GAME NOTES: With three games remaining in the regular season, the Marshall
Thundering Herd will try to remain unbeaten as they clash with the defending
Conference USA champion Rice Owls Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Marshall has won all nine games this season, and controls its own destiny in
Conference USA going forward. The Thundering Herd moved up two spots in the AP
Poll this week, sliding up from No. 23 to No. 21 after easily routing
conference foe Southern Miss, 63-17 last weekend.
Other than Marshall, Rice is easily the hottest team in Conference USA at the
moment, having won six straight games after starting the season 0-3 with
losses to three formidable opponents. The Owls are 4-1 in league play with
three games left on the slate, and trail Louisiana Tech in the West Division
by a game and a half.
Marshall leads the brief all-time series against Rice, 3-2, although the Owls
came away victorious in the Conference USA title game in last season’s head-
to-head matchup. The Thundering Herd will be seeking revenge for the
championship game loss.
Rice is coming off a narrow 17-7 victory over UTSA in last weekend’s C-USA
contest. As the Owls get set to make a run at another title game, their
schedule doesn’t bode well for a team needed to play catch-up in the league’s
West Division. Marshall is on the slate this weekend, with a home contest
against the red-hot UTEP Miners and a visit to currently 6-0 in conference
Louisiana Tech to end the season.
Last weekend’s 10-point victory aside, Rice has been blowing opponents out
offensively in its six-game win streak. The Owls scored 31, 41 and 41 points,
respectively, in each of their three games prior to the meeting with the
Roadrunners. Behind quarterback Driphus Jackson, Rice is averaging 29.8 ppg
this season through nine games played.
Jackson has passed for 1,861 yards and 15 touchdowns this season against just
four interceptions. He’s played in all nine games and has completed 58.6
percent of his passes. He’s a proven danger in the ground game as well, having
gained 330 rushing yards with a touchdown via the rush this season. Watch for
tailbacks Jowan Davis (748 yards, five touchdowns) and Darik Dillard (575
yards, seven touchdowns) to get a hefty amount of the work, while receivers
Jordan Taylor (520 yards, four touchdown receptions) and Mario Hull (335
yards, four touchdowns) dominate the targets through the air.
The last time Rice’s defense allowed more than 23 points in a single game was
back when the team last lost a contest – Sept. 20 against Old Dominion. Since
then, the Owls have given up just 17.2 ppg to opponents in the team’s six-game
win streak. The season average is 26 ppg allowed by Rice, with opponents
averaging 360.2 offensive ypg. What’s more, opponents are averaging just over
25 minutes per game in time off possession against Rice. The Owls will be wise
to keep the ball away from Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato.
The defense hasn’t loaded up statistically this season, with Alex Lyons
leading the team with just 46 total tackles and Jaylon Finner right behind at
45. Defensive ends Brian Nordstrom and Zach Patt has each recorded 7.5 sacks
on the year, with Nordstrom also recording 16.5 tackles for loss. Both of them
will be extremely busy, along with tackle Christian Covington, trying to limit
bruising running back Devon Johnson for the Herd.
Although Marshall has blown every opponent it has faced out of the water this
season, Thundering Herd coach Doc Holliday won’t be taking Rice lightly at
all, especially after what happened in last year’s conference championship
“To have a team the caliber of Rice coming in, that’s big,” Holliday said.
“David Bailiff has them extremely well-coached. I don’t have to say anything
to our guys. That’s the team that beat us (41-24) down at their place for the
conference championship last year, beat us physically, beat us up.”
Marshall is looking to reverse the outcome this weekend at home, and plans on
utilizing Johnson to his full capacity after the tight end convert sat out as
a precaution with a left knee injury last weekend. Johnson has led the
Marshall run game to 295.1 rushing ypg this season, and has personally gained
1,203 yards (ninth in FBS) and scored 15 touchdowns (fifth in FBS).
As was the case last season, Cato is the centerpiece of the Marshall offense.
The senior signal caller has thrown for 2,316 yards and 22 touchdowns in nine
games played with just six interceptions. With the dominance of Johnson in the
run game, the Herd haven’t needed to air it out as much in years past. Though
reliable targets Tommy Shuler (526 yards, six touchdowns) and freshman Angelo
Jean-Louis (396 yards, four touchdowns) will be ready to go if Rice can
control the run.
The Marshall defense has had to overcome a bit of a scare in three consecutive
contests. The team trailed for the first time all season against FIU, then
trailed at halftime against FAU two weeks ago. Last time out against Southern
Miss, the Herd had to overcome a 14-point first-quarter deficit in order to
gain the edge back. Still, the last time an opponent scored more than 17
points was back on Oct. 11 against Middle Tennessee. The Herd won the game,
Allowing just 16.6 ppg to opponents (tied for sixth-best in the FBS), Marshall
has given up more than 20 points just twice all season along, while the
offense has scored fewer than 40 points only once. Linebacker Neville Hewitt
paces the defense with 69 stops on the year, adding in eight tackles for loss
and four sacks. Linemen Arnold Blackmon (9.5 tackles for loss, five sacks) and
James Rouse (eight tackles for loss) will be spying Jackson in the Rice
“We’re going to have to play extremely well,” Holliday said. “They’re coming
here with six wins in a row, and I’m sure there’s a reason they’ve won six
straight games. You know they’ll be well-prepared and we’ve got to be the
With three games left, this one should be the most contentious for Marshall as
the Herd try to defend their perfect record. The team will be heading to a
bowl game regardless, but the thought of seeking revenge for the conference
championship last year in front of the home crowd may be too overwhelming for
the Owls to handle.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 40, Rice 27