Start Time: 3:30 P.M. ET, Saturday, Sept. 26
Location: Dix Stadium, Kent, Ohio
TV: ESPN3/American Sports Network
Records: Marshall 2-1, Kent State 1-2. Kent State leads the overall series 18-17.
Live Stats: here.
Betting Line: Marshall -9, Over/Under: N/A.
Marshall Outlook: The Marshall Thundering Herd are coming off of a win over Norfolk State that improved their record to 2-1 on the year.
Marshall is an interesting offense to look at this season after all of the video game numbers put up in the 2014 season. The offense is nowhere near as explosive as last season, but are in the top 30 nationally with 5.65 points per trip inside the opponent 40 yard line. Their ability to finish drives at a higher rate than many teams in the nation is due to running back Devon Johnson. The senior running back has carried the ball 54 times for 381 yards at a 7.1 yards per carry average. He has carried the ball 18 more times than the rest of the team combined. As long as he stays healthy, the running game should be effective. Michael Birdsong has done a solid, if unspectacular, job at quarterback. His ineffectiveness versus Ohio has created a bit of a quarterback controversy among the fan base. Chase Litton is the quarterback of the future, and has looked excellent in limited duty. It is way too early to even consider pulling Birdsong and going with Litton. The biggest worry within the passing game is a severe lack of efficiency. Of the top four receivers (Matthews, Allen, Foster, and Yurachek), the catch rate is only at 59%.
Last season, Marshall’s defense was among the best in the nation. This year’s defense is not quite as good. Even so, the defense is only giving up 340 yards per game, including a 3.8 yards per carry average. Teams have went run heavy in the opening three games versus Marshall with 134 rush attempts, compared to only 98 passing attempts. Marshall has shown, as a defense, to be a second half group. After giving up 42 first half points, the defense has only given up 17 total points in the second half of games. Safety Tiquan Lang has proven that his excellent performance versus Purdue was no fluke, ranking second on the team in tackles. The entire secondary has played well with 12 pass break ups and six interceptions on the season.
Kent State Outlook: The Golden Flashes head into this game at 1-2 with losses to two Big Ten programs in the opening three weeks.
The Golden Flashes offense is among the worst in the nation after three weeks of games. The rushing attack ranks in the bottom 25 in nearly every possible category, including only 138.7 yards per game on the ground. Nick Holley is the only back that has broken the 100 yard barrier on the season, but he has a 3.9 yards per carry average. Four of the five running backs with double digit carries have a yards per carry average under 4.0. Passing the ball has somehow been an even worse decision for Kent State this season. Colin Reardon has completed only 46.2% of his passes on the season, with a 4.3 yards per pass attempt average. His top targets are Kris White and Ernest Calhoun. The duo have 14 combined catches on the season, but have been targeted 30 times on the season. Only running back Nick Holley has a catch rate over 70% among players with three or more targets.
As bad as Kent State has been on offense, they are inversely that good on defense this season. Though giving up 25 points per game, the defense has held opponents to 1.9 yards per carry on the season. Teams have lost 128 yards in the run game, only 69 of those yards coming from sack yards. Basically, teams have found it nearly impossible to run the ball effectively versus the Golden Flashes defense. Teams have been a little more successful versus the pass defense, but are still only averaging 132.3 yards per game in the air. Linebacker Matt Dellinger and safety Nate Holley are the leaders for a defense that has made 28.5 tackles for loss on the season.
Prediction: If Kent State had any sort of offense, they would be the favorites in this game. Alas, they may be one of the worst offenses in the entire nation this season. Marshall will not be able to move the ball easily, but should be able to make just enough plays to outscore Kent State. Marshall wins 24-6.