Grant Traylor: Cato off to fast start with stats
HUNTINGTON -- Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato has put up numbers in the first two weeks that have prompted many to draw comparisons to other great Herd quarterbacks.
Not so fast, says Marshall coach Doc Holliday.
"The kid has done a tremendous job. I think he's matured and he's really grown up from year one to year two," Holliday said. "I'm not ready to put him in the category of Chads and Byrons. He's not there yet. He's just a young guy. You need to give him time to grow up still."
Growing up is something that Cato has done quite well in the first two games of his sophomore year.
According to the NCAA statistics website (www.ncaa.com), Cato leads all of college football with 805 yards through the air in two games. That mark is one yard ahead of Syracuse quarterback Ryan Nassib.
Statistically, there is a 15-yard discrepancy between the 805 mark reported and the 790 accumulated, according to the final books. Cato has been sacked twice for 14 yards on the season, which could explain the discrepancy.
The numbers for Cato are less important than the improvements in his game management skills.
These are often called quarterback intangibles.
Things such as command of the offense, instilling confidence in his team, taking care of the football and going through the correct progressions on routes -- those are the things that turn a good quarterback into a great.
In that sense, Cato has learned from some of Marshall's best.
Quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Tony Petersen teaches him daily and he has built a strong bond with Marshall great Chad Pennington as well.
"I'm trying to live up to their standards," Cato said. "They set very high standards -- coach Petersen from Chad to Byron."
When quarterbacks take care of the intangibles, the statistics start to rise up as well.
Not only is Cato leading the nation in passing yards, he's also at the helm of the nation's leader in offensive plays from scrimmage. The Herd has run 195 plays in two games, which is 13 plays more than Houston and Syracuse.
That means he is getting his team lined up, in position and moving the football well. Cato is completing just under 73 percent of his passes and has the Herd rolling to the tune of 33 first downs per contest.
As Holliday said, Cato is extremely young for comparisons. Saturday's start was only the 11th of Cato's career.
While everything has worked well through the first two weeks of 2012, next week's matchup might be the biggest barometer for Cato's growth in his career.
In last year's 44-7 loss to Ohio, Cato had one of his worst outings in a Herd uniform, finishing 9-of-21 for 116 yards and four interceptions.
If Cato can turn it around and lead the Herd to a victory this weekend, it would be his biggest ascent as a quarterback yet.
OHIO HISTORY: Marshall and Ohio have met 55 times in the history of the Battle of the Bell with Ohio claiming a 30-19-6 overall record against the Herd.
Last year's 44-7 win by Ohio marked the first time since 2000 that the Bobcats had earned a win in the series.
The Bobcats' last trip to Joan C. Edwards Stadium produced a thrilling contest that ended with an Ohio touchdown on a Hail Mary as time expired to pull the team within one point. Ohio caoch Frank Solich opted to go for a game-winning two-point conversion, and the pass fell incomplete in the Herd's 24-23 win.
Marshall has won 10 of the 12 games in the rivalry over the last 25 years.
BEARD MAFIA MODIFIED: Cato almost went unrecognized when he walked into the press conference for post-game interviews on Saturday night.
The wirey coif of facial hair that started a movement called "The Beard Mafia" at Marshall had been modified.
The beard had combined with Cato's enthusiasm and personality to build a persona that Herd fans had become enamored with since he took the reigns at the beginning of his freshman year.
Still, he said it wasn't a big decision for him.
"I woke up and just thought about it, so I went to the barbershop and just cut it," Cato said. "That's all it was."
For all those who are worried that the signature look is gone, Cato sent out a reminder that colder weather is coming and its return is imminent.
"Oh yeah. It'll be back," Cato said. "It'll be back by November."
Grant Traylor is a sports writer for The Herald-Dispatch. He can be reached by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (304) 526-2759. Follow him on Twitter (@GrantTraylor).