Date: Friday, November 15, 2019
Kickoff Time: 6 p.m. CT
Location: Huntington, West Virginia
Stadium: Joan C. Edwards Stadium
TV: CBS Sports Network
Series Record: Tied 1-1
Betting Line: Marshall -4.5
The Bulldogs and Herd hail from opposite divisions, but that won’t stop this game from being one of the biggest of the year in the conference.
This game could potentially decide the east division. Marshall has the edge currently thanks to its head-to-head win over Florida Atlantic, but a loss would put the Owls back in front. If Marshall is going to lose one of its final three games, this would likely be the one. A win would virtually guarantee Marshall returns to the championship game for the first time since 2014, but a loss could spell disaster.
This game won’t change the outcome of the west, at least not on its own. Even if Tech were to lose, the Bulldogs would still control their own fate. However, this outcome could determine whether Tech hosts the title game or has to go on the road yet again. The Bulldogs have won the west twice since joining C-USA in 2013 but had to travel both times, including a trip to Marshall in 2014. Tech is 0-2 in those games.
For Marshall, however, this is more than just a football game. This weekend marks the 49th anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that took the lives of 75 members of the Marshall family.
Head coach Doc Holliday said his players are ready for this weekend.
“They love to play in this game,” Holliday said. “It’s the only time you put that black jersey on, the only time you put that ‘75’ on your helmet. When you do that, you strap it up a little tighter, prepare a little harder and get ready to go play a great game.”
Marshall has a run-first offense led by running back Brenden Knox. Knox needs 67 yards to reach the century mark for the season and has scored eight of the team’s 14 rushing touchdowns. Quarterback Isaiah Green is also a threat to run and has 242 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
In all, Marshall rushes for just over 200 yards per game, which is good for the second-ranked rushing offense in C-USA.
Tech head coach Skip Holtz said Marshall plays a tough brand of football.
“They do some really good things in the running game and play very physical football,” Holtz said. “Same thing defensively when you look at them... We know it’s going to be one heck of a challenge.”
The Bulldogs are right behind the Herd with the third-ranked rushing attack. Tech averages 187 yards per game on the ground, led by Justin Henderson. Henderson has just 712 yards, but he has as many touchdowns as the entire Marshall team with 14. J’Mar Smith is also a run threat and comes in second on the team with 226 yards and two touchdowns.
However, there are rumors circulating about Smith’s availability for this game. No official sources have revealed if Smith will play or not, but the line has moved from Marshall -2.5 to Marshall -5.0 over the past day or two. A shift that significant suggests something could be up. If there’s any truth to these rumors (again, they are only rumors), that could have a major impact and make Tech’s chances look bleak.
Editor’s note: Since the publication of this article Louisiana Tech has confirmed that J’Mar Smith and wide receiver Adrian Hardy are suspended for two games, while linebacker James Jackson will sit out for just this week’s game.
The key to this game will likely be the turnover battle. Tech’s defense has excelled at taking the ball away all year. The Bulldogs rank second in C-USA in both interceptions and forced fumbles.
If Marshall can limit turnovers, the Herd will have a great chance to win at home. But if Tech’s defense has success at what it does best, the road upset could be there for the taking.
Another point of emphasis is that Tech scores an average of 38.1 points per game, while Marshall averages just 26.2. If the Herd are to win, they will need to find a way to outscore a team that has exceeded 40 points in five of its last six games.
This could be the game of the year in C-USA. Two heavyweights will go head-to-head in what could be a conference championship preview. Add in Marshall honoring the “75,” and this game has all the makings of a memorable night.