5 Thoughts on the Boca Raton Bowl

Recap, 5 Thoughts and what's next for each team after the Boca Raton Bowl

Dec. 23 Boca Raton Bowl
Marshall 52, Northern Illinois 23

And You Care Because … Rakeem Cato and Tommy Shuler played pitch-and-catch all night long including a six-yard touchdown pass in the third for a 31-13 Marshall lead on the way to an explosive win. NIU scored first on a 19-yard Juwan Brescacin catch, but Deandre Reaves answered with a 93-yard kickoff return for a score – the Herd didn’t trail the rest of the way. Cato ran for two scores and threw for three scores, and NIU couldn’t keep up the pace with Christian Hagan hitting three field goals for the Huskies and Cameron Stingily running for a 24-yard touchdown. Cato touchdown passes from 11 yards out to Angelo Jean-Louis and 27 yards away to Deon-Tay McManus put the game away.
What Else? Marshall QB Rakeem Cato completed 25-of-37 passes for 281 yards and three touchdowns, and ran ten times for 25 yards and two scores. Marshall WR Tommy Shuler caught 18 passes for 185 yards and a score.
- Northern Illinois QB Drew Hare completed 15-of-27 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown, and ran 14 times for 50 yards.
- Marshall SS Tag Letman had a bowl-leading 11 tackles with a broken up pass
- Marshall RB Devon Johnson ran 15 times for 131 yards and a score
Game Rating: B-

By Pete Fiutak
1. The problem with your 2014 Boca Raton Bowl isn’t that it was the Boca Raton Bowl, and it isn’t because the game was played in front of about 14 people, and it wasn’t because of the blowout score – even though it was an entertaining blowout. No, the problem is that we still don’t know anything about your 2014 Marshall Thundering Herd.

Yeah, yeah, yeah, Rakeem Cato set a record for career touchdown passes, and Tommy Shuler is a fantastic receiver, but beating Northern Illinois is like beating … Northern Illinois. The MAC champion beat Northwestern, and it’s a strong program, but the bowl season was supposed to be the time when we got to see if the Thundering Herd was any good against a Power 5 team and show the world that they really were great – they just so happened to play a marshmallowy-soft schedule.

And while the bowl season is supposed to be about fun, and making money for people in bad blazers, this game also exposed the big problem with the Group of Five conferences trying to get respect. This was a matchup of two conference champions, and it barely registered a blip on the college football radar – and in the stands.

No one wants to schedule Marshall because of the fear of losing. The bowl season needs to help rectify that while also putting an exclamation point on a season. This game didn’t really do that.

By Rich Cirminiello
2. Too much speed. Way too much speed.

Marshall was just far too athletic across the board for Northern Illinois, making the Boca Raton Bowl look like a matchup between a quality SEC team and a plodding Big Ten squad. The Thundering Herd consistently whipped the Huskies at the line of scrimmage, and its wide receivers ran virtually unchallenged through the NIU defensive backfield. And when Tommy Shuler, Deon-Tay McManus and Angelo Jean-Louis are manufacturing huge cushions on the defender, it becomes like target practice for senior QB Rakeem Cato.

The Herd aren’t always polished or buttoned-up, and the team still makes too many silly penalties. But head coach Doc Holliday and his staff keep filling the roster with speed from across the country, especially Florida. And those playmakers, on both sides of the ball, are always going to be tall order for teams like Northern Illinois, which operate at a much more methodical and lumbering pace.

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3. Marshall vs. Arizona would’ve been fun, too. Okay, it wasn’t the best slate, but despite the soft schedule and the loss to WKU, hardly anyone challenged Doc Holliday’s team throughout the season. Even though Rakeem Cato’s measurables and skill set might not translate to the next level, the offense is dynamic, and aside from the one bad game, the defense has been a solid crew. But no, instead Boise State got the nod into one of the big money bowls and Marshall played in Boca Raton. What might have been very well could be what should have been in Huntington. Today’s performance would be hard to argue against.

4. What’s next for Northern Illinois
The Huskies survived the loss of Jordan Lynch and won the MAC championship, and now it has a title-winning quarterback in Drew Hare to work around. Three starters are gone off the O line, though, and backs Cameron Stingily and Akeem Daniels have to be replaced. Making matters worse, Da’Ron Brown is gone from the receiving corps along with tight end Luke Eakes, but there are more than enough weapons back to make the passing game go.

The defense that had to rebuild comes back relatively loaded with just three starters gone. Free safety Dechane Durante is the biggest loss, but strong safety Marlon Moore and linebacker Rasheen Lemon are outstanding ball-hawkers who should be all-star leaders. End Perez Ford should be the team’s best returning pass rushing threat. Losing punter Tyler Wedel is offset by getting back kicker Christian Hagan.

5. What’s next for Marshall
This was supposed to be the dream season in a lot of ways, and it was with a Conference USA title and a dominant campaign, but there wasn’t a New Year’s Day Six bowl and the playoffs weren’t even on the radar. Now the Herd must go forward without start quarterback Rakeem Cato. However, most of the other key parts on offense are back including all of the top receivers other than Tommy Shuler – okay, that’s a big one – and three starters return to a line that’ll pave the way for Devon Johnson and a great backfield.

The line needs the most help on defense with three starters gone, and the linebacking corps could use some work, too, with Jermaine Holmes gone from the middle and Neville Hewitt finished on the weakside. Three starters return to a secondary that should be outstanding with help from the pass rush. Kicker Justin Haig is done, but punter Tyler Williams is back.

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