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2014 Boca Raton Bowl Preview

Marshall (12-1, 7-1 CUSA) vs. Northern Illinois (11-2, 7-1 MAC)

Date: Tuesday, December 23, 2014
Time: 6:00 p.m. (EST)
Location: Boca Raton, FL
Stadium: FAU Stadium (29,419)
Television: ESPN
Series Record: Northern Illinois leads 4-3
Last Meeting: 10/6/01: Marshall 37 - Northern Illinois 15 (DeKalb, IL)



The inaugural Boca Raton Bowl will be a very intriguing match-up of conference champions in a game that will feature teams with entertaining, but contrasting offensive styles.

NIU, which has won the MAC Championship in three of the last four seasons, has been one of the nation’s winningest programs over the last four years. The Huskies, who are making their seventh straight trip to the postseason, are 45-10 since Jerry Kill departed for Minnesota following the 2010 campaign and 23-5 under current leader Rod Carey.

Meanwhile, Marshall is looking to match the program’s highest win total since it went 13-0 in 1999. The Thundering Herd’s hopes of being the group of five’s participant in a selection committee bowl disappeared with the 67-66 overtime loss to Western Kentucky in its regular season finale’. However, Doc Holliday’s club responded to collect a 26-23 win over Louisiana Tech in the Conference USA title game and will now look to capture its second bowl title in as many seasons.

With Jordan Lynch gone, the Huskies have proven they were much more than a one man show. NIU, which averages just over 32 points and 440 yards per contest, has once again produced one of the nation’s best rushing attacks as they gain more than 250 yards per game on the ground (252.9 ypg/13th nationally).

While not as dynamic as Lynch, redshirt sophomore signal-caller Drew Hare has been very steady and impressive in his first year as a starter. Hare, who accounted for nearly 3,000 yards of total offense, completed 60 percent of his passes while throwing for almost 2,100 yards and 17 touchdowns compared to only two interceptions. He also ran for 850 yards and eight scores.

Cameron Stingily tops the Huskies in rushing with 895 yards (5.1 ypc) and 13 touchdowns.

Hare’s top target has been Da’Ron Brown. Brown has hauled in 64 receptions for 1,002 yards and six scores.



NIU will face a Marshall defense that has been very good for most of the season, but was torched in its lone loss by a very good Western Kentucky offense. Despite the 67 points and 738 yards they allowed that day to the Hilltoppers, the Thundering Herd allows just 20.8 points and 351.8 yards per game.

Linebacker Neville Hewitt leads the team with 114 tackles—including 12 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Taj Letman (four interceptions), Darryl Roberts (16 pass break-ups) and Corey Tindal (11 pass break-ups) are the leaders of a talented secondary.
Senior defensive lineman Arnold Blackmon, who leads the team in tackles for loss (13.5) and sacks (8.0), will also be a key cog in helping the Herd attempt to slow down the Huskies.

When many people talk about Marshall, they will likely talk about the soft schedule that the Thundering Herd faced this season. While that is certainly true, the Herd attack with Rakeem Cato and company is certainly very potent (45.1 ppg, 563 ypg). Cato, who has thrown for nearly 14,000 yards during his stellar career in Huntington, has accounted for more than 4,000 yards of total offense this season. The Miami, FL-native has passed for 3,622 yards and 37 touchdowns (13 interceptions) while also running for 457 yards and six scores.

Cato’s top target is childhood friend Tommy Shuler. Shuler, who has more than 300 career receptions, has caught 74 passes for 953 yards and eight touchdowns this season.

As well as Cato and company throw the football, Marshall also runs it extremely well. Devon Johnson, who has run for more than 1,600 yards and 16 scores on just 191 carries, has been battling a knee injury, but Steward Butler (781 yards) and Remi Watson (521 yards) have helped picked up the slack.

They will face an NIU defense that has slowed down some solid offenses in Toledo, Western Michigan and Bowling Green, but none of those teams were as dynamic as the Herd.

Jason Meehan (seven sacks) and Perez Ford (five sacks) will need to help get pressure on and contain Cato and force him into some bad throws. Dechan Durante leads NIU with four interceptions.

NIU’s best defense will be to use its ground game to keep Cato and company off the field. Expect the Huskies to have some success and be in this one to the end, but the Herd will pull out a close one late in front of a good contingent of Herd fans as Cato, Shuler and several other Herd players hail from South Florida.

Prediction: Marshall 38 - Northern Illinois 34

 

By Thomas Rosenbaum
DFN Sports Staff Writer

 


 


 

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