Marshall (2-4) at Southern Miss (0-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 20, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Roberts Stadium (36,000) -- Hattiesburg, Mississippi. Television: CBSSN. Home Record: MU 1-2, USM 0-3. Away Record: MU 1-2, USM 0-3. Neutral Record: MU 0-0, USM 0-0. Conference Record: MU 1-1, USM 0-2. Series Record: Southern Miss leads, 5-2.
GAME NOTES: The Southern Miss Golden Eagles continue their search for answers this week when they welcome the Marshall Thundering Herd into Roberts Stadium for Conference USA action.
Coach Doc Holliday has transformed Marshall into one of the more exciting programs in the country. However, the Thundering Herd have only managed a 2-4 overall record and a 1-1 mark in league play despite lighting up the scoreboard on a weekly basis. Marshall lost to Purdue (51-41) and Tulsa (45-38) in its last two outings before having a bye last week.
Southern Miss was expected to have a rebuilding year after winning the C-USA last season, but its 0-6 start is somewhat shocking. The Golden Eagles rallied from 10 points in the fourth quarter to force overtime against UCF, but their defense was unable to stop the Knights from running for two touchdowns to secure the win. The setback to UCF dropped USM to 0-2 in league action, which equals its 2011 conference loss total. Ellis Johnson is still seeking his first victory as the head coach of USM, which is off to its worst start since 1976.
This will be the eighth meeting in history between these programs. Marshall surprised the Golden Eagles last year as it rallied in the second half to down them, 26-20, in Huntington. Despite last season's win, the Thundering Herd trail 5-2 in the all-time series.
Marshall has been nearly impossible for any one to stop offensively this season. It is ranked third in the FBS in total offense (558.3 ypg) and second in passing offense (396 ypg).
The Herd have primarily used an air it out philosophy as Rakeem Cato is clearly the best quarterback the program has had since Byron Leftwich. Cato has already surpassed his freshman year totals by throwing for 2,311 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. The sophomore QB is completing 69.8 percent of his passes and has only thrown six interceptions.
Although he was limited to just 28 yards on seven receptions last week by Tulsa, Tommy Shuler is leading the C-USA with 562 yards on 58 catches. Shuler is not the only MU wideout among the league's receiving leaders. Aaron Dobson (483 yards, 42 rec.) is ranked fourth and Antavious Wilson (390, 32 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 seven 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 with effectiveness since Travon Van switched positions mid-season. Butler has amassed a team-high 321 yards on 61 carries.
Defensively, Holliday's squad has some work to do. In 2011, Marshall had a very aggressive pass rush with C-USA Defensive Player of the Year Vinny Curry spearheading the pursuit. This season, MU is ranked 118th in the FBS with an average of 0.7 sacks per contest.
The Herd have not been able to stop any of their opponents with great success, but their schedule has not favorable either. They have the worst scoring defense in the conference with an allowed average of 44.5 ppg.
In 2011, USM was second to only Houston's record breaking unit in offensive production in the C-USA with averages of 461.4 yards and 36.9 points per game. Those numbers seem like a distant memory as the Golden Eagles are producing a mere 313.3 yards and 18.8 points per contest this season.
Three different quarterbacks have seen significant time under center already this season, but freshman Anthony Alford was the only one to play last week. In that contest, Alford completed 14-of-27 pass attempts for 165 yards but also threw a pair of interceptions. He also had 71 yards rushing and a pair of touchdowns on the ground. The freshman scrambler is the team's second leading rusher with 234 yards and five scores on 66 carries.
Desmond Johnson is the primary ball carrier for USM. The senior tailback is tied for seventh in the C-USA with 410 yards and a touchdown on 70 carries. Johnson was shut down last week by Tulsa, but freshman Jalen Richard set a career-high with 87 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts.
USM was one of the top defensive teams in the conference last season as well, but that too has changed. The Golden Eagles are giving up 35.7 points and 408.8 yards per game. Jamie Collins is the heart and soul of the defensive unit with team-leading totals of 48 tackles and five sacks.
The one positive aspect heading into this week's matchup is USM is limiting opponents to 212.3 passing yards per game, which is the lowest allowed average in the C-USA.
The Golden Eagles are not only hungry for their first win, they also will be seeking to avenge their 2011 loss to the Herd. Marshall's defense has struggled this season but it should fare better against USM's freshman quarterback.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 42, Southern Miss 38
10/17 10:47:20 ET