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2014 Marshall game page

HUNTINGTON, WV (Nov. 13) – If you pay any attention to just about anybody who has an opinion on the upcoming Rice-Marshall game, the visiting Owls just might as well Save the Equipment and stay home on Saturday.

Betting lines started in the high teens and as of today have risen to the neighborhood of 23 or 24. Put another way – Vegas prognostications show only three other FBS games with a bigger underdog than are the Rice Owls against the undefeated Thundering Herd.

Yup, out of some 50-plus football games on the board, this one is expected to wind up among the top four most one-sided.

And, who knows, so it may turn out to be. Why is Marshall thought well-nigh unbeatable at home, especially this Saturday? Let us count the ways.

First, to state the obvious, the team, and its fans, have revenge on their minds; and in fact, having been stewing over last year’s loss to Rice in the league championship game ever since.

Marshall followers were highly indignant last year when the Herd lost a tie-breaker to the Owls and wound up having to travel to Houston for the Dec. 6 contest between these two foes.

Their ire rose further when they observed, out loud and ad nauseam, “Waalll, thar ain’t nobody in them there stayunds! They ain’t got nobody at th’ game!”

In fact, Rice had sold some 23,000 tickets in the six days preceding the championship contest, and expected a walk-up of five to six thousand more, when a sharp cold front blew through the Bayou City and kept the walkup crowd at home, along with a few thousand ticket holders.

Saturday, though, one is warned, it’s gonna be different. Marshall has had all year to tout this game, to sell tickets for it; all the while contemplating ways in which the Owls might be not merely beaten, but given their just deserts via total obliteration.

And the crowd – just wait, it's said;  there’ll be a packed house of rabid Herd fans maintaining an impenetrable din for three and a half hours, fact, based on tickets sales thus far, there’ll be, let’s see, there’ll be, well, with, what, about 23,000 tickets sold so far.....hmmmm...

Now, before proceeding, set aside for a moment the fact that virtually every Herd contributor on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball were dressed out and on the field last December in Houston when the Owls ran off with a 41-24 victory that wasn’t as close as the score indicated.

That was the only time the Marshalls have lost in their last 25 games. In fact, this Marshall team has been impressive from top to bottom, all season.

All-league quarterback Rakim Cato wasn’t exactly a world-beater in last year’s championship game, wherein he spent a good part of the afternoon being sat down on his duff. But he hasn’t had a bad game all season. Perhaps he is due for one.

Cato indeed has had a stellar senior year thus far, tossing for 2,316 yards and 22 touchdowns in nine games, with only six interceptions given up.

He’s got an impressive bevy of running backs behind him, led by Devon Johnson, who gained 272 yards and scored four touchdowns against league foe Florida Atlantic.

Johnson suited out for last week’s game with Southern Miss, but was held out of action by MU head coach Doc Holliday with a bruised knee. He’s said to be 100 per cent and ready to rumble on Saturday.

Johnson paces an MU running attack that has averaged just under 300 yards on the season, good for sixth overall among FBS teams. It’s a run game that appeared not really to need Devon last time out against USM, when his backups, Remi Watson and Steward Butler, frolicked on the turf.

Herd runners picked up 335 yards and scored seven touchdowns against the Golden Eagles. Watson ran for three touchdowns and scored another on a pass reception. Butler ran for 118 yards and scored two touchdowns -- on only five carries.

Owl fans may remember from last year Tommy Shuler, a veteran Herd wideout who leads the team with 526 receiving yards and six TDs. This season, he teams up with freshman Angelo Jean-Louis, who’s caught for 396 yards on four touchdowns himself.

If there is an Achilles heel for the Herd, it may lie in its rushing defense, however. Last week, USM came out running, driving 80 yards on the ground for the game’s opening score, and following that up with a recovery of a surprise onsides kick, then rolling to another TD on the ground.

So just like the Owls last year, the Eagles piled up a quick 14-0 lead against the Marshalls. But thereafter the worm turned, as MU outscored USM 63-3 the rest of the afternoon.

The week before, the Herd trailed at halftime to Florida Atlantic before pulling away late in the game for a 35-16 victory.

In fact, the Herd defense has allowed more than 20 points in a game only twice this season. Its 16.6 points per game allowed average ranks sixth among FBS teams.

Top defenders are linebacker Neville Hewitt, who has 69 tackles on the year, and defensive linemen Arnold Blackmon, who’s the sack leader with five, plus 9.5 TFLs, and James Rouse, with eight tackles for loss.

Marshall has simply waltzed through its first nine games, blowing everybody out. League teams that Rice has beaten by 15 or 20, have been massacred by MU by 35 or more.

But you know football coaches. Coach Holliday said he and his charges will not be be taking Rice lightly at all – not after the whupping the Owls put on them in last year’s championship game.

"To have a team the caliber of Rice coming in, that's big," Coach Holliday said earlier this week. "David Bailiff has them extremely well-coached. I don't have to say anything to our guys. That's the team that beat us down at their place for the conference championship last year, beat us physically, beat us up."

"We're going to have to play extremely well.”

Apparently most of the football world doesn’t think that’ll be necessary, though.