Game Time: Saturday, Dec. 26 at 12:00 p.m. EST
Location: Tropicana Field, Tampa, Fla.
Series Notes (courtesy of Winsipedia): First head-to-head meeting.
Betting Odds: Marshall -4. Over/Under: 44
When UConn has the ball
This is a really rough matchup for UConn on paper. Marshall has the edge in every statistical category and it isn't even close on most occasions. S&P+, our best available catch-all statistic, shows a massive gap between the overall quality of the two teams. The biggest gap comes in the Huskies' ability to convert on trips to the red zone versus the Herd's complete lock-down of their last 20 yards of turf. While UConn has had a bit more success passing the ball than running it this season it plays directly into Marshall's strength on defense as they slow offensive attacks through the air better than most defenses in the country.
UConn QB Bryant Shirreffs averages 7.60 yards per completed pass, but his touchdown to interception ratio is nothing you feel comfortable with, especially considering how good Marshall's defense is, with nine touchdowns and seven interceptions on the year coming into Tuesday.
Having said that, Shirreffs is also a threat to run, coming in as the second-leading rusher for the Huskies with 428 yards and three scores. He trails just Arkeel Newsome, who averages 4.4 yards per touch of the football, who comes into Tuesday with 760 rushing yards and six touchdowns.
Remove 31-allowed points in the season opener against Purdue and 49 points in the final game of the regular season in the blowout loss to WKU, the Herd didn't allow more than 29 points in any game, and allowed more than 20 on just three occasions throughout the season, ending the year with the 14th best points-against in the country (18.4 per game).
When Marshall has the ball
UConn's relative strength on defense gives them some hope in this year's St. Petersburg Bowl. The Huskies are very sound against both the run and the pass and really shore up their efforts with their backs up against the goal line. Marshall moves the ball quite consistently through the air which is impressive given that quarterback Chase Litton is just a freshman, and had to step up and fill the void of Rakeem Cato.
In the receiving corps, Marshall has a handful of playmakers - most notably, Davonte Allen (56 catches, 696 yards and five scores) and Deandre Reaves (47 catches, 617 yards and three touchdowns) - meaning the Herd aren't 100% void of the big-play threat, but its still a step backwards compared to last year.
The injuries that have plagued running back Devon Johnson really show up in the numbers as Marshall's rushing statistics are nowhere near as impressive as they would be with a healthy Johnson. Marshall is not particularly explosive on offense while UConn is really good at preventing big plays. It's an interesting matchup that should determine the outcome of this game.
Remember that whole "Marshall has the 14th best scoring defense in the country," thing from the above paragraph? Well, UConn isn't too far behind, as they come in 17th in the country, allowing just 19.8 points per contest, but like the Herd, the Huskies have a few outliers, but never in a win. In the Huskies six wins, they allowed no more than 17 (twice, to Houston and Army) but in the five of the six losses, they allowed no less than 27 (with a season high allowed of 37 to Cincinnati).
Marshall's defensive dominance (or is it UConn's offensive ineptitude?) will come to rule the day, but it'll be a good game before the Herd pulls away late. It very well might be a game where the defense forces a turnover, and the offense does just enough for a field goal, but I think the turning point will come in the fourth quarter with a defensive score. The Herd was flat embarrassed last time they took the field in Bowling Green, and they'll be hungry to end the year on a high note.
Marshall 24 - UConn 14