Marshall's offense is prolific, but how do the Terps stack up against Rakeem Cato and the Thundering Herd pass attack? Monday, we looked at how the Terrapins would fare passing the ball. Today, let's take a look at the Herd's passing game.
Starters: Garrett Scott (LT), Sebastian Johannson (LG), Chris Jasperse (C), Alex Schooler (RG), Clint Van Horn (RT)
Marshall is kind enough to publish their offensive line grades, so we get an actual peek behind the scenes at how they perform. Jasperse is the leader of the group, and it's no wonder he was named first-team Conference-USA -- he leads the unit in snaps (985), success percentage (86%) and knockdowns (75). Scott is right behind him, succeeding on 82% of his 929 snaps, with 55 knockdowns. Van Horn and Johannson are both at a solid 84% success rate, while Schooler is third on the team in knockdowns (46) but last among starters in success rate (79%). Scott and Van Horn were both named second team all-conference.
Backup left tackle Gage Niemeyer sees some time as well, sporting an 82% success rate but giving up a team-high three sacks.
Yannick Cudjoe-Virgil's season-ending injury hurt Maryland's pass-rushing depth, but it didn't exactly show up in the statistics. The team had 18 sacks in the five games before he suffered the injury, and 16 in the six games after -- including seven against Virginia Tech and five against NC State. Marcus Whitfield and Andre Monroe lead the way for Maryland, combining for 17.5 sacks this season, and they've shown a consistent ability to make their way into the backfield.
Running backs/tight ends
Starters: Essray Taliaferro, Gator Hoskins
Contributors: Devon Johnson
We'll get to Taliaferro's running ability later on this week, but he hasn't been a big force in their passing game, catching just 11 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. Hoskins was named first team all-conference, and is a dangerous red zone target who is one of Rakeem Cato's top options. This season, he caught 44 passes for 717 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Johnson is another option, catching 11 passes for 210 yards (for 19.1 yards per catch, tops among Thundering Herd players with at least ten receptions) and two touchdowns.
Starters: Tommy Shuler, Devon Smith, Demetrius Evans
Contributors: Craig Wilkins
Shuler is another first team all-conference performer, and led the team with 97 receptions for 1,097 yards and nine touchdowns. He's a top-notch possession receiver, but isn't so prone to break big plays, averaging just over 11 yards per reception (Taliaferro and Evans are the only other players on the roster with at least ten catches that have a lower yards per catch number). Smith is more of a deep threat, with 34 catches for 599 yards and four touchdowns, while Evans has caught 19 passes for 134 yards and a score.
Wilkins is fourth on the team in receiving, with 29 catches for 373 yards and two touchdowns.
Matt Robinson's health is key here, as he should match up with Hoskins nicely. The safety-turned-linebacker has done a very nice job in pass coverage this season, especially against tight ends on short and medium routes. Getting Jeremiah Johnson back should help leaps and bounds with containing Shuler, and Will Likely has shown a very strong ability to match up with possession receivers, especially on the inside out of the nickel. If Likely is on Shuler, Johnson would be able to contain Smith's verticality, leaving Evans and Wilkins for Isaac Goins and Alvin Hill.
Rakeem Cato. The Conference-USA Offensive Player of the Year, Cato threw for 36 touchdowns (and running for six more) against nine interceptions, averaging 7.9 yards per attempt but completing under 60% of his throws.
Marshall's passing offense is dangerous, there's no doubt about it, but there's also no doubt that many of those numbers are inflated by how often they throw the ball. The Thundering Herd spread the ball around the field and are gifted with an incredible weapon in Hoskins, but they have a remarkably low completion rate for a team that seems to have a few possession receivers up top.
Cato is an able weapon that makes things even more difficult with his ability to run, and Maryland may elect to use L.A. Goree or even Alex Twine as a spy for the quarterback, with Matt Robinson on Hoskins, Cole Farrand on Talliaferro and Marcus Whitfield rushing the passer at every opportunity.
The Thundering Herd rank 30th in the nation in Passing S&P+, while Maryland's defense ranks 58th. Marshall has the decided statistical advantage, and stopping Cato and the passing attack will assuredly be the Terrapins' toughest task in the game.