HUNTINGTON — As soon as the sun set on the 2017 season, prognosticators from all over college football had two teams pegged for the best in Conference USA in 2018.
One was Florida Atlantic. Two was Marshall. Now, both teams find themselves in a bit of a precarious position as their highly-anticipated matchup convenes at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Neither team controls its own destiny in the race for the Conference USA East Division crown and each cannot afford another loss in conference play if they are to reach their goals of making the 2018 Conference USA Championship.
That creates a desperate situation for each as they get set for their Homecoming 2018 matchup on Saturday in Huntington.
“They have tremendous talent on both sides of the ball,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “It is going to be a challenge for us that I know our kids are looking forward to and, of course, our fans as well. I know it will be a great atmosphere here on Saturday afternoon.”
S Both teams come into Saturday with wins over Old Dominion in their last game.
Florida Atlantic (3-3, 2-1 C-USA) defeated the Monarchs, 52-33, on Oct. 6 before taking last week off to prepare for the matchup with the Herd.
Meanwhile, Marshall (4-2, 2-1 C-USA) topped Old Dominion, 42-20, to get back into a rhythm heading into its Homecoming game.
Last week’s win over Old Dominion featured the emergence of a powerful rushing attack for the Herd. Marshall rushed for 319 yards and five touchdowns as a team with running back Tyler King going for 165 of his 195 yards in the fourth quarter, punctuating the win with touchdown runs of 65 and 49 yards.
Anthony Anderson was also stout, rushing for 91 yards and three scores.
“They got their run game on track last week, running the ball for over 300 yards in the game, so this is a big challenge for us,” Florida Atlantic coach Lane Kiffin said.
While Marshall’s running game improved over the last two weeks, Florida Atlantic’s has been its staple all season. The Owls lead Conference USA in rushing yards per game (236.7).
That starts with running back Devin Singletary, who was an All-American in 2017 and again leads Conference USA in rushing yards per game this season (104.5). Singletary also is No. 1 in FBS in rushing touchdowns (12) and is second in scoring and total touchdowns.
“Singletary is a tremendous back,” Holliday said. “He is probably a guy you will see in the NFL this time next year. We will have to do a great job at getting hats on him, wrapping him up and getting multiple guys to him because he’s a hard guy to bring down.”
Singletary’s per-game rushing numbers actually exceed what Marshall’s defense is allowing on the ground each game. The Herd ranks 10th nationally, allowing just 103.5 yards rushing in each contest.
The game will be the third-straight start for Marshall quarterback Alex Thomson, who fared much better in efficiency and moving the offense in last week’s win over Old Dominion.
Thomson again will look to get outside receivers Tyre Brady and Obi Obialo involved quickly, but one area where the Herd had success last season against FAU came in the middle of the field with slot receiver Marcel Williams.
If the rushing attack can get going and force Florida Atlantic into adding hats to the box, Williams could be in beneficial matchups for the Herd.
Getting Florida Atlantic’s defense out of rhythm will not be an easy task with two of Conference USA’s top linebackers in Rashad Smith and Azeez Al-Shaair — the preseason Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year — manning those spots.
For the Herd defense, getting to Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robison is key when the Herd forces passing situations. That surge will be led by defensive end Ty Tyler, who has six sacks on the season. FAU’s offensive line has allowed just five sacks on the season, so that is the game within the game.
Marshall has never lost to the Owls in Huntington and is looking to avoid a three-game home losing streak.
TODAY’S GAME: MARSHALL (4-2) VS. FAU (3-3)
KICKOFF: 2:30 p.m.
WHERE: Joan C. Edwards Stadium (38,223)
LIVE STREAM: CBS Sports Facebook
RADIO: WRVC 930-AM and 94.1-FM, WDGG-93.7-FM, WMUL 88.1-FM
Source: The Associated Press