FACTS & STATS: Site: Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium (50,000) -- Greenville, North Carolina. Television: CBS Sports Network. Home Record: MU 3-3, ECU 4-1. Away Record: MU 2-3, ECU 3-3. Neutral Record: MU 0-0, ECU 0-0. Conference Record: MU 4-3, ECU 6-1. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 9-4.
GAME NOTES: Both sides will have plenty on the line when the Marshall Thundering Herd take on the East Carolina Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium in a Conference USA regular-season finale.
This game is a must win for Marshall as it enters with a 5-6 overall record after surviving a shootout with Houston at Joan C. Edwards Stadium last week. The Thundering Herd now need to pick up a win in Greenville to become bowl eligible or their season will end on Friday. Coach Doc Holliday's team had a difficult non-conference slate that contained road games at West Virginia and Purdue and a home bout with former MAC rival Ohio University. The Herd suffered a disappointing 38-31 setback at UAB in their last road contest.
The Pirates are in a must-win situation as well, not to gain bowl eligibility, but to keep intact their hopes of playing in the Conference USA Championship game. Ruffin McNeal's squad has only lost one game in league action this season. Unfortunately, the team the Pirates lost to was UCF, who they are tied with atop the East Division standings. ECU can win the division still, but it needs takes down MU and UCF has to lose at home to UAB. The Pirates have won two in a row overall and four straight C-USA games.
This will be the 14th time these programs face off on the gridiron. East Carolina leads the all-time series 9-4 and has taken all six contests in Greenville. However, last season both team's came into their regular season finale against each other with 5-6 overall records. Marshall managed to fend off the Pirates in a 34-27 overtime thriller to earn bowl eligibility and end ECU's 2011 season.
Last week's 44-41 victory over Houston exemplified the abilities of the explosive Marshall offense, which ranks seventh in the FBS in total offense (525.3 ypg) and 15th in scoring (39.3 ppg). After the team was held well below its average with only 337 yards of total offense by a weak UAB defensive unit, it exploded for a season-high 665 yards and program record 37 first downs versus the Cougars last week.
The Herd operate from a spread attack with its leader, Rakeem Cato under center. Cato has began to sketch his name onto Marshall's career leaderboards by throwing for 3,883 yards and 32 touchdowns this season. The sophomore QB is completing 68.9 percent of his passes and has only thrown 10 interceptions on 544 attempts.
Holliday's spread offense has thrived with Tommy Shuler as the main option in the attack. Shuler came out of nowhere to lead the C-USA in receptions per game (8.7) and rank second in yards per game (90.6). The speedy sophomore wideout is 10 catches away from tying the school's record for receptions in a single season which was set by Mike Barber (106) in 1987. Shuler is not the only MU wideout among the conference's receiving leaders. Aaron Dobson (618 yards, 53 rec.) and Antavious Wilson (698, 62 rec.) are both in the top 10.
While the trio of wideouts have the most yards through the air, tight end Gator Hoskins has pulled in a team-best 10 touchdown catches.
MU has clearly aired it out more than anything this season, but Kevin Grooms has been great when he gets the opportunity. Last week versus Houston, Grooms rushed for 155 yards, his third 100-yard rushing day this season. That is the most for a Herd freshman in a season since Doug Chapman had six 100-yard performances in 1996.
Marshall has the 116th ranked scoring defense in the FBS allowing 41.1 ppg. Dominick LeGrande is pacing the defense with 121 total stops, which is the eighth most in the FBS. Okechukwu Orkoroha is close behind with 104 tackles. Jermaine Holmes was all over the place on the defensive side of the ball which led to a game-high 16 total tackles last week.
East Carolina has an air-it-out philosophy on offense. The Pirates are averaging 394.1 yards and 28.2 points per game this season.
Shane Carden won the starting job from Rio Johnson after week two and has done a very good job for a first-year starter. The sophomore quarterback extended his streak of games to a touchdown pass to seven last week by completing 19- of-33 attempts for 215 yards and a pair of scores at Tulane last week. He also threw two interceptions in the contest, making it his first game with multiple interceptions since Sept. 29 when he tossed three versus Texas-El Paso.
Justin Hardy has made Carden's first year under center much easier. The sophomore wideout had great hands, size, and anticipation. Hardy has amassed impressive totals of 875 yards, 10 TDs, and 67 receptions.
Vintavious Cooper provides ECU with a ton of offensive punch out of the backfield. He has piled up 978 yards on the ground and caught 22 passes for 225 additional yards this season.
In comparison to rest of the C-USA, ECU is an above average defensive team. The Pirates are ranked fourth in the league in scoring defense (28.2 ppg) and fifth in total defense (397.3 ypg).
Jeremy Grove and Damon Magazu have each reached the 60-tackle plateau with Groce 65 each. Derrell Johnson has been solid on the edge, collecting nine tackles for loss. Chip Thompson is the team's best playmaker in the secondary with three interceptions.
The Pirates have an edge as they try to return the favor to MU for last season's regular-season finale. Marshall is going to put up a solid fight with Cato leading the charge. A few wonder if Cato is in the same class as former MU greats Chad Pennington and Byron Leftwich. This Friday he has a chance to either confirm or deny those suspicions.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: East Carolina 31, Marshall 27
11/21 10:50:24 ET
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