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Marshall doesn’t have a repeat of 2011

By Staff | Dec 26, 2012

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – One year after backing itself out of a corner and earning a bowl invitation, Marshall University couldn’t duplicate the magic in 2012.

Following a gut-wrenching 65-59 double-overtime defeat at East Carolina in their regular-season finale, the Thundering Herd finished the campaign 5-7 under third-year head coach Doc Holliday.

Beginning with a 27-24 loss at home to Ohio in the third game of the year, it was a series of close calls for Marshall. Five of the Herd’s last six losses were decided by 10 points or less.

Of course, Marshall enjoyed its share of fantastic finishes. Following their loss against Ohio, the Herd returned the next week and traveled to Houston, Texas, where they outlasted Rice 54-51 in double-overtime.

On senior day against Houston, Marshall put itself within one victory of becoming bowl eligible after Justin Haig’s 45-yard field goal with seven seconds remaining in regulation gave the Herd a 44-41 win.

“I don’t think there’s any question that there were positives, but ultimately the way you’re judged as a football team is the number of wins, and competing for a conference championship,” Holliday said. “That’s our goal and unfortunately we didn’t do that, so it’s disappointing.”

From opening day in Morgantown against West Virginia University, Marshall’s offense was electrifying as it ranked eighth nationally at 40.9 points per game.

Mainly responsible was sophomore quarterback Rakeem Cato, who rewrote the school’s single-game records when he completed 45-of-68 passes in a 51-41 defeat at Purdue. For the season, Cato completed a school-record 406 passes, which resulted in 4,201 yards and 37 touchdowns as the Herd averaged 365.1 yards through the air each week – which led all FBS programs.

Conference USA recognized the Miami, Fla., native as the first underclassman to receive Player of the Year honors.

Next season, Cato will seek to improve his status among the school’s career leaders in the passing department. Currently, he ranks fourth in completions (588), fifth in touchdowns (52), sixth in attempts (888), and eighth in yards (6,260).

Among previous Herd quarterbacks with a minimum of 300 pass attempts, Cato is the most accurate at 66.2 percent — leading Byron Leftwich (1998-02) by 1.1 percentage points.

Also receiving postseason honors for the Herd were freshman running back Kevin Grooms, along with wide receivers Tommy Shuler, Aaron Dobson, tight end Gator Hoskins, strong safety Dominick LeGrande, center Cameron Dees, linebacker D.J. Hunter and punter Tyler Williams.

C-USA named Grooms as its Freshman of the Year. The Hollywood, Fla., native led the conference with 67.0 rushing yards per game while scoring eight touchdowns on the ground. His 737 yards rushing this season is the fourth highest total all-time among Marshall freshmen.

Grooms’ breakout game occurred against Rice included 103 rushing yards with three touchdowns to go with a 5-yard touchdown reception. Against Houston, he finished with 155 yards on 21 carries.

Among the nine Herd players receiving accolades by C-USA coaches, Cato, and Shuler were first-team selections, while Hoskins, Dobson and LeGrande filled a spot on the second team.

While Sporting News selected Hunter as a freshman All-American, that same honor was given to Williams by CollegeFootballNews.com. Both players joined Grooms and Dees on the C-USA All-Freshman team.

“You saw a quarterback (Rakeem Cato) starting to grow up a little bit, young receivers really starting to play well,” Holliday said. “We had an offensive line that continues to develop, and three freshmen running backs making good strides.

“From an offensive standpoint, there’s no question we were a lot better. And it’s important through the offseason, the recruiting process and spring ball that we continue to get better still.”