Cato relishes meeting USM
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Almost every player and every team in the country would love to play now 0-8 Southern Miss.
On Saturday, the Golden Eagles were penalized because their left tackle lined up in the backfield. Their quarterback was running for his life and, once, batted his own batted pass down. The team entered the game slotted No. 177 nationally in the Sagarin computer rankings. It lost to Marshall at Joan C. Edwards Stadium by a whopping 61-13 count in a Conference USA meeting before an announced crowd of 20,398.
Of all the players that desire facing Southern Miss, though, there's probably none as desirous as MU quarterback Rakeem Cato.
Which is understandable. See, not only do the Golden Eagles bring forth good results for Cato, but fond memories as well.
It was two years ago, in 2011, when Cato, then a freshman, had his breakout game.
"It was my first home game," Cato said on Saturday. "I had my first touchdown pass. There was a lot of excitement.
"I remember the great seniors, like Vinny Curry. I threw a touchdown to Aaron Dobson."
On that day he threw for three touchdowns and rallied the Herd from a 17-3 deficit to a 26-20 victory.
On Saturday, Cato had four touchdown passes in the first quarter. Marshall was on pace to score 112 points before settling for about half of that. The junior had five TD passes on a 21-of-28 day for 262 yards with no interceptions. He received a rest for the first time since the Sept. 7 Gardner-Webb game.
"With the exception of that one [fumble] he played well," said MU coach Doc Holliday. "I think we were 300-plus [yards] rushing and 300-plus passing. That balance, I believe, helped us. A lot of that was on [Cato]. He had some great checks.
"We had some calls that were actually throws, but he checked to runs. On a lot of the run-pass options he did a great job of getting us into the right call. He managed the game extremely well."
Essray Taliaferro appreciated one check in particular. It resulted in the back's 18-yard touchdown run.
"It was actually a pass," Taliaferro said. "[Cato] saw two high safeties and checked it. It was a brilliant call."
"He's grown up so much," Holliday said. "He's making great decisions and is a better leader. He's become a really solid quarterback."
Indeed, criticize Marshall if you wish. There have been losses that shouldn't have been losses. On Saturday, it finally displayed the killer instinct that's been missing for a while. But check the record books. Check the ones involving quarterbacks.
You'll see Cato hanging with Tony Petersen. You'll see his name listed with Byron Leftwich. You'll see him in career and single-season lists with the likes of Chad Pennington.
"I remember when he first got here," Holliday said. "He'd get frustrated if he wouldn't get a first down or a touchdown. I realized then how competitive he was.
"I started to realize he's as competitive as any player I've ever coached or been around, and I've been around some good ones: Tim Tebow, Philip Rivers and Jeff Hostetler. I don't know if I've been around anyone as competitive as Rakeem."
"I've become more of a leader," Cato said. "I'm talking more to my teammates. I watch more film."
On Saturday, after being replaced with 2:10 remaining in the third quarter, Cato helped backup Blake Frohnapfel.
"I kept telling him to keep his eyes open," Cato said. "I told him everything that was open on film was open here. I told him to watch the linebackers."
Cato knew of what he spoke. The junior helped set the tone early by hitting Gator Hoskins for a 27-yard score on the Herd's first play from scrimmage. (It was set up by a Brandon Sparrow fumble recovery.)
Cato rolled right on the next possession and hit Craig Wilkins for a TD. In his most impressive toss of the day, Cato rolled right on the Herd's next possession, seemingly was headed out of bounds, yet threw a strike across the field to Davonte Allen from 23 yards out.
Don't misunderstand. His day wasn't perfect. There was a fumble. Also, on a Kevin Grooms rush, Cato could have thrown a lead block - but backed off.
"Yeah," Cato said with a smile. "I try not to do too much. I was just trying to slow the [tackler] down."
Overall, though, he's been helping MU rev up. His arm seems stronger. His throws are tighter.
"Ever since my first [Southern Miss game] I've had a rhythm," Cato said. "I've been working on my craft."
And the kid's become quite the artist.
Reach Mitch Vingle at 304-348-4827, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/MitchVingle.