Week seven in Conference USA was highlighted by Marshall’s victory over Louisiana Tech, North Texas won a shootout over Middle Tennessee and two more games were postponed due to increasing positive tests for COVID at FIU and Southern Miss. Despite the relatively small slate of games, there were still valuable insights gained from the weekend. Let’s take a look at the three things we learned from week seven in C-USA.
Marshall is a legit NY6 contender
The 2019 season for Marshall fans could have been easily summed up in one phrase — If we only had a quarterback. Entering 2020, there was more than enough reason to believe that this season may be a rebuilding year, with the Herd having lost the team’s leading receiver in Armani Levias, the projected number one receiver in Obi Obialo, veteran center Levi Brown and defensive stalwart Omari Cobb. However, the emergence of redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells, along with Conference USA’s best running back in Brenden Knox has Marshall off to a 4-0 start.
Arguably the most impressive part of their start has been the play of the defense. Defensive coordinator Brad Lambert has the Herd allowing just nine points per game — good enough for third among FBS teams — and Marshall is sixth in the nation in turnover margin. If Wells is able to maintain his steady play, 2020 has a chance to be a special season for Marshall, as evidenced by their impressive 35-17 victory over La Tech on Saturday.
Western Kentucky struggles aren’t surprising — but they are alarming
Tyson Helton was able to turn the Hilltoppers into an overnight success last season, tripling the Tops’ win total from the 2018 season and ending the year with a bowl game victory over Western Michigan. Heading into this year, the feeling was that if the team could adequately replace last season’s starting quarterback in Ty Storey, they have the pieces to pick up where they left off in 2019. Unfortunately, Helton’s team is off to a 1-4 start, with their latest defeat coming at the hands of UAB, 37-14. Graduate transfer Tyrrell Pigrome hasn’t been able to engineer consistent offensive success and as a result, backup Kevaris Thomas made his first career start on Saturday.
The team’s disappointing record isn’t exactly surprising considering who they’ve played. Louisville was a top-25 team following their week one victory over WKU, Liberty hasn’t lost a game this year and the Tops have losses against two of C-USA’s top teams, Marshall and UAB. However, the regression of the offensive line and running back Gaej Walker are somewhat alarming, given how crucial those pieces are to team’s success. This weekend’s game against FCS Chattanooga will provide the Tops’ offense a chance to get jumpstarted before facing 15th ranked BYU.
MTSU’s run defense has been bad
It’s been a season to forget for Rick Stockstill and the Blue Raiders through the first six games of 2020. After an 0-4 start that saw MTSU’s offense struggle with consistency, they pulled off a 31-28 upset victory over FIU in Miami two Saturdays ago. Yesterday, they welcomed a 1-3 North Texas team to Murfreesboro and looked competitive — until the bottom fell out defensively.
The Mean Green put 768 yards of total offense, including three 100-yard rushers and a total of 462 rushing yards, en route to a 52-35 victory. Scott Shafer’s defensive unit has allowed 1,538 yards on the ground for an average of 256.3 per game — putting them 73rd out of 74 active teams that have played more than one game this season. The Blue Raiders’ slate doesn’t get any easier with their remaining schedule, including FAU, Marshall and Charlotte — all teams who are capable of putting up rushing yardage in bunches.