7:00 PM EST, CBSSN – Line: Marshall -2.5, Over/Under: 56
With the Regular Season winding down, the chases for conference titles are in their final leg, which is the case in Conference USA, as the surging Louisiana Tech Bulldogs travel to Huntington to battle the Marshall Thundering Herd, from Joan C. Edwards Stadium. One of the hottest teams in the country that nobody is talking about is Louisiana Tech (8-1, 5-0 in CUSA), who since dropping their Season Opener on the road at Texas (14-45), has ripped off eight consecutive victories by an increasingly wider margin, establishing themselves as the team to beat within Conference USA. Now in his seventh campaign with the Bulldogs, Skip Holtz has steered the program towards it’s best start in it’s relatively young history, with an opportunity to earn the first 10-win season in school history. After washing out at South Florida, Holtz has done a commendable job of rebuilding his reputation, as his charges have become one of the most consistent Non-Power 5 teams in the country, having won at least games in all but one of the last six seasons under his watch, winning five straight Bowls in as many years to boot. The Offense has been explosive throughout the term, averaging 38.1 Points per Game (13th Overall) on 479.1 Total Yards, including 254.8 Yards through the air and another 140.6 Yards on the ground. However, they’ve really kicked things into high gear of late, averaging a prolific 52.0 Points per Game on 549.3 Total Yards over the last four contests, in which they’ve feasted absolutely feasted upon some rather weak competition, including the likes of Massachusetts (69-21) and Texas-El Paso (42-21), who together are a combined 2-18 (.100) thus far. This is an experienced unit, led by Fifth-Year Senior Quarterback, J’Mar Smith (65.1%, 2,483 YDS, 8.2 Y/A, 14 TD, 4 INT), who in his final season in Ruston been nothing short of solid, completing 65.1% of his Passes for an average of 275.9 Yards per Game on 8.2 Yards per Attempt, with Fourteen Touchdowns compared to just Four Interceptions. Furthermore, he’s factored into the Ground game as well, serving as one of five different players to rush for at least 200 Yards, with 226 Yards and a pair of scores on Seventy-Five Carries. And speaking of rushing, Junior Tailback, Justin Henderson (109 CAR, 712 YDS, 6.5 Y/C, 14 TD), has been their most prominent in that department, flourishing in his first year as the Starter with 712 Yards on 6.5 Yards per Carry, and a Conference USA-best Fourteen Touchdowns. When we last saw them, the dynamic duo played a large role in Marshall’s 52-17 thumping of North Texas last weekend, in which the Offense ran a season-high Ninety-Three Plays for 542 Total Yards and a staggering Thirty-Seven First Downs, possessing the football for a whopping 39:04. Smith deftly completed 21-of-38 Passes for 263 Yards, a Touchdown and a Interception, including an 80-Yard score to Isaiah Graham (12 REC, 263 YDS, 21.9 Y/R, 2 TD), while rushing for another Forty-Four yards on Sixteen Attempts. Henderson rushed for Fifty-Eight Yards and Two Touchdowns on Fifteen carries, while four other Bulldogs racked up at least Forty Yards on the ground. Junior Receiver, Adrian Hardy (39 REC, 482 YDS, 12.4 Y/R, 1 TD), added Nine Receptions for 104 Yards in the Passing Game. Defensively, Holtz’s troops really got after the Mean Green, relegating them to just 342 Total Yards on Sixteen First Downs, and a dismal 2-of-11 on Third Down, while forcing Four Turnovers, two Fumbles and Interceptions apiece, with Senior Defensive Back, L’Jarius Sneed (47 TKL, 3.0 TFL, 1 INT, 1 TD, 3 PD) returning an Interception for a Touchdown. If Louisiana Tech can come out of this trip to Huntington unblemished, then one would have to like their chances of booking a place in the Conference USA Title Game, for their remaining schedule features a trip to Birmingham to meet UAB, followed by the Regular Season Finale at home against Texas-San Antonio, both of which are just 3-2 within league play. Tonight’s meeting with the Herd will be their first since 2014, in which they suffered a narrow 23-26 defeat that saw the hosts rally back from a late 23-16 deficit.
Meanwhile, after a slow 2-3 start, Marshall (6-3, 4-1 in CUSA) has rounded into shape, winners of four consecutive contests heading into tonight’s crucial showdown with Louisiana Tech. Now in his tenth season with the Thundering Herd, Doc Holliday is looking for back-to-back nine-win campaigns for the first time since 2015, in which he guided the program to three straight ten-win seasons. If his charges do manage to do so, then they will be booking a trip of their own to the Conference USA Title Game, by virtue of the head-to-head tiebreaker with Florida Atlantic, whom they defeated 36-31 in Boca Raton back October 18th. Needless to say, the first five games of the term was rough for this team, who in that span, came up short in a defensive slugfest at No. 21 Boise State (7-14), were embarrassed at home by No. 17 Cincinnati (14-52), followed by a turnover-fest at Middle Tennessee (13-24), serving as their only league defeat thus far. In each of those three losses, the Offense struggled mightily, averaging just 11.3 Points on 335.3 Total Yards, with a miserable Turnover Differential of Minus-4, while the Defense was shredded for 454.3 Total Yards. With that said, Holliday and his Staff were happy to see their charges respond, for over the past four victories, they’ve improved significantly on both sides of the football. Offensively, Marshall managed to get things going, scoring 28.3 Points per Game on 424.3 Total Yards, and taking much better care of the football, committing just One Turnover in that time. In his second season as the Starting Quarterback, Isaiah Green (60.4%, 1,876 YDS, 7.5 Y/A, 12 TD, 6 INT) has looked far more comfortable behind Center, completing an improved 60.5% of his Passes (up from 56.7% in 2018), and exhibiting much better decision-making, with Twelve Touchdowns opposed to Six Interceptions. After tossing Five Interceptions in the first five games alone, the Sophomore has been picked off on just one occasion in the last four outings, with a solid 5/1 TD/INT Ratio over that span. When we last saw him, he and his teammates calmly went about their business on the road at Rice, grinding away a 20-7 victory. The Herd piled up 391 Total Yards on Eighteen First Downs, with Green completing an efficient 17-of-22 Passes for 269 Yards and a Touchdown, a 19-Yard Score to Talik Keaton (8 REC, 106 YDS, 13.3 Y/R, 1 TD) shortly before Halftime to push his team’s lead to ten. Fellow Sophomore, Brenden Knox (164 CAR, 33 YDS, 5.7 Y/C, 8 TD), continued his stellar play, rushing for 130 Yards and a Touchdown, his third 100-Yard performance over the last four games, in which the Tailback has averaged 134.5 Yards on 5.8 Yards per Carry. Clearly, Holliday has recognized that this kid needs more carries, for he while failed to surpass Twenty Attempts in each of those tilts, he has averaged 23.3 in the action since, with his twenty-seven against Rice representing a season-high en route to leading Conference USA with 933 Rushing Yards. The hosts were stymied throughout the affair, amassing a mere 231 Total Yards on Sixteen First Downs, 3-of-12 on Third Down, and 0-of-3 on Fourth. With a week off to prepare for tonight’s showdown with Louisiana Tech, look for Marshall to try to control the tempo of the game by pounding the football with Knox, which should provide a rested Defense with enough energy to corral their prolific opponent. Looking forward, the Herd’s remaining games are on the road at Charlotte and at home against Florida International, both of which are 5-5 without a winning record within league play. If they can extend this winning streak to seven, then there is a chance that these two teams will meet again in the League Championship, which depending on these next few weeks, could also be contested right back a Joan C. Edwards Stadium.