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Rakeem Cato looks forward to playing against "a great defense."
Courtesy of Marshall University
Wednesday, September 18, 2013
Last year, Marshall University quarterback Rakeem Cato averaged more passing yards and completions than anyone else in the nation.
On Saturday, though, he will face Virginia Tech’s stingy defense.
Cato can’t wait.
“They’re a great defense,” he said in a phone interview. “We’re a great team and we’re a great offense. May the best man win.
“Me as a quarterback and us as a team, we show no fear to nobody.”
This won’t be the first time Cato has played the Hokies.
Tech won 30-10 at Marshall in September 2011, when Cato was a true freshman playing in just his fourth college game. Cato completed 17 of 33 passes for 245 yards and one touchdown with one interception.
But since then, Cato said, he has become better at recognizing defenses and throwing the deep ball.
“He’s a lot better,” Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg said. “The ball’s out of his hands sooner because he now has a better understanding of not just the speed of the game but how our system works.”
Marshall’s offensive system is different than it was in the 2011 meeting.
“We’re going fast,” Cato said. “It’s a great fit for me — just going out there and having fun.”
Last year, Legg felt the 6-foot, 188-pound Cato was ready for a quicker tempo.
So Marshall averaged an eye-popping 90 offensive plays last season — tops in the nation. The Thundering Herd ranked fifth nationally in scoring offense (40.9 ppg) but finished 5-7.
“When he was a freshman, we didn’t want him to have to make a decision on every single play,” Legg said. “We began [last year] to transition into the reason why we recruited him in the first place.
“He’s got to make a lot of decisions. I’m very confident and comfortable with his level of making those decisions.”
This year, Marshall (2-1) is averaging 82.3 offensive plays with its one-back scheme.
“We’ll try to run that pace as much as possible but at the same time always keeping the team [needs] ahead of any statistic,” said Legg, once an assistant coach at VMI. “If the [Marshall] defense was out on the field for 10, 15 plays, we can’t go out there and go fast and all of a sudden be three-and-out and only 40 seconds ran off the clock.”
Cato, a Miami native, threw for 9,412 yards in his prep career. Legg, then a Florida International assistant, first eyed him at an FIU camp. Legg said Cato was “really skinny,” but he was impressed with his “high football IQ.”
Cato orally committed to FIU but wound up signing with Marshall, in part because Legg had switched schools.
“We all fall into a trap at times when it comes to recruiting on how big kids are or how fast kids are or how strong kids are,” Legg said. “Rakeem is between 6 foot and 6-1. He was probably 160, 165 pounds as a senior. That’s not your prototypical SEC, ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 quarterback. That’s probably a lot of the reason that he fell to the mid-majors.
“We felt like that even though he might not be the biggest guy out there, that he fit into what we’re trying to do [at Marshall].”
Cato threw for 2,059 yards as a Marshall freshman, when he helped the team reach a bowl game.
Last fall, Cato led the FBS in passing yards per game (350.1 ypg) and completions per game (33.8). His 406 completions were a school record. He completed 69.5 percent of his passes for 4,201 yards and 37 TDs with 11 interceptions and was named Conference USA’s most valuable player.
Marshall is coming off a 34-31 loss at Ohio University. The Thundering Herd turned the ball over four times in that game, including a Cato interception.
But Cato said his team is still “very confident” about the Virginia Tech game.
“You can’t let one loss determine your season or your goals,” Cato said. “You’ve got to go out there and have fun. I’m very excited to play against their great defense and play in that atmosphere.”
Cato has completed 68 of 107 passes for 849 yards and seven TDs with two interceptions this year.
When he is a senior next season, he could be an NFL prospect.
“There’s going to be a lot of people that are going to look at this guy,” Legg said. “Now, you’re going to run into the same thing in the NFL that you ran into probably in college — ‘Well, he’s not big enough, he’s not tall enough, he’s not heavy enough.’
“There’s a short little guy down in New Orleans [Drew Brees] that’s doing an awful good job because he’s got a very, very high football IQ, he’s extremely competitive and he’s very accurate.
“If given the opportunity, I think [Cato is] going to surprise a lot of people.”
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