It almost seems unfair, but if you were to compare last year's matchup and this years, it would both seem like less was on the line and more is on the line at the same time. When WKU rolled into Huntington, the Herd were finally among the top 25 teams in the nation, had already clinched their spot in the C-USA championship and were hoping to break into the college football playoff scene.
Western Kentucky, on the other hand, was playing for their bowl lives. Never mind wanting to knock off a ranked team for the first time in school history, the Tops were out to right some wrongs from earlier in the year, and prove to bowls they were worth the risk of taking.
Then an all-out shootout ensued, with some pregame antics before hand and the stunning of one team with the joy and jubilation on the other hand.
Now, it seems the shoe is on the other foot, but also, the stakes are much higher. BOTH teams are playing with an opportunity to host the conference championship game, and both are trying to make up for "bad" losses earlier in the season (for WKU, a three point defeat at Indiana. For the Herd, losing to...Ohio?). Twitter is already a buzz with hype, and you bet the players are ready.
Enough talk. Lets football*.
*Lets turkey first. THEN lets football.
Start Time: 12:00 p.m. ET
Location: LT Smith Stadium, Bowling Green, Ky.
TV: Fox Sports 1. Stream available through Fox Sports Go.
Betting Line: WKU -10.5. Over/Under 63.5
The Thunderin' Hurd:
Mention the words "Western Kentucky" or "Brandon Doughty" to any Marshall fan and their face will tell it all, uttered hatred and disgust. Needless to say, this one is personal.
WKU took something from Marshall that teams dream of achieving, finishing undefeated and a shot at a major bowl. The Herd is looking to avenge last season’s outcome with an upset of its own.
The key to this game is simple - which team can dictate the scoring. Marshall can’t afford to get into a shootout like last year’s game in Huntington. The Herd just aren't wired that way this season. However, if the Tops can set the scoreboard on fire like they have done much of the season, this one could get ugly…fast.
One key stat to consider in this game is Marshall’s success when it has two weeks to prepare for an opponent. The Herd is 2-1 since 2012, with its lone 51-49 loss coming in Murfreesboro during the 2013 season. Marshall throttled Southern Miss 59-24 in 2012 and 63-17 in 2014.
WKU brings in the fifth best scoring offense in the nation. Marshall combats that with the eighth best scoring defense nationally. A team that scores at will versus a team that limits teams to less than 16 per outing.
Something has to give.
Any repeat of last season by the Marshall defense ends any chance of an upset in Bowling Green and the offense can’t afford empty possessions. Points are a premium commodity in this game and Marshall must cash in big. Chase Litton needs the game of his life if the Herd plans on defending its CUSA Title and a much needed bye week may prove to have provided a much-needed surge to the running back stable. Litton has to pick and choose of when to attack the WKU defense downfield, while making certain to not play behind the sticks and effectively eat up the clock.
Defensively for the Herd, it starts up front with how much pressure it wants to get on Doughty. Marshall can try to get Doughty—something teams have done only 11 times this season—or it can drop seven or eight into coverage and force Doughty to make a mistake.
Jared Dangerfield and Taywan Taylor are the X-factors for Doughty’s air assault and the Herd secondary can’t give up the big play like it did in the first half last year. The difference I expect in this contest is Chuck Heater has had two weeks to scheme for this game and would believe he will throw something at Doughty and the Tops they have yet to see this season.
FAU did a good job of limiting the big play in a losing effort to WKU but only allowed 35 points while holding Doughty scoreless in the first quarter. Perhaps the Owls drew up a blueprint of how to slow down the Tops high-octane offense and possible even a way to beat them.
The Fighting Westerns:
Dang, James. Thanks for doing basically half of my job. But most everything that Herd fan said is spot on. Dangerfield and Taylor are going to be key in Doughty's air assault, Ace Wales will continue to have to be key on the ground and the defense is going to have to keep playing...good enough.
FAU is a great game to point to in terms of looking at how to slow the Tops down, except for one thing - that was really the best test they've had in conference play since C-USA play opened one Thursday night at Smith Stadium against Louisiana Tech (and even that was a pretty dominant WKU victory, with a garbage time touchdown making it close). Coming into the FIU game, I thought that game was going to be key in seeing how prepared the Tops would be for Marshall.
What ensued was a weather-shortened 63-7 demolishing of FIU. Weather shortened. 63-7. Yes.
HAVING SAID ALL THAT, before Marshall entered the bye, they also took care of FIU, 52-0, on the anniversary of the devastating plane crash. So there was a lot of pride on the line that day, but still, not too shabby.
I'm not expecting the shootout that we saw last year, but still - points will be had.
James: Four healthy running backs, two weeks to prepare and a chip on their shoulders is just what the doctor ordered for another monumental upset in this series. Marshall 35 - WKU 34
Fletcher: The key here is going to be how sharp Marshall is in the first quarter, with last week being a bye and all. The Tops came out as sharp as they have all season last week, and if Marshall does the same thing, we'll be in for a lot of fun.
I can't, for the life of me, think of a game - maybe outside of the 2002 FCS title game - that WKU has been in that has meant so much. An Eastern Division title. A 10-win season. A trip to the conference title game. There's a lot here for the budding Toppers.
Unfortunately, I just don't feel good. Marshall is a "been-there, done-that" type of program. WKU is still going through a lot of firsts. I had a conversation with a good friend last Friday night (granted, it was before the FIU demolishing) and we both agreed; we didn't feel great about Marshall.
I feel better. The players are acknowledging this budding rivalry and that's always a good sign - Marshall won't be sneaking up on WKU this year. But, Marshall has been there. Marshall has done that.
I think the Herd extract revenge, 45-38.