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Marshall Returns Home Against Upset-Minded Florida Atlantic

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The Thundering Herd have steamrolled their way through their first three Conference USA games. Now, the Florida Atlantic Owls, fresh off their comeback win over Western Kentucky, come to Huntington in an attempt to upset the number 23-ranked Herd (FS1, 3:30 ET).

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Line: Marshall by 27.5 points

Where To Go Now

Last week, the record fell. While Marshall ended up beating FIU by 32 points, nothing else mattered to anyone else besides Rakeem Cato reaching 39 consecutive games with a passing touchdown. This week, Marshall can put that behind them and get back to playing Thundering Herd football and attempting to achieve their ultimate goal of a perfect season. This week's challenge comes from the Florida Atlantic Owls. Last year, the Herd suffered from their oft-troubling road woes in Boca Raton and required a 10-point, 4th quarter comeback, that was capped by a Justin Haig field goal as time expired to give the Herd a 24-23 win. This year, the Herd welcomes FAU to "The Joan" for the return bout while beating teams by an average of 31 points per game and have really hit their stride on both sides of the ball. FAU comes into the game with an overall record of 3-4 and a conference record of 2-1. So far this year, FAU has either won shootouts or lost in blowouts. The Owls are coming off their biggest win of the year however, with a 7-point victory of Western Kentucky in Boca Raton, and will look to carry that momentum into their biggest conference game of the year.

Owls to Watch

Jaquez Johnson - The junior quarterback from Starkville, MS is coming off his biggest game of the season. Johnson completed 23 of his 34 passes for 325 yards, 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. He proceeded to add 95 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground. Johnson has the ability to beat defenses both ways, and has had at least 10 rushes in each of the last 4 games to compliment what he is able to do through the air and keep the defenses' he has faced honest. The biggest facet of his game might very well be his decision-making ability. On the season, Johnson has thrown 10 touchdowns to only 1 interception. The big question mark for Johnson is which Jaquez Johnson shows up. At home, he is completing over 70% of his passes, averaging over 300 yards and 3 touchdowns a game. On the road, Johnson has completed less than 50% of his passes for less than 130 yards on average, and only has one passing touchdown.  He must not let the environment get to him in Huntington if the Owls expect to win.

Trey Hendrickson - The Owls leading sack man currently sits at 4 sacks on the season. The strength of the FAU defense is their line, and it begins with Hendrickson. The FAU defensive line kept the pressure on Brandon Doughty in their victory over Western Kentucky. Last week, Marshall was able to keep Denzel Perine and Michael Wakefield in check, but it will be a challenge to keep Rakeem Cato upright for another week against a fast, athletic line. If Hendrickson and the rest of the FAU line is able to pressure Rakeem Cato into early decisions, he has shown some inaccuracy through the early part of the season.

Lucky Whitehead - FAU's leading receiver showed his explosive, play-making ability against Western Kentucky last week, with a season-high 8 catches for 125 yards, including a game-winning 61 yard touchdown reception. At 5'10" and 163 lbs, Whitehead is not the most physically-imposing receiver, but Charlie Partridge has made an effort to get the ball in his playmaker's hands in both the passing and running game. Whitehead has at least five receptions in every game for Florida Atlantic this season, and, while he did not have a carry in their victory of Western, Whitehead has had at least one carry in every game except against the Hilltoppers.

Herd Players to Watch

Devon Johnson - Marshall's offense is just better when he is involved. Johnson went over 100 yards rushing again against FIU's vaunted defense, while also catching three passes out of the backfield for 79 yards and 2 touchdowns. So far, the only thing that has stopped Johnson in C-USA play has been Bill Legg's play-calling. The Herd chose to limit his carries, particularly in the first half against FIU. With Remi Watson going down with a shoulder injury in last week's game, it will be interesting if Bill Legg runs Johnson more or tries to incorporate speedster Steward Butler in the game. Either way, if Johnson only reaches half of his normal average yards per game, he will surpass 1,000 yards rushing on the season. Not bad for a player who in his time in Huntington has been converted from high school running back to linebacker, to tight end, then back to running back.

Rakeem Cato - The pressure is off the Herd's quarterback. He can now focus on playing his game and not forcing the issue, instead of NEEDING another passing touchdown. Last week, Cato had a somewhat pedestrian by his standards. While throwing 4 touchdowns, he completed only 55% of his passes for just over 200 yards. Many of his incompletions were simply overthrown balls as Marshall continued to try and throw go routes and fades, or were the result of him trying to force passes into too tight of windows. Cato has a big, athletic line in front of him and weapons in the receiving and running game. His job has to be to realize he doesn't need to make everything happen.

Neville Hewitt - If not for Richard Leonard, Hewitt could have an argument for C-USA defensive player of the year. Hewitt is one of the conference's leading tacklers, with 44 from the linebacker position. Chuck Heater has no problem bringing his linebacker on blitzes and stunts to force the issue in the backfield for the opposing offense. Hewitt is currently the team leader not only in tackles, but tackles for loss (7) and sacks (3.5). With a quarterback who can beat you both ways like Jaquez Johnson, Neville Hewitt must play his assignment and force Johnson into making poor decisions with the football.

Prediction

Florida Atlantic has not been on the same team on the road, and is in the unenviable spot of traveling to Huntington and being placed in front of a Marshall team that played as poorly as a team who won their last game 45-13 could play. The Herd's offense struggled to find any rhythm early, and their defense allowed themselves to be dominated at the point of attack by an overmatched FIU offense. With the pressure of an NCAA record off of them, look for the Herd's offense to be looser and take control of an Owls defense that ranks near the bottom of C-USA many team defensive statistics. Charlie Partridge has his team moving in the right direction, especially after a big win over a high-powered Western Kentucky team, but Marshall can not only put up points on teams, but plays smothering defense and forces turnovers. Unlike last year, don't expect this game to rely on the leg of "Haigabombs". Marshall stretches out the lead early, but FAU covers this tremendously large spread late.

Marshall 45 - FAU 20