Memphis (1-7) at Marshall (3-5)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, Nov. 3, 2 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Joan C. Edwards Stadium (38,019) -- Huntington, West Virginia. Television: None. Home Record: Memphis 1-3, Marshall 1-3. Away Record: Memphis 0-4, Marshall 2-2. Neutral Record: Memphis 0-0, Marshall 0-0. Conference Record: Memphis 1-3, Marshall 2-2. Series Record: Marshall leads, 5-2.
GAME NOTES: The Marshall Thundering Herd are set to host the Memphis Tigers for a must win Conference USA contest at Joan C. Edwards Stadium this weekend.
This will be just the eighth meeting between these programs on the gridiron. Marshall has won five of the previous seven encounters. The Thundering Herd's 23-22 win over the Tigers at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium in 2011 was their fourth straight win in the series. These schools will no longer be conference rivals next season when Memphis departs for the Big East.
The Tigers were defeated for the third time in a row last week as SMU completed a 44-13 rout of them in the Lone Star State. Coach Justin Fuente's first-year at the helm of the program has been hard to watch. Memphis has just one win in eight tries this season. Over the last four games the Tigers have mustered only 51 combined points. Memphis is not making the jump to the BCS Conference world at an ideal time as it has just four wins total over the last three seasons, including two seasons of just a single victory.
Marshall's chances of winning the C-USA Championship this season all but disintegrated in front of its home crowd last week when UCF handed the Thundering Herd a 54-17 blowout loss at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. The win improved the first place Knights to 4-0 in league play and dropped MU to 3-5 overall and 2-2 in C-USA. With only four games left to play and the Knights holding a three-game advantage due to tie-breaker rules, coach Doc Holliday and his team simply have to win games. Holliday's team needs to win three of their last four to become bowl eligible. After a 1-3 October record, MU has a chance to start the final month of its regular season off against a weak Memphis squad which has some major issues on the offensive side of the ball.
The Tigers' offensive struggles have hindered their chances throughout the course of the season. Memphis has managed 286.5 yards and 17.5 points per game. Those are both the lowest marks in C-USA. Memphis was held to only 202 yards by SMU, which entered its bout with the Tigers surrendering 430.4 yards to opponents per contest.
Memphis is a run-first offense that relies on a stable of backs to move the ball. Jai Steib has taken on the bulk of the responsibility with a team-high 67 carries for 241 yards. Steib has replaced Jerell Rhodes (224 yards) who left the team for personal reasons earlier in the season. Brandon Hayes and Carol Harris have both rushed the ball more than 30 times this season as well.
Jacob Karam has been under center in the Tigers' passing attack, which ranks dead last in the conference. Karam has thrown for 1,146 yards, while completing a solid 60.2 percent of his passes with six touchdowns to two interceptions. Karam is an ideal game manager, but the Tigers need a playmaker at this point.
The passing game is reliant on the efforts of receivers Keiwone Malone and Marcus Rucker. Malone has caught a team-high 37 passes for 384 yards and two scores, while Rucker has 31 catches for a team-high 388 yards and a three TDs. Alan Cross made a pair of catches for 35 yards last week.
The Tigers' defense is coming off a terrible showing in which it allowed SMU to pick up 487 yards and score five offensive TDs. The only opponent Memphis managed to hold under 350 yards of total offense was the Rice Owls (221), which is the only team it has defeated. The Tigers' opposition is averaging 33.6 ppg.
Charles Harris is the team-leader in tackles with 58. Martin Ifedi (9.5 tackles for loss, seven sacks), Tank Jakes (6.5 tackles for loss), and Johnnie Farms (six tackles for loss) have been effective in stopping opposing ball carriers in the backfield.
Marshall had been stampeding offensively this season before it ran into the stingy UCF Knights, who held it to a season-low of 364 yards of total offense. The Herd's previous lowest achieved total of yards was 491 in their loss to Ohio University. Despite the off-week, Marshall is still ranked fifth out of 120 FBS teams in total offense (542.9 ypg) and second in passing offense (378.5 ypg).
The Herd operate from a spread attack with its leader, Rakeem Cato under center. Cato has already surpassed his freshman year totals by throwing for 2,949 yards and 23 touchdowns this season. The sophomore QB is completing 68.3 percent of his passes and has only thrown seven interceptions.
Although he was not even expected to be the best wideout on his own team, Tommy Shuler is leading the C-USA in receiving yards per game (92.1) and is second in the FBS with 9.6 receptions per contest. The sophomore wideout is 14 catches away from tying the school's FBS record for receptions in a single season which was set by Darius Watts in 1991. Shuler is not the only MU wideout among the conference's receiving leaders. Aaron Dobson (614 yards, 52 rec.) is seventh and Antavious Wilson (541, 45 rec.) is seventh.
While the trio of wideouts have the most yards through the air, tight end Gator Hoskins has pulled in a team-best eight touchdown catches.
MU employs a three-headed rushing attack made up of new faces. Steward Butler, Kevin Grooms, and Remi Watson have shared the ball carrying duties. Grooms has amassed a team-high 456 yards on 75 carries.
Defensively, Holliday's squad looked like it was heading in the direction after it held Tulsa to 340 yards and Southern Miss to 329 in back-to-back games. The Herd are back at square one after allowing UCF to rack up 568 yards and six offensive TDs.
The special teams unit has to make some adjustments as well after allowing UCF WR Quincy McDuffie to become the first player in C-USA history to return to two kickoffs back for touchdowns in a single game.
Marshall has the second worst scoring defense in the FBS with an allowed average of 43.1 ppg. Dominick LeGrande is pacing the defense with 84 total stops, which is the 11th most in the FBS.
As any coach would, Holliday has made changes to the lineup on the defensive side of the ball. Sophomore linebacker Deon Meadows made the most of his increased playing time by tallying a career-high seven tackles, forcing and recovering a fumble, and blocking an extra point against UCF. Juniors Billy Mitchell and Derrick Thomas each made their first career INT against the Knights as well.
The Thundering Herd can only blame themselves if they lose this one. Marshall's offense should be able to bounce back and its defense should be able to weather the Tigers' attack.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 45, Memphis 20
10/31 11:06:24 ET