If the Shu fits, throw it
HUNTINGTON - Tommy Shuler's Marshall teammates knew he was getting more than a few receptions last weekend at Purdue, because that's what Shuler does.
From his slot receiver position, the 5-foot-8, 187-pound sophomore from Miami runs crisp routes, hides in seams and looks for the ball from former high school teammate Rakeem Cato. Cato knows where Shuler is, and where to put the ball so only Shuler gets it.
That formula worked with outrageous frequency in the Thundering Herd's 51-41 loss to the Boilermakers - 19 times for 200 yards. That was more than enough for Shuler to be named Monday as Conference USA's offensive player of the week.
"It seemed like every other play he was catching the ball and going for some yardage," said MU defensive end Jeremiah Taylor. "It was crazy to see him catch that much. I guess they were on [Aaron Dobson] a lot, so Tommy was the next available guy and Cato sure did go for him.
"I was in the training room, and I was looking at the stats, and I saw Tommy had 19 catches for 200 yards. I was like, 'Whoa!' I was looking up and asking everybody, 'Tommy really had 200 yards?' That was impressive."
Even Cato, the man who threw those passes to Shuler and 26 more to other receivers, couldn't believe the count.
"I didn't know it was 19 catches until I got on the bus," Cato said. "I looked at my phone, ESPN [app], and looked at my phone and it said 19 catches. I'm like, 'I know I didn't throw 19 balls [to Shuler].' I don't know where that came from.
"He did a good job moving the chains if I needed someone to go to on third down. He's always being open, so I just took advantage of it."
Those 19 catches tied the Conference USA record held by Houston's James Cleveland (2009 vs. East Carolina), and blew away the MU record of 15. Shuler had 13 in the first half and caught his 16th on the fifth play of the fourth quarter. He recorded the Herd's first 200-yard game in a decade.
Suddenly, Shuler has shot into the NCAA receiving rankings. His 51 catches lead the country, and he is third in receptions per game (10.2). The top two are gentlemen Herd fans might know - Tavon Austin (12.0) and Stedman Bailey (10.25) of West Virginia. Shuler's 534 yards averages to 10.68 per game, 12th in the nation.
Shuler would stack up nicely in one stat the NCAA does not compile - number of first downs picked up. Of Shuler's 51 catches, 28 have gone for first downs. He has accounted for 18 percent of the Herd's first downs, and he has contributed to solid third- and fourth-down conversion rates - 54 percent and 70 percent, respectively.
And remember, he's not getting all the snaps in the Herd's rapid-fire offense. In fact, he generally goes to the sidelines when the Herd gets deep in the red zone - MU tight ends have caught eight of the team's 16 touchdown passes.
But Shuler's dependability plays a big role in getting the Herd down the field.
"I just go out and study film, study where they're having their weak spot," he said. "I just go out there and play pitch-and-catch with Cato. He finds the open spot and we just continue to find each other."
Herd tight end Gator Hoskins also won an award Monday, the national tight end of the week by the College Football Performance Awards.
Hoskins caught four passes for 42 yards, but three went for touchdowns. He became the first Herd player since 2003 (Josh Davis) to catch three TDs in a game.
His six TD catches this season is tied for fourth nationally.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Marshall slot receiver Tommy Shuler's performances this season, with receptions, yards, touchdowns and first downs:
Opponent Rec Yds TD FD
West Virginia 5 47 1 2
Western Carolina 6 79 0 2
Ohio 13 121 0 8
Rice 8 87 0 5
Purdue 19 200 0 11
Total 51 534 1 28