It is a battle of conference unbeatens this Saturday. The MT Blue Raiders (4-2, 3-0) will take on the Marshall Thundering Herd (5-0, 1-0) for bragging rights in the Eastern Division of Conference-USA.
“Everyone has been looking forward to this one,” said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. “It’s the next game on the schedule. They aren’t passing the conference trophy out on Saturday. You have to finish off the season.”
Last year’s game between these two came down to the final seconds. Blue Raiders quarterback Logan Kilgore hit wide receiver Tavarres Jefferson on a nine-yard touchdown pass as time expired to give MT a 51-49 win. The teams combined for more than 1,000 yards of total offense.
It might be the same way with this year’s game. Marshall ranks first in Conference-USA in scoring offense, and MT sits third in the conference.
“You hope your offense scores on every possession and shuts them out,” said Stockstill.
The Blue Raiders’ defense ranks seventh in scoring defense in C-USA and eighth in the conference in both total defense and rushing defense.
“I have a lot of confidence in our defense,” said Stockstill. “We win. Look at the teams we’ve played. They don’t run the ball that much. You don’t want to give up that many yards.”
“You stop them by executing the game plan,” linebacker Leighton Gasque added.
The two focal points of Marshall’s offense are quarterback Rakeem Cato and running back Devon Johnson.
Cato ranks second in C-USA in passing yards with 272 yards per game, and has thrown a touchdown in 37 straight games, one shy of the NCAA record of 38 held by Russell Wilson.
“I don’t think anyone has done that,” Stockstill said about stopping Cato. “He’s an excellent quarterback.”
Running back Devon Johnson is also a big component of the Thundering Herd offense. He ranks first in C-USA and eighth nationally in rushing yards with 136 per game.
“We have to be successful on first and second down to put them in tough third down situations,” Stockstill said of stopping Johnson.
Marshall’s defense ranks first in C-USA in total defense, scoring defense and rushing defense. They also rank second in passing defense. The team has been getting pressure on opposing quarterbacks as well, racking up five sacks last week against Old Dominion.
“Everyone looks at their offense, but I think it starts with their defense,” Stockstill said. “I don’t think that there’s a glaring weak spot.”
Turnovers could prove to be the deciding factor in the game.
The Blue Raiders are ranked 12th in the nation this season with eight picks, and they have turned over opposing teams 12 times so far this year, turning one into a score. This could be the way the Blue Raiders slow down the powerful Thundering Herd offense.
“It will be really important,” Gasque said. “We have to keep playing violent and get the ball back for our offense in good field position.”
MT takes on Marshall this Saturday at 11 a.m. at Joan Edwards Stadium in Huntington. The game can be seen on Fox Sports Net and can be heard locally on the Blue Raider Network.
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