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Choosing C-USA: Whoever runs the ball best will win the Moonshine Throwdown

We examine each Week 11 game in Conference USA with the game of the week being played in Huntington.

NCAA Football: Marshall at Cincinnati Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been two weeks since we’ve been here and my, oh my, has a lot taken place. FAU and FIU are really near the top of Conference USA East, North Texas is really on the verge of winning C-USA West, and UTEP is really on the verge of going winless.

Bill Clark has wrapped up the Conference USA Coach of the Year Award as UAB is going to a bowl game and Devin Singletary has pretty much sealed the Conference USA Offensive Players of the Year Award.

Now that we’re in November bowl positioning begins in earnest. C-USA has five teams that are bowl eligible and could add three more teams by the end of the week if Southern Miss, UAB, and WKU win.

November is also where rivalry games start to come into focus. This week the most intense rivalry in C-USA since 2014 will take place as WKU and Marshall enter the Moonshine Throwdown hoping to snap two-game losing streaks.

Choosing C-USA Record: 64-24

Game of the Week

WKU at Marshall (Marshall -13, 6:30 PM ET, beIN)

Since these two schools have been conference mates, at least one of them has gone on to win C-USA. That’s unlikely to continue due to the emergence of FAU and FIU.

Why? Well, for WKU the issue stems from the coaching transition to Mike Sanford Jr. as the offense has been one-dimensional this season. Western Kentucky’s leading rusher Quinton Baker, has 233 yards. Jakairi Moses leads the team with a mediocre 3.7 yards per carry. The rushing attack has been so anemic that the Tops have had to rely on Mike White. White leads the team in rushing touchdowns with six.

Marshall’s problems this season have mainly been slow starts on offense and losing the turnover battle. During Marshall’s two-game losing streak they have turned over the ball seven times with zero takeaways. They were outscored 44-10 in the first half during the two-game stretch.

In both losses to FAU and FIU, the common theme was not establishing the run. Tyler King has had his moments this season but as the case with all freshman, the consistency just hasn’t been there. Keion Davis has been solid, but isn’t necessarily a game breaker.

Given Chase Litton’s recent spike in interceptions, Marshall should try to establish King and Davis early to take some pressure off Litton. During their five-game winning streak the Herd averaged 179.2 yards per game. In Marshall’s three losses this season they are averaging 123 yards on the ground.

Marshall v Florida Atlantic
Keion Davis (pictured) and Tyler King have split carries all season and have combined to rush for 1,118 yards and nine touchdowns.
Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images

Marshall did a good job of limiting the most explosive rushing attack in C-USA last week against FAU for the most part. WKU rushed for -6 yards against Vanderbilt last week. The Tops haven’t run the ball well all season and will be without Quinton Baker this Saturday while potentially starting a pair of freshmen on the offensive line.

That doesn’t bode well for WKU’s rushing attack, or Mike White, who will enter this game beat up after suffering some huge hits against Vandy. WKU ranks 116th in Standard Downs Sack Rate. Marshall’s defense is 21st in Standard Downs Sack Rate. Marshall has the second most sacks in C-USA with 23. WKU has allowed the most sacks in C-USA, 29. This is why the running game is huge in this game. WKU won’t win if Marshall’s defensive ends don’t have to think about stopping the run.

Mike Sanford Jr. hasn’t had a great first year but the season isn’t lost just yet. Rivalry wins are the last thing that can keep his first year from being a dud and defeating Marshall on the road would be huge. The Hilltoppers have won three straight against Marshall and destroyed Marshall 60-6 in Huntington last season.

I don’t think anyone in Marshall has forgot about that score. Being that this is the team that has owned Marshall over the past few years, Doc Holliday could come back into the good graces of the fan base by defeating WKU.

The crowd should be lively as this week is the 47th anniversary of the plane crash. I expect the Herd to bounce back in major way at home. Too many things going against WKU for me to pick the Tops to pull off the upset.

Marshall 41 WKU 24

The Rest of C-USA...

Middle Tennessee at Charlotte (Middle Tennessee -13, 2:00 PM ET, ESPN3)

The Blue Raiders continue to right the ship with Bren Stockstill leading the way. After Charlotte’s terrible performance against ODU last week, I’m not sure how this is only a 14-point spread. MTSU did a great job holding a poor UTEP offense to three points. Charlotte is a tad bit better on offense so let’s give them two field goals.

Middle Tennessee 31 Charlotte 6

Southern Miss at Rice (Southern Miss -10.5, 3:30 PM ET, Stadium on Facebook)

Rice just won’t score enough points to threaten the Golden Eagles. USM did a great job limiting Tennessee’s offense before eventually being worn down by UT’s depth (and SEC refs). Golden Eagles will get bowl eligible. Being that Rice did play La Tech tough at home, USM shouldn’t just expect to show up and get a win though.

Southern Miss 30 Rice 10

UTEP at North Texas (North Texas -22.5, 5:00 PM ET, ESPN3)

Homecoming, with a chance to clinch C-USA West. No chance in hell North Texas blows this game. This one should be over by the end of the first quarter.

North Texas 55 UTEP 17

Old Dominion at FIU (FIU -9, 7:00 PM ET, CUSATV)

This is a potential look ahead spot for FIU as the Shula Bowl is next week. The Monarchs must win out in order to qualify for a bowl game. In order to do that they must win two-out-of-three on the road. They are 1-3 on the road this season and that win came when Steven Williams wasn’t the starting quarterback. ODU had played well offensively before last week’s poor showing and will go against an FIU defense that is allowing 14 points per game at home this season.

Statistically, FIU isn’t really near the top of C-USA in any major categories. However, they do have the most efficient passing offense in C-USA thanks to Thomas Owens. ODU has one of the worst passing defenses in C-USA. Advantage FIU. The Panthers have played in a lot of close games this year so I expect this to be a one-possession game entering the fourth quarter. Give me the Panthers.

FIU 24 Old Dominion 14

UAB at UTSA (UTSA -7.5, 7:00 PM ET, CUSATV)

Vegas doesn’t believe in the Blazers. Somehow UTSA is a touchdown favorite despite having zero wins against a team with a winning record this season. Dalton Sturm has been phenomenal this year for the most part but he hasn’t had much help from anyone else. That’s mainly due to the offensive line dealing with injuries.

The injury bug has also hurt the defense too as Josiah Tauaefa isn’t expected to play this Saturday. That’s a bad sign against a Blazers offense that will test UTSA’s front seven on the ground. UAB ranks in the top 30 in Standard Downs Run Rate and Passing Downs Run Rate. UTSA is 5th in Overall Havoc Rate but 61st in LB Havoc Rate. If UTSA can’t keep UAB behind the chains, the Blazers will run all over UTSA. The Blazers enter this one as the healthier team and owners of the better coaching staff. I’ll go with UAB, but I’m not confident about it.

UAB 28 UTSA 24