MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD (7-3, 5-1 C-USA) vs CHARLOTTE 49ERS (5-5, 3-3 C-USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, November 23rd, 3:30 PM ET
TV: Stadium TV/Facebook
Location: Jerry Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, North Carolina
Betting Line: Marshall -7 (O/U 55.5)
All-Time Series Record: Marshall leads 3-1, with a 30-13 victory coming in Huntington last season.
After pulling off their most dominant Conference USA victory of the 2019 season, the Thundering Herd will look to fight fire with firepower this weekend against a hungry, bowl-chasing Charlotte group in their final road trip of the season. Riding a five-game win streak on the backs of great skill position play, coinciding with shutdown defense, Marshall comes into this situation simply looking to do more of the same.
The redshirt sophomore tandem of Isaiah Green and Brenden Knox has quickly become one of the most unrestrainable backfields in Conference USA. They have either thrown or ran consecutively for Marshall’s last 13 touchdowns dating back to the fourth quarter of the Old Dominion game in early October. Knox leads the league in rushing yards, eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark last weekend, and could be in for another big performance against the 49ers’ 11th ranked rush defense in the C-USA. Marshall’s multiple offense and diverse mixture of size and speed at the receiver positions has opened up passing lanes for the young Green, whose completed touchdown passes to eight different players in 2019.
The defensive unit led by former Charlotte head coach Brad Lambert has been nothing short of smash mouth, coming off a performance where they held the conference’s leading team in total offense to their lowest totals of the season in yardage. Junior linebacker Tavante Beckett is coming off a 13-tackle performance that resulted in C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors, but the group as a whole will have much to worry about against the opposing signal caller Chris Reynolds, who joins MTSU’s Asher O’Hara as the only quarterbacks in the conference to rank in the top 13 in both passing and rushing yards.
“The thing I like about this team is that it’s a mature group, for the most part. We’ve handled a lot of distractions. I thought we handled last week really well. Anytime you get into the middle of November and you have a couple of games left with everything still out there, every game is a big game. They’re all big, which they’ve been for a while and will be from here on out. I like what I see out of our players,” said head coach Doc Holliday in Tuesday’s press conference.
The 49ers will welcome Marshall to the QC on Saturday for what is one of the biggest, if not the biggest game in their young history. A win over the Herd would make them bowl eligible for the first time in program history, and what an exclamation point it would add to Will Healy’s first season if they were able to knock off former 49ers’ head coach, now Marshall defensive coordinator, Brad Lambert on their way to a senior day victory.
Healy said he didn’t feel good about star tailback Benny LeMay playing, but wouldn’t rule him out for Saturday’s contest. LeMay has missed two consecutive games due to an Achilles strain, and was a game-time decision two weeks ago against UTEP but was held out due to precaution. His absence will drastically affect the matchup as LeMay is averaging over 102 rushing yards per game and has accounted for 11 total touchdowns on the season, 7 rushing and 4 receiving.
Chris Reynolds showed he could handle the load against UTEP, pouring in a career-day through the air with 354 yards and two scores, and also led the team with 91 yards on the ground. The sophomore signal-caller will need his offensive line to continue their stellar play as Marshall ranks third in C-USA with 33 sacks on the season. With four different wideouts reaching the century mark on the season, it is tough to take away just one of Charlotte’s targets. Victor Tucker leads the way for Charlotte with 609 yards and 4 touchdowns on the year, and sophomore Cameron Dollar isn’t far behind with 552 and 2 scores. Dollar turned in his career-best 157-yard day against UTEP, and the Reynolds-Dollar roommate connection will need to continue its positive trajectory against a stout Marshall secondary.
The lone C-USA loss for Marshall came against Middle Tennessee, and in that loss the Blue Raiders forced 4 Marshall turnovers and intercepted sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green 3 times. Green has thrown 5 of his 7 interceptions on the road this season, and pass rushers Alex Highsmith and Markees Watts will need to apply pressure and force the hand of the young QB to keep their defense afloat.
C-USA’s leading rusher Brenden Knox spearheads the Herd’s offensive attack, and has gone over 100 yards in 4 out of the last 5 games headlined by an eye-popping 220-yard performance against FAU. Opposing defenses have held Knox to less than 100 yards in all three of the Herd’s losses this season, but that doesn’t bode well for the 49ers as they’re giving up more than 190 yards on the ground per game.
There are a lot of story-lines and buzz surrounding this matchup, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from covering this group, it’s that they take it day by day and don’t let the noise get in the way of what they’re capable of accomplishing. The 49ers haven’t beaten a team with a winning record all season, but a victory in front of a packed house on senior day would be quite the way to do so.
PREDICTION & FINAL SCORE
Jake: The Thundering Herd are in the drivers’ seat to play for a conference title, but a road game against a program fighting for its first ever bowl bid is going to make this a much more difficult battle than Marshall would really want at this point of the season. That being said, the absence of Benny LeMay has made Charlotte extremely one dimensional, and I feel the Marshall defense will key in on Chris Reynolds, forcing stops that lead to repetitive scoring opportunities for the offense. Marshall 31 Charlotte 20
Hunter: This one is tough for me. If Benny LeMay plays and is anywhere near 100%, I’ve got Charlotte putting C-USA on notice and securing a program-changing victory. If Benny can’t go, Aaron McAllister is a solid option, but this will no doubt change the offensive gameplan and Chris Reynolds will have to play the game of his life to down the Herd, winners of 5 straight. There’s a 100% chance of rain, which in my opinion favors Marshall and their C-USA leading rushing attack. Marshall 35 Charlotte 30