Devon Johnson and Remi Watson have already combined for over 1,000 yards rushing and each have at least 8.0 yards per carry. For a team known for their quarterback, Marshall is a very dominant rushing team. The Thundering Herd are ranked 9th in the country with 299 rushing yards per game. There is more to Marshall than just Rakeem Cato.
We have to tackle well," warned MTSU Head Coach Rick Stockstill. "You have to be successful on first down. Where they are really good is when they can get in second-and-four, second-and-five and now you can run or throw. You have to be good on first and second down to try and get them in longer third-down situations. Everybody talks about their QB Cato like they should but they are leading the conference in rushing also."
Marshall is fourth in the nation with 47.6 points per game, and their defense is ninth (15.8 points per game) in the nation. If an offense that is that overwhelming, how much more impossible is it to beat them if they have an equally suffocating defense? Marshall allows less than 65% of their opponent's red zone trips to be successful.
Marshall has not scored less than 42 all season and they are beating teams by an average of 35 points. Miami of Ohio (1-5) scored 27 against Marshall so they can be scored on; it's just rare.
MTSU has to find a weak link in Marshall's armor. The Thundering Herd's opponents have a combined 10-18 record. MTSU will be the best team Marshall has faced. Last season, Marshall gave up over 200 yards rushing against MTSU and Rice. MTSU is 25th in the nation with 225 yards rushing per game. Marshall gives up less than 120 yards rushing per game.
Turnovers play a big role in every game and special teams can make a huge difference, but if MTSU is going to hang with Marshall and have a chance, they are going to have to run the ball successfully. They will need to get their offensive line healthy in a hurry. MTSU lost offensive linemen Adam Stickel and David Adams against Southern Miss and starting center Daniel Stephens didn't play after suffering an injury in practice last week.
"We are not going to change what we do," said Stockstill. "We just have to execute better. We are still going to try to run the football. We are going to have to continue being effective and efficient throwing the football. What we have to do offensively is we can't turn the ball over. We have to protect the ball."
It's a huge task for the Blue Raiders, but they are 9-2 in Conference USA play dating back to last season including a win over Marshall. MTSU won't be intimidated and they know what it takes to win. Executing the game plan and protecting the ball are marks of a good team, a team that can win on the road.
Is Marshall due for a letdown, or is this just another rung on the ladder as they climb to an undefeated season and a shot at something bigger during bowl season? If Marshall can claim a spot in a major bowl game, it will be a great achievement for Conference USA. While it may be a letdown for the conference's bowl aspirations if Marshall loses, MTSU has no problems crashing the party.