By GARY FAUBER
for the Daily Telegraph
Rakeem Cato was the obvious choice for Conference USA’s Most Valuable Player award last year after throwing for over 4,200 yards and 37 touchdowns.
He isn’t a lock for the award in 2013, however. But that falls right in line with what Marshall head coach Doc Holliday has said about his team all season.
There is much more balance to this year’s offense, a fact that was never more obvious than in last Saturday’s 56-14 win over UAB. While Cato was just as much a factor as ever, completing 14 of 20 passes for 276 yards and three touchdowns, the Thundering Herd (6-3, 4-1 C-USA) showed it can also be effective running the football.
For the first time in team history, three Herd backs went over 100 yards in the same game. Steward Butler ran for a team-high 139 yards and one touchdown, Essray Taliaferro had 118 yards and two scores and Kevin Grooms finished with 108 and a score.
Butler, who reportedly had fallen out of favor with Holliday, seemingly is easing his way back into the coach’s good graces.
“Those three backs are all solid players,” said Holliday, who made sure to also mention Remi Watson, who missed the game to be at his grandmother’s funeral. “They work really hard. Butler has been preparing like he should and it really showed out there today.”
Butler said ball security is something preached not only by Holliday, but running backs coach Thomas Brown.
“He pressures us all the time in practice and is constantly saying, ‘Don’t fumble that ball,’” Butler said. “That is his key thing — don’t drop the ball — and that’s what we have to do. We can’t drop the ball. You have to protect the ball.”
The backs ran through gaping holes all day. In fact, of the Herd’s 32 rushing plays, only one went for negative yardage.
“I think the offensive line deserves a lot of credit,” Holliday said. “Rakeem Cato did a great job at managing the run-pass option. UAB really came down and played us very similar to how they played us last year. They brought a lot of three-down stuff. They hadn’t done that the last three or four games. We were prepared to see it and knew how to handle it.
“The offensive line did a great job blocking and the three running backs of Essray Taliaferro, Kevin Grooms and Steward Butler did a tremendous job with the ball in their hands.”
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Marshall’s next game is at Tulsa on Thursday night, which is also the 43rd anniversary of the plane crash that took the lives of 75 people.
The football team obviously will be unable to attend the annual ceremony at the Memorial Fountain, but the players will wear a special helmet to commemorate the anniversary. The block “M” that normally appears on the helmets will be replaced by the No. 75 in kelly green.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick told HerdZone.com columnist Jack Bogaczyk. “The nation is certainly familiar with our Marshall story, the tragic crash, the loss of life. It’s a large part of our fabric.
“We will never forget those 75 players, coaches, staffers and devoted supporters at Marshall, but we wanted to remind as many people everywhere we could of the roots of the emotion and devotion with which our student-athletes compete.”
The game will be Marshall’s first on the road on that date since the tragedy.
— E-mail: gfauber@