The Line: Marshall by 19.5
Revenge and Remembrance
Last year, Marshall won their first C-USA East championship and were headed to the conference championship. At 9-3 (7-1) in conference play, it was unknown as to who would host the title game, them or Rice. The unthinkable happened as Marshall went on the road and laid the egg, losing to the Owls 41-24.
The Herd's run game never got established and the defense played on their heels for most of the game. This year, Marshall has played in 2 games against teams that beat them last year, Ohio and Middle Tennessee State. In both games this year, Marshall has been able to run away from those teams at home. However, revenge in this game takes a back seat to the greater meaning of the weekend. Kickoff comes a day after the 44th anniversary of the Marshall plane crash.
The weekend of the crash brings family members and alumni with connections to the crash back to Huntington for the fountain ceremony. Marshall will wear the ‘75' helmets that debuted last year for this game as well. The weekend will have a special meaning beyond just a revenge game against the team that defeated for the C-USA title last year.
Owls to Watch
Jowan Davis - Rice's leading rusher will have to have a big game to pull off the upset. Davis has run for 748 yards on the year with 5 touchdowns and has been the Owls' top running back over the past month. The 5'7", 200-lb. back out of Sealy, TX has run for over 100 yards three times this season, including last week against UTSA.
The Owls have also used Davis out of the backfield. He has 13 receptions for 108 yards on the season, though he only has 5 catches for 48 yards during Rice's 6-game winning streak. Rice gashed the Herd for 248 yards on the ground last year, so they will have to rely on Davis and Darik Dillard to gash a Marshall defense which has been somewhat susceptible to the run early in games this year.
Zach Patt/Brian Nordstrom - The two Rice defensive ends are tied for second in C-USA with 7.5 sacks each. Patt has been the less consistent, getting 5 of his sacks in Rice's win over FIU. Nordstrom has gotten more consistent pressure, with at least 2 sacks in each of the last two games.
Marshall's offensive line has done a good job at stopping some of the league's best pass rushers this season, and when they do get through, Rakeem Cato has the ability to get outside the pocket and evade sacks. Cato was sacked 3 times in last season's game, so the Owls need to keep the pressure on.
Sons of Marshall to Watch
Rakeem Cato - Though his stats seem somewhat pedestrian, Marshall's run game has helped him to be able to minimize what he has to do. Cato leads C-USA in yards per pass attempt at 9.4 ypa. Cato has thrown 22 touchdowns against only 6 interceptions and has been sacked only 10 times on the season.
He has also shown his athleticism, running for 92 yards and 1 touchdown last week. While Cato's passing numbers are way off his normal stats over the past two seasons, his maturation has made him a much better quarterback this year. Cato did not have a great game in last year's championship game, but he is a better quarterback now than he was then.
Remi Watson/Steward Butler - Devon Johnson was questionable last week against Southern Miss, and Doc Holliday decided to rest him unless he needed him against the Golden Eagles. In response, Marshall's two backups combined for 167 yards and 5 touchdowns. Watson and Butler have run for 460 and 459 yards on the season, respectively. With Johnson's status for the Rice game still unknown and against a stout Rice defense, Marshall will have to be able to run the ball to take pressure off of Rakeem Cato.
Marshall comes into this game with a 10-game win streak, while Rice currently has a 6-game win streak. Something has to give this weekend. Saturday's game will also go a long way in setting up the C-USA title game. A win by Marshall puts them 1 win away from clinching the C-USA East. If the Owls win, they will stay in good position to still compete for the Western division before their final game of the season against Louisiana Tech.
This may very well be Marshall's toughest game of the season. Marshall has responded in their past two games against teams that beat them last year, beating those teams by at least 25 points. With the revenge for last year's title game on their mind and the meaning behind the weekend, I think Marshall and Rice play close for most of the game before Marshall gets a little late separation in the game.
Marshall 38 - Rice 24