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HUNTINGTON, W.Va. – Marshall coach Doc Holliday came right out and said it: Florida Atlantic quarterback Jaquez Johnson is "a pain in the neck."
Johnson is responsible for 15 of his team's 19 touchdowns this season, and Marshall has to look no further than last year's meeting with the Owls to see how he can pick apart a defense.
Johnson compiled 265 yards of offense, threw for a score and ran for another against Marshall, which needed a last-second field goal to escape with a 24-23 win over the Owls in Boca Raton, Florida.
While Florida Atlantic (3-4, 2-1 Conference USA) is a heavy underdog on Saturday, Holliday isn't softening his approach toward defending the 225-pound Johnson when the Owls visit No. 23 Marshall (7-0, 3-0).
Last week Johnson threw for 325 yards and three scores and ran for 95 more, including two short TD runs, in a 45-38 comeback win over Western Kentucky.
"Our opinions haven't changed this year," Holliday said. "He is going to be a handful. When you tackle him it is not like tackling a quarterback, but it is like tackling a fullback with the ball in his hands."
Florida Atlantic coach Charlie Partridge used words like "smart" and "dynamic" to describe Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato, who last week set a Bowl Subdivision record with his 39th straight game throwing a touchdown pass.
Cato barely kept that streak alive against Florida Atlantic a year ago. Marshall was limited to one offensive touchdown through the first three quarters. Cato threw an interception on his first pass attempt and didn't have a TD toss until there was 6:47 left in the game.
With one record aside, Cato is in pursuit of several school career marks. He's 22 completions away from breaking Chad Pennington's record of 1,026 completions, and 381 yards away from breaking Pennington's total offense record.
While Florida Atlantic allowed Conference USA passing leader Brandon Doughty of Western Kentucky to throw for 335 yards and three TDs, he had under 100 yards after halftime as Florida Atlantic overcame a 31-14 deficit.
"We need to get started a little faster this week to give ourselves a chance against Marshall," Partridge said.
Here's some other things to watch for when the Owls and Thundering Herd meet Saturday:
LUCKY CATCH: Marshall will need to keep a close watch on Lucky Whitehead, who has a third of Florida Atlantic's pass receptions. He's averaging six catches and 62 yards per game and has a team-high four receiving TDs. He's also averaging 20.6 yards on punt returns and is sixth in the nation in all-purpose yards at 171 per game.
SEE DEVON RUN: Marshall running back Devon Johnson needs 69 rushing yards to reach 1,000 this season. He has six 100-yard games and had both a career-best 71-yard run and TD catches of 46 and 27 yards last week against FIU, his first two receiving scores of the season. Florida Atlantic is 97th in the FBS against the run, allowing 192 yards per game.
YOUNG CONTRIBUTORS: Florida Atlantic starts freshmen Reggie Bain at left tackle and Joe Gold at center. Freshman Greg Howell ran for 118 yards and a score last week in his college debut, while receiver Nate Terry has a TD catch this season. At Marshall, freshman tight end Ryan Yurachek caught his first career TD last week — a 1-yarder that gave Cato the consecutive games record.
FIRST TRIP: Florida Atlantic, which joined Conference USA last year, is making its inaugural trip to the league's northernmost school. The Owls are 0-4 on the road this season in which they've been outscored 154-36. Marshall has won 11 straight at home. "We have a challenge," Partridge said. "We haven't been successful on the road and that is something that we will take a very hard look and already have."
AIMING FOR PERFECTION: Marshall's remaining schedule includes games against Southern Miss, Rice, UAB and Western Kentucky. Those teams are a combined 12-14.