HUNTINGTON - With the calendar just hitting the double-digit days of September, the statistical sample is small. But Marshall's passing yardage figure is not.
In fact, it is the largest in the land.
At least in the Division I FBS ranks.
With Rakeem Cato leading the charge, the Thundering Herd has thrown for 843 yards, or 421.5 per game. The other 119 are looking upward, including Houston, Baylor and Oklahoma State, among others.
Don't attach too much significance just yet. The Herd was behind by double digits almost all of the game at West Virginia, allowing the Mountaineers (and their second-stringers) the luxury of conservative play. Western Carolin's defense has been sieve-like on the FCS level for several years.
Still, Marshall hasn't pitched the prolate spheroid around the pitch like this in years, against anyone. And that is the point.
And Herd players are loving it.
"He's been throwing the ball [well], coach [Bill] Legg has been calling the plays," said receiver Aaron Dobson. "Receivers have been making plays, tight ends. This offense, we're producing really well."
Individually, Cato is fourth in yardage with 395.0 per game, 790 total. The three in front (Kolton Browning of Louisiana-Monroe, Ryan Nassib of Syracuse and David Piland of Houston) have thrown all of their team's passes, while Cato has yielded six attempts to Blake Frohnapfel. Frohnapfel went 4-for-4 for 53 yards last weekend.
Cato threw for 413 yards against WVU and 377 against Western Carolina, making him the first Herd thrower to record back-to-back 300-yard games since Stan Hill in 2004. Taking that a little deeper, Cato became the first to go back-to-back with 375-yard efforts since Byron Leftwich strung together 400-yard efforts against Ball State and Toledo.
Cato is 30th in pass efficiency rating, behind other quarterbacks with scorching starts. For instance, Cato's 72 percent completion rate is dwarfed by the 88.9 percent by WVU's Geno Smith, compiled against the Herd. Southern California's Matt Barkley doubles Cato's five touchdowns, while many quarterbacks are averaging more than 10 yards per pass. If Cato keeps his 8.23 average or close to it, his rank in that category will rise.
The sophomore from Miami is getting his chances; that's for certain. Marshall has run 195 official plays from scrimmage, nine more than it did its first three games last year. (OK, that 2011 season opener did end early, but still ...)
Those extra plays don't automatically mean extra yardage, but defenses are having predictable trouble with substitutions, or even getting set. If your defense can't get aligned for one snap against this bunch, you'll probably pay.
"It's very exciting, knowing I can take a shot down the field, catch them off guard," Cato said. "When Kevin Grooms caught a 5-yard route and turned it into 20 yards on second-and-, it's stuff like that when the defense isn't set. We take advantage of it."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or dougsm...@wvgazette.com.