point. They understand that they want to be a great football team, they understand what's at stake and they fixed their problems."

*

IN A BATTLE of the conference's top two defenses, Marshall's came out on top. Besides three sacks and eight tackles for a loss, the Herd took a page out of the FIU defense's playbook. The Panthers had returned four interceptions for four touchdowns, and Marshall gave FIU a taste of its own medicine with corner Corey Tindal's 30-yard interception return for a score.

"We're just going to keep pushing," Tindal said. "We're going to make our plays. We just have to fight to the end. Things may not go our way at first, but we've learned how to fight until the end."

That pick-six was Tindal's first interception and first touchdown as a member of the Thundering Herd.

*

RUNNING BACK Remi Watson's night was cut short with a left shoulder injury. He spent a while on the sideline with his shoulder pads off and an Ace bandage wrapped around the shoulder. Because Watson was on the shelf, junior Steward Butler got a few carries. He responded by gaining 76 yards and a touchdown on six carries.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL SOCCER: Herd women fall at home http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019126 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019126 Sun, 19 Oct 2014 19:04:03 -0400

FROM STAFF REPORTS

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The Marshall women's soccer team had its five-game unbeaten streak snapped by a 1-0 count against Conference USA foe Middle Tennessee (7-7-2, 4-3-1) in the Herd's home finale on Sunday at Veterans Memorial Soccer Complex.

The Thundering Herd's (6-5-4, 3-2-2 C-USA) unbeaten streak snapped was the longest since Marshall opened the 2009 season with a program-record seven consecutive wins. The Herd had not lost since dropping its C-USA opener against Western Kentucky, 1-0 (Sept. 27).

The Herd is headed southbound to visit Southern Miss on Friday and Louisiana Tech on Oct. 26.

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MARSHALL GOLF: Herd men trail by three strokes http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019128 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019128 Sun, 19 Oct 2014 19:01:00 -0400

FROM STAFF REPORTS

POWELLS POINT, N.C. - Following a 1-over-par 73 performance by senior Jacob Miller, the Marshall men's golf team sits three strokes behind leaders Maryland and Drake in fifth place at the ODU/Outerbanks Intercollegiate at Kilmarlic Golf Course.

Former George Washington standout Will Evans shot a 6-over 78.

Marshall will continue play on Monday with a second 18-hole round, beginning with tee-times at 8:30 a.m. off holes 1 and 10.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: WVU, Marshall make Mountain State poll history http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019137 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141019/DM03/141019137 Sun, 19 Oct 2014 15:16:20 -0400

FROM STAFF REPORTS

West Virginia University and Marshall University teamed up to make Associated Press poll history Sunday.

The college football top 25 poll, as voted on by 60 media members nationwide, ranked WVU at No. 22 and Marshall at No. 23, the first time ever the Mountain State's two Football Bowl Subdivision programs have appeared in the regular-season AP rankings at the same time.

The only other voting week this occurred was the final poll of the 2002 season, which was released Jan. 4, 2003 after the bowl games. The Thundering Herd was No. 24 in that poll after defeating Louisville, 38-15, in the GMAC Bowl. The Mountaineers finished 25th that season after losing to Virginia, 48-22, in the Continental Tire Bowl. In the last AP top 25 poll before the bowls that season, WVU was No. 13 and the Herd sat in the others receiving votes category.

West Virginia (5-2, 3-1 Big 12) cracked the top 25 for the first time this season after defeating then-No. 4 Baylor, 41-27, Saturday in Morgantown. The Bears plummeted eight spots to No. 12. West Virginia has won three consecutive Big 12 games after losing to then-No. 4 Oklahoma on Sept. 20. The Mountaineers have won five of six games since the season-opening loss to Alabama, with wins over Towson, Maryland, Kansas, Texas Tech and Baylor.

Marshall (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) is in the national rankings for consecutive weeks after winning at Florida International, 45-13, Saturday in Miami. The Thundering Herd, one of four remaining undefeated teams in the FBS, moved up two spots.

The Mountaineers accumulated 272 points by appearing on 52 of 60 possible ballots. Three voters ranked WVU at No. 13.

The Thundering Herd compiled 184 points and appeared on 44 ballots, with one voter placing Marshall at No. 15. Sixteen voters did not rank the Herd.

MU has won eight consecutive games dating back to last season.

WVU visits Oklahoma State this Saturday after the Cowboys tumbled from the national polls. Marshall hosts Florida Atlantic.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Cato sets record, Herd thumps FIU, 45-13 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141018/DM03/141019149 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141018/DM03/141019149 Sat, 18 Oct 2014 22:35:42 -0400 By Derek Redd MIAMI - The Marshall football team trailed for the first time this season in the first quarter of its game at Florida International University.

That didn't last long. And didn't happen again.

The 25th-ranked Thundering Herd scored 45 straight points to pull ahead and stay ahead of the Panthers - and quarterback Rakeem Cato set the major college record with his 39th straight game with a touchdown pass - in a 45-13 win at FIU Stadium.

"I'm glad that happened," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said of the team's early struggles. "We had a little adversity there in the first half and the kids came out there in the second half and played extremely well. It was great to see."

The Herd exploded for 31 second-half points to give MU its eighth straight win dating back to last season's Military Bowl.

That bowl also happened to be the last time Marshall (7-0, 3-0 Conference USA) trailed in a contest. That came with about 12 minutes left in the fourth quarter against Maryland.

The latest came with 2:00 left in the first quarter against FIU. The Panthers (3-5, 2-2 C-USA) capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive with quarterback Alex McGough's 1-yard run. The Herd answered quickly in all regards. On the next drive, Marshall went 74 yards on four plays in a minute, 55 seconds, and Cato found backup tight end Ryan Yurachek for a 1-yard touchdown.

"I knew that play was going to work," Cato said. "It's a play we don't have in our system. We know it. The whole offense knows it and when that play is called, we just know what to do."

Cato's pass broke the tie he had with former North Carolina State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. He wasn't done after that. Cato threw for four touchdowns against the Panthers, who had allowed just five in their first seven games.

What made the milestone even sweeter was that he reached it in front of his family and friends in his hometown, where he won a Class 6A state title at Miami Central and became Dade County high schools' career passing leader.

"It's a blessing, because I broke it with a group of men I've been here with," Cato said. "The guys I've been here with are great guys to play with. It was a team effort through 39 games and we still have some games to go."

Meanwhile, Marshall's defense remained its stingy self. Despite giving up 205 first-half yards, the Herd allowed only that McGough touchdown. It buckled down in the second half, allowing just 180 yards in those two quarters - 75 coming on the Panthers' final drive - and intercepting a pair of passes. The second, corner Corey Tindal returned for a 30-yard touchdown. Defensive tackle Jarquez Samuel picked off the first grabbing an Arnold Blackmon deflection.

Holliday said that improvement came simply from the defense doing what it knows, just doing it a little better.

"We just got lined up, played our technique, played our fundamentals and just tackled better," Holliday said. "It wasn't that we were lined up wrong. We just had to play a little better."

Marshall harassed FIU freshman quarterback Alex McGough into 176 yards and two interceptions on 14-of-27 passing, sacking him three times. Alex Gardner led FIU with 104 rushing yards, but left the game injured in the fourth quarter.

Marshall running back Devon Johnson continued his breakout season, rushing for 117 yards on nine carries, including a 71-yarder on his first carry. He added three catches for 79 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Angelo Jean-Louis caught Cato's other touchdown.

The Herd hosts Florida Atlantic at 3:30 p.m. next Saturday, a game that will be broadcast on Fox Sports 1.

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: National record could be Cato's vs. FIU http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141016/DM03/141019286 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141016/DM03/141019286 Thu, 16 Oct 2014 21:33:55 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - A reporter asked Rakeem Cato earlier this week to draw up the dream scenario for his first touchdown pass against Florida International University. That throw would break the major college record for consecutive games with a touchdown pass with his 39th.

A grin spread across his face as he gave his answer - a 99-yard bomb to freshman backup tight end Ryan Yurachek.

"He was probably trying to get under (Tommy) Shuler's skin a little bit," Marshall coach Doc Holliday would say the next day.

Maybe Cato was using that answer to needle his best friend, high school teammate and favorite target in the Thundering Herd receiving corps. Maybe he was being serious. Maybe it was his way of saying it didn't matter how that touchdown would come, that his focus was scoring enough to help the No. 25 Herd beat the Panthers when the teams face off Saturday at 6 p.m. at FIU Stadium (American Sports Network).

Throwing that touchdown pass Saturday personally would mean a lot to Cato. He'd break a tie he holds with former Wisconsin and North Carolina State quarterback Russell Wilson, who won a Super Bowl last season as the starting quarterback for the Seattle Seahawks. He'd do it in his hometown of Miami, where his family, friends and mentors from his youth - the ones that helped him overcome the loss of his mother at age 13 to become one of the most prolific passers in Marshall history - can watch the milestone.

Cato said the win would mean more. It would push the Herd to 7-0 overall and 3-0 in Conference USA. Marshall hasn't gone undefeated this late in the season since the 1999 team finished 13-0.

So he's not worried about when he'll get his chance to break that record, or even if he'll break it at all. If the opportunity presents itself, he'll go for it.

"I've just been running the offense," he said. "I promise, I've just been running the offense. I look to the sideline and they call the pass play, if the pass play's not there, I'll do something. I'll check to a run, check to a different pass. If it's a run play and that run play's not there, I'll check to a pass. If that pass is a touchdown, then it's a touchdown.

"I'm not doing anything to try to force my touchdown," Cato continued. "I'm just looking to the sideline, and whatever (offensive coordinator Bill) Legg is calling, I'm running."

If there's a defense that could keep Cato tied with Wilson, it could be FIU (3-4, 2-1 C-USA). The Panthers defense has led the way in the team already tripling its win total from a season ago. FIU has allowed just five passing touchdowns in seven games, and its 184.3 passing yards allowed per game leads the conference. The Panthers have intercepted eight passes, returning three for touchdowns, and recorded 21 sacks.

Cato said he should be well-prepared for a defense the caliber of FIU's. He faces an excellent one every day in practice. Marshall's defense sits just behind the Panthers in second place in C-USA in total yards allowed and passing yards allowed per game.

"Going every day against 'Swagg' (Darryl Roberts), going against A.J. Leggett, going against Corey Tindal, going against (James) Rouse every day, that prepares us as an offense at a high level," he said. "Just knowing we have to have great practice, knowing in 7-on-7 we have to take those reps seriously ... I'll be ready and our offense will be ready."

When Shuler was told about Cato's dream throw to Yurachek, he couldn't stifle a grin, either.

"When I see him later on, I'll ask him about it," Shuler said. "He'll probably say something different."

In the end, Shuler - whose family took Cato in for a time after his mother died - doesn't care who catches that record-setting throw.

"He can break it to (center Chris) Jasperse on a flea-flicker," Shuler said, "as long as he breaks it."

Shuler is sure that his best friend will hold that record on his own. And it's an honor he feels Cato has earned.

"He's put in so much hard work," Shuler said. "In the offseason, he watched so much film and put in so much extra work, it's paying off."

Whether that record finally falls, Holliday knows that isn't Cato's primary mission. His quarterback wants the victory more than anything else. It would put Marshall closer to a division title, a conference title and a possible spot in one of the marquee bowls.

That, Holliday said, is what makes Cato so good under center.

"To have a quarterback that has had all the hype and everything that's surrounded him all summer and all that, to handle things the way he's handled it, he couldn't care less whether he completes a pass or hands it off to Devon (Johnson).

"As a head coach, I appreciate that, because it's fun to go to work and it's fun to be out there," he added. "That's what good teams do. If you're unselfish and hold each other accountable and don't get complacent, you have a chance. And I think this team has a chance."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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Chuck McGill: W.Va. roots, experiences have shaped D'Antoni's philosophy http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141016/DM03/141019288 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141016/DM03/141019288 Thu, 16 Oct 2014 21:27:58 -0400 By Chuck McGill HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - As a little boy growing up in Mullens, Dan D'Antoni would grab a basketball and head outside before the sun began to peek over the mountains.

"They would say I was everyone's alarm clock," the 67-year-old Marshall University men's basketball coach said. "When you're bouncing the ball down the avenue down to the playground in West Mullens at six in the morning, everybody can hear it."

D'Antoni, hired in April as the Thundering Herd's new coach, has had a ball within reach ever since. He has evolved as a coach since he began working as the freshman coach at Marshall and at St. James Middle School in Myrtle Beach, S.C., but the fabric of who he is has always been rooted in the Mountain State.

"It all started here," he said.

D'Antoni's offensive and defensive philosophy are similar to what he learned from his father, Lewis D'Antoni, and coaches and experiences that inspired him along the way. He calls the offense "chaotic" and the defense "attacking."

"We want the other team to feel like it's chaotic, but there is a structure to it," Dan D'Antoni said. "It's our structure, but it's all about letting the players make reads instead of coaching from the bench.

"You teach players to make reads on the floor and make adjustments when they play, and not so much what I see."

D'Antoni makes his collegiate coaching debut Nov. 14 when the Herd hosts Jacksonville State. He said fans will see that chaos on the floor, but rarely on the bench. He isn't a yeller or a screamer because he wants his players to play loose and independent.

This is a style he has been developing since he ditched football and baseball and became a basketball junkie in the ninth grade.

"Football faded because I didn't grow much and baseball faded when we went from 60 feet to 90 feet and I'd hit a home run and the shortstop would catch it," he said.

These are lessons he learned from the time he coached at St. James Middle School. He was a guidance counselor by day and worked at famed Myrtle Beach bar The Bowery at night.

"A beer joint, throwing beer on the tables and throwing people out," he said. "Alabama was the house band, so not bad."

D'Antoni landed the coaching gig at Myrtle Beach's Socastee High School, which he held for 28 years, after the principal's son saw D'Antoni play basketball in a Myrtle Beach men's league. He'd later join his brother, Mike, for nine seasons in the NBA.

"I never really immersed myself in the Xs and Os," Dan D'Antoni said. "I was more of a defensive coach that got kids to play hard, that got them in the gym where they love to play. You play hard and you play a lot, you'll figure it out. It's not a hard game."

The sport's implementation of the 3-point line and concepts brother Mike brought back from Italy further evolved Dan D'Antoni's basketball philosophy. It's what Herd fans - and Conference USA opponents - will have to get used to this season and beyond.

"Southern West Virginia and people like my dad always employed the fast break, getting out and running and looking for quick shots," D'Antoni said. "So, I kind of grew up through that and when I got to Marshall, Ellis Johnson did the same thing.

"That was a staple of Southern West Virginia and Kentucky. It was the New York brand of ball that slowed it down; we were always free-flowing, moving, passing."

See a common thread in all this? Fun, chaotic, fast, energy, independence, more fun.

"Teaching kids how to play basketball is really like riding a bike," he said. "You put your hand on the back of the seat and you hold it to kind of steady it for them, but if you keep your hand on that seat they never go solo.

"Once you let go, they start doing wheelies and flipping all by themselves. I put my hand on the seat during practices, show them how to play, then we get to game and I let go. I just let go."

In D'Antoni's office, the music never stops. Sit there and chat with him a while, and you'll hear stories mixed with songs from Chuck Berry and Don Williams in the background. He wants his players to be in a hurry, but he's seldom in a rush.

"I just want these guys to have fun," he said. "I grew up with attacking defenses and fast-break offenses and just letting it rip. It is a fun game. This should be fun for everybody.

"I want to win, don't get me wrong," he added. "I'll step on your throat if I have to ... but this is a game, so let's go have some fun."

The alarm clock has sounded.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: Big-play defense leads the way for FIU http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141015/DM03/141019495 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141015/DM03/141019495 Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:28:56 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON - Florida International University's football team won just one game in 2013.

"And, quite honestly, I'm not sure how we won one," FIU coach Ron Turner said.

Seven games into their 2014 season, the Panthers already have tripled that win total, sit above .500 in Conference USA for the first time and above .500 in conference play since finishing 5-3 in the Sun Belt in 2011. Their next step in the climb back to respectability comes at 6 p.m. Saturday when FIU (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) hosts No. 25 Marshall (6-0, 2-0 C-USA) on the American Sports Network. The Panthers are making that climb on the back of a defense that is one of the nation's best in big plays.

FIU's defense actually edges out Marshall's for the best in the conference in yards allowed. The Panthers allow 326 per game to Marshall's 328.2.

"First and foremost, from top to bottom, it's the most athletic group that we've played," Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg said. "They run extremely well, they swarm as good as anybody we've seen.

"We've played guys that are as athletic up front as they are," he added. "We've played guys who are as athletic in the back end as they are. We haven't played anybody as athletic from top to bottom as they are."

Turner said the Panthers' defensive improvement boils down to three main factors.

"Number one, we've got better players," Turner said. "Number two, they're playing very fast, very hard and very aggressive. And, number three, our coaching staff is doing a really good job with those guys."

That speed and aggressiveness has led FIU to jump to the top of the rankings in two momentum-swinging categories - turnovers and sacks. The Panthers are tied with six other teams for ninth place in sacks with 21. They've recovered five more turnovers than any other team in the Football Bowl Subdivision, 24 in all.

The leader in that turnover parade is corner Richard Leonard. The senior Miami native already has intercepted four passes and recovered three fumbles. He's returned two of those interceptions and one of those fumbles for touchdowns.

"Every day, we work on getting those turnovers," Leonard said. "When the balls on the ground, we scoop it up and score. The rest, I just try to use my talent to make some thing happen after that."

Leonard - also the Panthers' chief punt and kick returner, whose 73.3 all-purpose yards per game sits behind only the 75.6 per game of starting running back Alex Gardner - is the main spark to Florida International's defense. And, Marshall receiver Tommy Shuler said, he can provide that spark from several different spots in the Panthers' scheme.

"He's their Energizer Bunny," Shuler said. "He's going to be out there bouncing around. You're going to see him at nickel, you're going to see him at corner, you're going to see him blitzing and dropping deep into coverage. He's going to do it all."

Leonard opportunity to do it all wasn't always a guarantee. He sat the 2013 season as an academic casualty, one of several Panthers suspended or dismissed because of academic or off-field issues. Turner said many of the problems from last season stemmed from a needed attitude adjustment and Turner's refusal to keep players who wouldn't make that adjustment. He said he's had plenty of long talks with Leonard, who has bought in and become one of FIU's leaders.

"He could have been one of those guys that was dismissed or wasn't here," Turner said. "But he's bought in 100 percent. He's one of our leaders. He's doing things the right way. He's a great, great kid that just needed some direction.

"He's a smart football player, an instinctive football player and has a knack for being in the right place at the right time and making plays," he added. "You put that together with doing everything right, it's no surprise that he's having success."

FIU, however, hasn't faced an offense as potent as Marshall's which sits behind only Baylor in the FBS in yards per game (594.5) and points per game (47.8). Leonard wants to see if the Panthers can keep their defensive scoring average close to the 19.9 points they've allowed per game so far.

"It's going to be one of our biggest tests," Leonard said. "They're an explosive offense. They put up a lot of points and we're a defense that doesn't allow points. It's going to be a great game, so we're just going to go out there on Saturday and see who has the best offense and who has the best defense."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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Derek Redd: Mistakes haven't hurt Herd, but will they? http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141015/DM03/141019496 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141015/DM03/141019496 Wed, 15 Oct 2014 16:28:14 -0400 In my younger days as a prep sports reporter in Southwest Florida, I had the chance to cover a nationally ranked football team.

Naples High made it as high as No. 16 in the USA Today Super 25 poll. It had four running backs averaging more than 10 yards per carry. Its defense didn't allow a team to rush for 100 yards in its first seven games. There wasn't a team in the area that could come near it.

Yet I noticed a couple of blemishes and made mention of them in a late-season column. The Golden Eagles were averaging a shade under three turnovers per game and a smidgen over 85 yards in penalties. Keep that up, I wrote, and there might be a team out there that could capitalize on those mistakes and pull off a major upset.

Of course, when I wrote that, I was branded a hater and a killjoy and fans wondered why I would dump a big bucket of water over a such a dominating run. The turnovers and penalties hadn't hurt the team so far, they asked, so why assume they would in the future?

That season made history, but for the wrong reason.

I watched that Naples team lose in the first round of the playoffs by one point to a district runner-up when the Golden Eagles' last-second field goal sailed wide.

The culprits? Three lost fumbles, two recovered for touchdowns, and 85 yards in penalties.

And now I'm going to risk being labeled a wet blanket once again.

There are plenty of statistics that the Marshall football team dominate. The Thundering Herd ranks second nationally behind Baylor in both yards gained and points scored per game. Its defense is tied for eighth in points allowed and alone in 25th in yards allowed. Marshall's average margin of victory is more than four touchdowns and it's the only major college football team this season to score at least 40 points in each of its first six games.

But there are two categories where Marshall doesn't fare so well, the same two that finally did in that nationally ranked Naples team - turnovers and penalties.

Marshall has lost 11 turnovers this season, tied with nine other teams for 76th nationally. It averages 94.2 penalty yards per game. Only Texas Tech averages more in the entire Football Bowl Subdivision.

Neither of these numbers have left even a scratch on the Thundering Herd. Marshall's just been that much better than every opponent its faced. Against Akron, Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato threw an interception that the Zips snagged at the Herd 36. Plus, the Herd set a single-game record with a staggering 188 penalty yards.

For most teams, those errors would be fatal. Marshall won that game by 31 points and led by as many as 38.

That's part of what has made Marshall's season so far so astonishing. The Herd has suffered injuries at key positions, and given away yards and possessions. Yet Marshall simply keeps plowing through its competition.

Just because those mistakes have not yet tripped up the Herd doesn't mean coach Doc Holliday isn't aware they need corrected.

"You've got to control your emotions," Holliday said after the Herd racked up another 101 penalty yards and two turnovers in a 49-24 win over Middle Tennessee. "In a critical game, that can hurt you."

Now, 30 of those yards came from taunting flags thrown against Cato and center Chris Jasperse in an incredibly intense game. That likely doesn't happen again. But what about the other facemask and false start penalties Marshall committed? And what about the interception and lost fumble?

The Herd's Saturday opponent, Florida International, has gained 24 turnovers this season, at least five more than every other FBS team. What's more, the Panthers have returned four of those turnovers - three interceptions and a fumble - for touchdowns. What's to say FIU can't keep that game close with a pick-six?

Well, the fact that in three of FIU's losses, the Panthers have finished with 13 points or fewer could make a difference, especially with Marshall's defense coming to town. The remainder of the Herd's schedule doesn't look stacked with giant-killers. The University of Alabama at Birmingham enjoyed a decent first half of its season, but the Blazers lost by two touchdowns to FIU. Western Kentucky scores a lot of points, but the Hilltoppers give up a ton of points, too. But short fields off turnovers and drives killed by penalties can narrow a talent gap pretty quickly.

And what if the Herd's dream is realized, and it makes a marquee bowl against the likes of Notre Dame, Mississippi State or Georgia? What are the chances of Marshall getting away with a couple of turnovers or triple-digit penalty yards against an opponent of that caliber?

The mistakes haven't stymied Marshall so far, and they may not at any point this season. The Herd just might be that much better than anyone on its schedule. But Marshall should be vigilant of them.

The talk of an undefeated campaign began long before the season's opening kickoff. Most teams would kill for a 12-1 season and a conference championship, but Marshall has the chance to take an even bigger step into a big-time bowl against a top-level opponent. The Herd wouldn't want its potentially historic season marred by errors it could control.

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MARSHALL FOOTBALL: McManus fills a void for Marshall http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141014/DM03/141019536 DM03 http://www.charlestondailymail.com/article/20141014/DM03/141019536 Tue, 14 Oct 2014 22:55:10 -0400 By Derek Redd HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall's football team needed to fill a big hole at wide receiver, and found a big body to do the job.

Freshman Deon-Tay McManus entered college as a highly touted wide receiver, but Thundering Herd coaches looked at his 6-foot-2, 227-pound frame and felt his future for them was at tight end. Injuries at wideout changed those plans three weeks ago and sent McManus back to his former role.

He responded with a pair of solid games as an outside receiver and should be called upon to continue that when the Herd visits Florida International at 6 p.m. Saturday (American Sports Network).

"I think he's just going to get better and better," Herd coach Doc Holliday said. "I think what you're seeing out there right now is just a natural athlete with a lot of ability going out and making plays. He'll continue just to get better every day because, number one, he just loves to play."

McManus was a four-star receiver prospect out of Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Md., and originally signed to West Virginia University. His route to college took a detour to prep school at Atlanta Sports Academy, and he enrolled at Marshall (6-0, 2-0 Conference USA) in the winter of 2013, sitting out that season as an academic non-qualifier.

At his first chance to practice during preparations for last season's Military Bowl, his college career took another turn, this time to the tight end room. He spent the 2014 season's first four games there, but after Davonte Allen went down with an upper body injury versus Akron, Holliday moved him back to his old position.

Senior receiver Tommy Shuler said the receivers room welcomed him with open arms. Those players knew his capabilities.

"When Doc made the switchback, it was great knowing that he can help us on the outside," Shuler said. "He can take the top off a defense and he's a big body. He came over there and started learning so fast, I said, 'He's going to help us.'"

It didn't take long. Against Old Dominion, he caught five passes for 55 yards, including his first collegiate touchdown, a 6-yarder. His presence became even more crucial against Middle Tennessee. Not only was Allen on the sideline in street clothes, but fellow freshman Angelo Jean-Louis left the game after just one catch with a rib injury. McManus caught another two passes for 68 yards, including a 29-yard touchdown.

McManus, who averages 17.6 yards per catch, said that time spent at tight end made the transition back to receiver much easier.

"You can't be weak on that line," McManus said. "So me going against defensive ends and linebackers, things like that, when I move to the outside receiver and I'm going against a corner, I'm looking at it like its easier. It's just me being strong, being physical and just making plays."

His size also creates some major mismatches on the outside. At 6-2, he's tied with Allen as the second-tallest receiver on the roster, only behind 6-3 Justin Hunt. McManus outweighs Allen by 27 pounds and Marshall's next-heaviest receiver behind McManus is 211-pound freshman Emmanuel Beal.

If FIU (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) sends a corner out to guard McManus, the Panthers two-deep has no corner taller than 6 feet or heavier than 196 pounds. Trying to jam him at the line of scrimmage could be a chore, as other rival defensive backs have learned this year.

"A couple people have tried," McManus said. "I don't like being jammed, so I take that personally. I know that I'm big and I'm stronger, so I just use that to my advantage. I'm fast, but I'm not that fast, so I have to use what God gave me, and that's my strength and power."

Shuler cautioned not to short-change McManus' ability to run. The Herd learned through practice that his bulk doesn't really slow him down.

"That's one thing we found out," Shuler said. "When we run our gassers, he's always leading it."

The Herd probably will need McManus again Saturday in a prominent role. Holliday said Tuesday that Jean-Louis should practice this week and Allen should get some work, too. Their status for Saturday's game, though, wasn't made clear. If they can't make it, McManus said he and the rest of the receivers are ready to pick up the slack.

"We're a brotherhood," he said. "We're a family. So second-string, third-string, fourth-string, they know that we have to step up and hold that spot that Davonte Allen had, and all those other receivers. So we feel as though we can put anyone in at any time of the game and get the job done."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymailwv.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.charlestondailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.

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