Houston (4-6) at Marshall (4-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 17, 12 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Joan C. Edwards Stadium (38,019) -- Huntington, West Virginia Television: CSS. Home Record: Houston 3-3, Marshall 2-3. Away Record: Houston 0-3, Marshall 2-3. Neutral Record: Houston 1-0, Marshall 0-0. Conference Record: Houston 0-0, Marshall 3-3. Series Record: Houston leads, 2-1.
GAME NOTES: Both the Houston Cougars and Marshall Thundering Herd are in a state of urgency as they enter their final Conference USA clash at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Houston is 4-6 so far in the first season of the Tony Levine era. The Cougars started the season out with a three-game losing streak before reeling off three-straight wins to get back to .500. Houston then lost three of its next four, including last week's demoralizing 41-7 loss to Tulsa at home. Houston's offense had been fairly productive this season, but the Golden Hurricane held it to just 262 yards of total offense and forced it into four total turnovers. The Cougars need to win both of their remaining games to finish the season with bowl eligibility. This will be the Cougars' final trip to Huntington as a conference rival, as they are Big East bound after this season.
Marshall underestimated its opponent last week as it fell behind 31-7 to UAB. The Thundering Herd made an effort to come back, but it was too little too late and they lost 38-31. Doc Holliday's team, like its opponent, must win its final two games to be bowl eligible.
Both schools made trips to bowl games last season. Chase Keenum and Houston went to the TicketCity Bowl while Vinny Curry led Marshall to the BeefOBrady Bowl. In last year's regular season, Houston shot past the Thundering Herd for a 63-28 victory. Marshall has only been victorious in one of three matchups with the Cougars.
The Cougars led the entire FBS in total offense and scoring offense last season, but it appeared like they would experience a rebuilding season after their season opening 30-13 loss to Texas State. However, the Cougars are ranked 11th in the FBS in passing offense (324.6) and 21st in total offense (473.4) in their first year of the post-Keenum era. The high-scoring numbers from last season have diminished due to Houston's 31 giveaways.
David Piland has been streaky under center for Houston this season, throwing for 2,927 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Piland struggled with his accuracy (15-of-32) and threw two interceptions in last week's loss to Tulsa.
Houston's receiving corps features a pair of reliable targets in Dewayne Peace and Daniel Spencer, but Piland seems to keep finding new targets each week. Peace leads the team with 42 receptions for 458 yards and two scores. Peace did not play last week due to a suspension. Spencer has tallied 579 yards and three TDs on 41 receptions. Seven other Cougars have more than 100 yards and a touchdown grab. Last week, Deontay Greenberry led the class with five catches for 49 yards. The week before Mark Roberts was the most productive wideout with five catches for 62 yards and six points.
The rushing attack is the key to Houston's success. The Cougars improved to 6-0 all-time when running back Charles Sims records 100+ rushing yards two weeks ago. However, Sims did not play last week and is doubtful to return on Saturday, which leaves the rushing duties to Kenneth Farrow. He paced the squad with 55 yards on 15 carries in last week's loss to the Golden Hurricane.
Houston is one of the weakest defensive teams in the C-USA with allowances of 473.4 yards and 30.8 points per contest. Over its past three games, the team has surrendered 124 points and 1,551 total yards of offense.
Trevon Stewart leads the team and is tied for second in the conference with 76 total stops. The team took a huge blow both on and off the field when star cornerback D.J. Hayden suffered a near fatal injury after colliding with a teammate in practice. The injury required immediate surgery and Hayden will miss the rest of the season. He was leading the league with four interceptions, two of which he returned for six points.
Marshall has one of the most explosive offenses in the FBS this season, ranking eighth in total offense (511.3 ypg) and 17th in scoring offense (38.8 ppg). The team was held well below its average with only 337 yards of total offense by a weak UAB defensive unit in last week's loss.
The Herd operate from a spread attack with its leader, Rakeem Cato under center. Cato has began to sketch his name onto Marshall's career leaderboards by throwing for 3,506 yards and 29 touchdowns this season. The sophomore QB is completing 69.4 percent of his passes and has only thrown eight interceptions on 494 attempts, which means he is likely to throw a pick on just 0.16 percent of his drop backs.
Although he was not even expected to be the best wideout on his own team, Tommy Shuler is second the C-USA in receiving yards per game (89.2) and is third in the FBS with 8.7 receptions per contest. The speedy sophomore wideout is 19 catches away from tying the school's record for receptions in a single season which was set by Mike Barber (106) in 1987. Shuler is not the only MU wideout among the conference's receiving leaders. Aaron Dobson (618 yards, 53 rec.) is eighth and Antavious Wilson (626, 55 rec.) is ninth.
While the trio of wideouts have the most yards through the air, tight end Gator Hoskins has pulled in a team-best 10 touchdown catches.
MU employs a three-headed rushing attack. Steward Butler, Kevin Grooms, and Remi Watson have shared the ball carrying duties. Grooms has amassed a team- high 577 yards on 98 carries. He and Watson both have seven rushing TDs to their credit this season.
The Thundering Herd's defense had been a turnstyle for opposing quarterbacks all season until last week. Marshall held the Blazers' Austin Brown to 197 passing yards and picked him off three times. Unfortunately the Herd had no answer for Darrin Reaves, who rushed the ball 32 times for 194 yard and a pair of touchdowns.
Marshall has the 116h ranked scoring defense in the FBS with an allowed average of 41.1 ppg. Dominick LeGrande is pacing the defense with 108 total stops, which is the seventh most in the FBS.
The Thundering Herd's loss last week at UAB really put them in a pressure cooker. Cato is going to have to out-duel Piland in a shootout to keep Marshall's season alive. Marshall was in this same predicament last season and managed to pull off the late season rally. Holliday's high-powered offense will need help from the defense to fend off the Cougars.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 49, Houston 47
11/14 10:36:15 ET