ACC: Marshall Thundering Herd

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January, 2, 2014
Jan 2
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Marshall ended its season on a high note by upending Maryland 31-20 in Friday's Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman. The victory clinched the Herd's first 10-win season in more than a decade.

Here's how it went down:

It was over when: Marshall completed a 28-yard pass on third-and-11 with about four minutes left in the game. The Herd were just out of field goal range before the play, with the ball at the Terps' 36, and that completion effectively put the game away. TE Gator Hoskins grabbed the catch near the first-down marker and rumbled for about another 14 yards. He caught a touchdown pass on the next play. That put Marshall up 31-20 with 3:42 left to play.

Game ball goes to: Marshall QB Rakeem Cato. If Marshall was going to win, it was going to be with the arm of Cato. Coach Doc Holliday chose to pass nine more times than his team rushed, and Cato finished 28-of-44 for 337 yards, three TDs and no interceptions. Cato came up big when needed, converting 4 of 6 third downs in the final quarter, including two third-and-long plays on touchdown drives.

Stat of the game: Maryland's average starting field position on its first 11 drives was its own 16. The Terps constantly had to drive a long field to get any points, as they didn't start a single drive past their own 28 until drive No. 12 -- when the game was already out of reach, and only after an excessive celebration by Marshall led to a 15-yard penalty. The Terps started within their own 5 on three occasions.

Unsung hero of the game: Marshall punter Tyler Williams. The Herd won the field-position battle in a big way, thanks in big part to Williams. Three of his first five five punts landed inside the 5 -- four of his seven were downed inside the 10 -- and another bounced at the 1 before a teammate carried it into the end zone. Holliday stayed conservative on fourth down, but it paid off.

What we learned: This win solidified the fact that Marshall is more than capable of playing with BCS-level opponents -- and that it will be a team to watch out for next season. Cato entered the bowl game as one of the better-kept secrets in the FBS, but with a national TV audience watching, that might not be the case anymore. He likely will surpass Chad Pennington's school record for career passing touchdowns (115) next season, and he's definitely a quarterback to keep an eye on.

To watch the trophy presentation of the Military Bowl, click here.

Military Bowl preview

December, 27, 2013
Maryland is hoping it goes out with a win against Marshall in its final game representing the ACC, but the Thundering Herd won't be a pushover in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman.

The two teams face each other at 2:30 p.m. ET on Friday (ESPN). Here's a quick preview:

Who to watch: The quarterbacks. Marshall's 6-foot signal-caller, Rakeem Cato, is one of the better-kept secrets in the FBS. He has passed for 3,579 yards this season, in addition to 36 TDs and nine interceptions. He's a junior, but he has already solidified his status as one of the better quarterbacks in school history. He's third in career passing touchdowns (88) for the Thundering Herd and sits behind two other Marshall QBs whom you might recognize: former NFL players Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington. Maryland isn't too bad at this position, either. C.J. Brown's numbers haven't been nearly as eye-popping, but the dual-threat QB has struggled with injuries throughout the season -- and he's finally healthy. He was instrumental in late-season wins against Virginia Tech and NC State, and he punished teams on the ground and through the air. He threw for 2,045 yards and 11 touchdowns and rushed for 538 yards and 12 TDs.

What to watch: Marshall's offense vs. Maryland's defense in the red zone. The Terps' secondary should have its hands full with the Thundering Herd already, but the red zone presents a whole new set of problems. Doc Holliday's offense has been incredibly balanced inside the 20-yard line, as it has ended up with 26 rushing TDs to 22 passing TDs. Marshall is seventh in the nation in red-zone offense by scoring on 91.8 percent of its trips. Maryland's defense, on the other hand? Well, this could end up being quite the mismatch. The Terrapins haven't fared well at all by ranking 111th in red-zone defense. They've allowed scores on 89.6 percent of their opponents' drives inside the 20. Marshall is a high-scoring offense and can win in a shootout. If Maryland struggles in this area, it might not be able to catch up.

Why to watch: Well, it's either watch this football game or no football game at all. This will be the only televised game for three-and-a-half hours, so that's a pretty big selling point. The matchup itself isn't the most intriguing -- Mark Schlabach ranked it No. 31 out of 35, in terms of interesting bowl games -- but Maryland is still looking to end its final game as a member of the ACC on a high note. Third-year Maryland head coach Randy Edsall hasn't yet won a bowl game, while Marshall is trying to prove it can play with teams from the AQ conferences. Plus, the game is about only a 30-minute drive from Maryland's campus, so it'll be interesting to see how well the fans travel. It should be a nice sneak peek for Big Ten fans for what they can expect.

Prediction: Marshall 38, Maryland 34

Did you know? ACC bowl games

December, 26, 2013
Thanks to ESPN Stats & Info, the ACC office and sports information departments for these tidbits.
  • This marks the first time in the ACC's 61-year history that three ACC teams have ended the regular season with at least 10 wins (Florida State, Duke and Clemson).
  • Throughout the year, the ACC has had three different top-10 teams (Three teams in the top 10 for three weeks, two teams in the top 10 for all but two weeks.)
  • ACC student-athletes have combined to win as many national individual awards as the other Power 5 conferences combined.
  • The ACC is the first conference in history to sweep the Heisman, Doak Walker, Davey O’Brien, Outland, Lombardi, Bednarik, and Nagurski awards in the same year.
  • As of Dec. 18, the ACC ranked second nationally with a total of 97 selections to postseason All-America teams (Associated Press, American Football Coaches Association, Football Writers Association of America, Walter Camp, Sporting News, USA Today, ESPN, CBS and Sports Illustrated.) The ACC’s 57 total first-team selections were also the second-most of any conference.
  • For the first time, the ACC boasted two of the top five vote recipients for the Heisman Trophy in Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston and Boston College running back Andre Williams. They were also among the five finalists for the Walter Camp Foundation National Player of the Year, with Winston receiving that honor.
  • Duke will try to do something it hasn’t done in 53 years: Win a bowl game. The Blue Devils haven’t won a bowl since the Cotton Bowl following the 1960 season. They’ll battle Texas A&M in the Chick-fil-A bowl on Dec. 31 (8 ET, ESPN). It could be the final collegiate game for Johnny Manziel. The Aggies haven’t beaten a ranked team this season (0-4).
  • The AdvoCare V100 Bowl (Dec. 31, 12:30 ET on ESPN), features two of the best running backs in the nation in Boston College’s Williams and Arizona’s Ka'Deem Carey. Williams finished fourth in the Heisman voting, while Carey finished 10th. One big difference is the load each player has been forced to carry. Williams has accounted for 80 percent of the Eagles rushing yards this season, while Carey has some help in the running game and has only accounted for 54 percent of Arizona’s rushing total.
  • Pitt is appearing in a bowl for the sixth straight season, but this will be its first bowl game not named the BBVA Compass Bowl since 2009. The Panthers have won just two of their last seven bowl appearances. Bowling Green has lost its last three bowl appearances with its last win coming in the 2004 GMAC Bowl.
  • One of the keys to Maryland’s improvement this season has been health at the quarterback position. Last season four players took snaps at quarterback, including four starts by Shawn Petty, who started the season as a linebacker. C.J. Brown, who missed all of last season with an ACL injury, has thrown for over 2,000 yards and accounted for 23 touchdowns this season.
  • Syracuse’s Terrel Hunt finished the regular season with 426 rushing yards, fourth among ACC quarterbacks in 2013. According to the school's game notes, it's already the most by an Orange QB since Donovan McNabb in 1998 (510).
  • North Carolina’s redshirt-sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams, who grew up in Charlotte, leads a very young Tar Heel offense. 42 of their 50 touchdowns this season have come from freshmen or sophomores, including the last 26.
  • Miami receiver Allen Hurns needs just 19 more receiving yards to set the school single-season record. Hurns already is one of just four players in school history with a 1,000-yard receiving season. Hurns hasn’t found the end zone as frequently as one might expect, though. Only two ACC players have more receiving yards than Hurns this season, but nine players have more touchdown catches than Hurns’ six.
  • The last time Georgia Tech and Ole Miss met in football was exactly 42 years ago: the Dec. 30, 1971 Peach Bowl. Ole Miss won that game, 41-18, its only win in three all-time meetings vs Georgia Tech. A bit of a surprise that this is just the fourth meeting all-time, considering that both were conference opponents when Georgia Tech was in the SEC from 1933-63.
  • Virginia Tech is making its 21st straight bowl appearance, the longest active streak recognized by the NCAA (Florida State is making its 32nd straight bowl appearance this season but vacated the 2006 Emerald Bowl). Rivals Georgia and Georgia Tech are tied for the second-longest active streak with 17 straight appearances. The Hokies need a win to avoid posting consecutive five-loss seasons for the first time since 1990-92 (three straight). To put that streak into perspective, all other current members of the ACC have notched consecutive five-loss seasons since the Hokies joined the league in 2004.
  • Florida State can become only the third team since 1950 to win all of its games by at least 14 points. The last to do it was Utah in 2004. The other was national champion Nebraska in 1995. FSU’s Winston can become just the third QB since 1950 to go undefeated with a national championship and a Heisman Trophy all in the same season. The two to do it were Auburn’s Cam Newton in 2010 and USC’s Matt Leinart in 2004.

Military Bowl

December, 8, 2013

Marshall Thundering Herd (9-4) vs. Maryland Terrapins (7-5)

Dec. 27, 2:30 p.m. ET, Annapolis, Md. (ESPN)

[+] EnlargeRakeem Cato
Leslie Plaza Johnson/Icon SMIRakeem Cato powers Marshall's high-octane offense.
The Thundering Herd rode an impressive five-game winning streak into the Conference USA championship game, where they lost 41-24 to Rice. Nonetheless, Marshall averaged 53.8 points per game during that streak to end the regular season, showing off an explosive offense that should make for an entertaining bowl appearance.

Led by quarterback Rakeem Cato (3,579 passing yards, 36 touchdowns, nine interceptions), Marshall boasts one of the most explosive offenses in the country. The Thundering Herd are seventh nationally in scoring (43 PPG) and 12th in total offense (502.3 YPG), showing off balance between run (211.2 YPG, 22nd nationally) and pass (291.2, 21st).

Oddly enough, Marshall and Maryland have produced similar results against common opponents. Maryland beat Virginia Tech 27-24 in overtime, while Marshall fell 29-21 against the Hokies in three overtimes. Similarly, Maryland beat Florida International 43-10, while Marshall was a 48-10 winner against FIU. -- David Ching


The list of injuries for Randy Edsall’s crew in the past two seasons is long and gruesome. But while the 2012 season was sunk when too much star power was relegated to the sideline, this season’s team managed to overcome.

[+] EnlargeC.J. Brown
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyC.J. Brown has accounted for 23 total touchdowns (11 passing 12, rushing) for Maryland.
The season started in grand fashion with four straight wins and an appearance in the AP Top 25 before the Terrapins ran into the buzz saw that was Florida State. Maryland was crushed 63-0 and left Tallahassee bruised and battered.

In the next four weeks, it lost three more games, as quarterback C.J. Brown battled injuries and star receiver Stefon Diggs was lost for the year.

But with its bowl hopes suddenly dimmed, Edsall’s group rebounded to win two of its final three, including a 41-21 drubbing of NC State in the program’s final ACC game.

The difference between this season’s seven-win team and last season’s four-win disaster was mostly Brown. Maryland cycled through five different quarterbacks in 2012, resorting, finally, to a converted linebacker to lead the offense. In 2013, Brown provided a far more appealing option, accounting for 23 touchdowns -- just five fewer than the Terps scored as a team in 2012.

Maryland’s 7-5 finish fell short of the high expectations its 4-0 start suggested, but the Terps still won one more game than Edsall did in his first two seasons as coach, and they’re playing a bowl game for the first time since 2010.

As Maryland prepares for a move to the Big Ten in 2014, that’s big progress. -- David Hale