With just one win in Conference USA play and two on the season, Tulsa (2-7, 1-4) was not expected to compete with Marshall (6-3, 4-1) even on their home field. Not only did the Golden Hurricane compete, but they had a 34-31 lead late in the fourth quarter before allowing two touchdowns to give the Thundering Herd the game. Marshall’s run defense was struggling heading into the game and Tulsa took advantage, riding senior running back Trey Watts all night long.
Trey Watts, RB, Tulsa (#22), 5’11, 190
Watts rushed for a season-high 169 yards on 31 carries on the game and flashed some serious running skills. Watts has excellent vision and waits until the last second to set up his blocks before making a cut and heading downhill. An ideal back for a zone blocking scheme, Watts’ combination of patience and vision helps him make the right cut at the line of scrimmage and he runs through tackles at the legs thanks to a strong lower half.
While he runs slightly high initially, Watts lowers his pads and finishes runs with impressive power, consistently falling forward and even carrying tacklers with him for extra yardage. Thickly built in his upper body as well, Watts is almost impossible to bring down with arm tackles. His running style is reminiscent of Arian Foster’s but Watts is 40 pounds lighter than Foster, which will likely limit him to being a second or third running back in the NFL. Watts is an experienced back and it shows on the field, but his power game won’t play as well in the pros at just 190 pounds and he lacks game-breaking ability.
Shawn Jackson, LB, Tulsa (#55), 6’0, 251
One of the nation’s leading tacklers this season, Jackson backed up his impressive statistics with another big game, making 14 tackles (6 solo) to lead the Golden Hurricane. Despite limited athleticism, Jackson is always around the ball in the box and doesn’t take false steps to the action. He was involved in three Marshall turnovers including an early interception where he read Rakeem Cato’s eyes, stepped into the passing lane and got his hand up to knock the ball in the air and caught it for the pick. Jackson recovered two fumbles as well despite being engaged on both plays, as his eyes seem to always be watching the ball carrier.
Jackson plays with force downhill and has the strength to shake off blockers who can’t get into his body. He stands up runners in the hole and once he gets a back in his grasp, Jackson refuses to let go and is a very sure tackler. He makes runners commit to a hole before reacting and closes well despite lacking short-area quickness. Jackson was pushed out of a few plays when he ducked into blocks when flowing outside rather than taking them on. That will be a tendency to watch with him but Jackson shows a good head for the game and very reliable tackling skills.
(JR) Rakeem Cato, QB, Marshall (#12), 6'0, 188
Despite lacking ideal height, Cato has great physical tools as a quarterback but is inconsistent with accuracy down the field and timing on out-breaking routes. He has the mobility to escape the pocket and the patience to extend the play until he reaches the sidelines, keeping his eyes downfield to find receivers working back to him. Cato’s arm strength is good and he shows a deft touch on short and intermediate passes, a touch that is lacking on his deep balls where he is either too long or too short.
Cato can thread the needle between the corner and safety in a Cover 2 and also between the corner and sideline but sometimes is a beat late on out routes, a dangerous trait for a quarterback prospect. His stats look great thanks to his mastery of Marshall’s offensive system and overall awareness, as Cato does well to manipulate spying linebackers and even recognized a busted screen pass when the passing lane was jumped, pulling the ball down rather than throwing into traffic. His intelligence and physical talent is a plus, but Cato’s height and erratic accuracy down the field will depress his stock as a prospect. Luckily for him, he can return for his senior season to improve in those areas and intrigue NFL teams as a potential backup.
-Cato’s former high school receiver Tommy Shuler had a tough game despite 9 receptions for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. While Shuler showed great sideline awareness on an impressive late touchdown catch to put Marshall ahead for good, he had two uncharacteristic drops that were simple lapses in concentration. Besides his lack of top speed, Shuler simply doesn’t have the quickness of a slot receiver like Jeremy Kerley to make up for his lack of size at 5-7, 190 despite being a very polished route-runner.
-While senior James Rouse had a quiet game outside of a few QB pressures, redshirt junior Ra’Shawde Myers filled up the stat sheet with 8 tackles (5 solo) and a 20-yard sack. The sack came on Tulsa’s final play as Rouse forced Dane Evans to backtrack in the pocket and Myers beat his man to bring Evans down to seal the victory. At 6-4, 246 pounds, Myers needs to get stronger but showed some talent against Tulsa.
-Watts and Jackson were the true standouts on the Tulsa side, but senior guard Gabe Moyer had a solid game on the right side of the offensive line. Quick out of his stance, Moyer blocks well in motion and shows the ability to get to the second level to seal off linebackers. Effective blocking down on running plays, Moyer shows good strength at 6-2, 291 pounds and can use his hands to move opposing lineman lined up on his outside eye to his inside eye on the other side of the line. Moyer lacks ideal size for the NFL but more strong play could land him a camp audition.