GAME NOTES: With just four regular season contests remaining, the No. 23-
ranked Marshall Thundering Herd will attempt to remain unbeaten as they hit
the road to take on the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in a Conference USA bout
at M. M. Roberts Stadium Saturday.
Only three teams in the FBS are still undefeated, and Marshall is one of them
with four games against Conference USA opponents left. The Herd trailed at
halftime for the first time all season on Oct. 25 against FAU – the team’s
last outing. But Marshall shut out the Owls in the second half, and unleashed
running back Devon Johnson to earn the 35-16 victory.
Southern Miss, after winning just one game in the 2013 season, is starting to
look more like that squad than the one that started 2014 with a 2-2 record.
The Golden Eagles have dropped two in a row (most recently to UTEP, 35-14),
and have lost four of their last five.
This meeting between Marshall and Southern Miss will be the 10th in the series
history. The Golden Eagles hold the slight lead over the Thundering Herd, 5-4,
although Marshall won last year’s clash, 61-13.
The last time the Thundering Herd took the field was two weekends ago, and
they found themselves in a spot they hadn’t experienced at all this season:
they were trailing at halftime, 16-14. This came just one week after Marshall
trailed an opponent for the first time all season, when FIU went up with a
first-quarter touchdown. Still, the Herd overcame the slim deficit and went on
to score 21 points in the second half while shutting out the Owls in the same
Johnson set a Marshall rushing record against FAU in the win, gaining a
program-record 272 yards with four touchdowns. He had over 100 yards by
halftime when the Herd were trailing, which marked the seventh game in which
the tight end transplant has gained 100 yards in a contest. He ranks seventh
in the FBS this season with 1,203 rushing yards, adding 15 touchdowns to his
Johnson has proven to be just as big of a component to the offense as starting
quarterback Rakeem Cato, who continues to pile up the accolades. Cato this
season has passed for 20 touchdowns and 2,130 yards against six interceptions,
with a passing efficiency rating of 160.05, which puts him eighth in the
nation. Marshall’s offense is an unstoppable force, averaging 45.9 ppg (third
in the FBS), 571.2 offensive ypg (second in the FBS) with 290.1 ypg coming
from the running attack (sixth in the FBS). Doc Holliday’s squad looks to
finish the season on the same note on which it started.
“I know a lot of places take the pads off and not do things (late in the
season) quite the way they’ve done them all year, but we don’t do that,”
Holliday said. “We continue to grind and continue to practice the way we do,
and I think it pays off on Saturdays.”
Marshall’s defense has been almost as devastating to face as its offense. The
Herd have only allowed an opponent to score more than 20 points twice this
season – one of them was in the season opener against Mid-American Conference
foe Miami-Ohio. Marshall is allowing just 16.5 ppg, so the scoring
differential between the Herd and their opponents is monumental. The team is
holding opponents to a 31-percent success rate on third down conversions, and
a 27-percent rate on fourth down tries.
Linebacker Neville Hewitt tops the defense with 62 tackles on the year, and
has been a pest hanging around in opponents’ backfields. He’s registered eight
tackles for loss and a team-high four sacks, having also pid fewer
than 41 points in all seven of SMU’s games this year, with a few 50-plus
losses thrown in. The team is allowing 48.0 ppg (last in the nation) and well
over 550 offensive ypg (last in the nation) to the opposition. Most of the
damage has come through the air, with opponents racking up 313.6 ypg and 22
touchdowns via the pass.
Hayden Greenbauer leads the team with 46 tackles on the season, followed
closely by Darrion Richardson’s 45 total stops. With just two team
interceptions and three fumble recoveries, the Mustangs rank last in the FBS
with five total turnovers gained, and are sitting at 115th in the nation with
1.14 sacks per game as a unit. Lineman Zach Wood’s two sacks is a team high,
and linebacker Stephon Sanders’s 4.5 tackles for loss is another team best.
Similar to SMU, Tulsa is in the midst of a seven-game skid entering the
showdown with the winless Mustangs. But unlike SMU, Tulsa has been able to
score points in those losses, accounting for 50 combined in the last two
games. Against Memphis in the team’s last outing, quarterback Dane Evans put
up a strong performance, throwing for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns. It
was the defense that couldn’t handle the Tigers.
Evans has started all eight games for the Golden Hurricane this season, and
has played well for the most part. He’s accounted for 2,290 yards and 14
touchdowns against nine interceptions, with a completion percentage hovering
around 55 percent. He and top receiver Keevan Lucas have formed an unstoppable
tandem, hooking up for 929 yards and eight touchdowns this season.
The run game has been what is lacking for Tulsa on offense in 2014. Zack
Langer averages a team-best 68.4 rushing ypg, and is the only other player
besides Evans (two) who has multiple rushing touchdowns, punching three scores
in so far. But at 135.4 ypg on the ground, the Golden Hurricane have become a
pass-reliant team. At 23.9 ppg and 430.1 offensive ypg, Tulsa needs to get
more help from its defense in order to start picking up wins.
That defense has been responsible for letting up at least 31 points in every
game this season, including four that saw opponents score 40 or more. The team
is averaging 40.6 ppg surrendered through those eight contests, and 486.2
offensive ypg – both extremely poor numbers. And with just nine turnovers
gained on the year, Tulsa ranks in a tie for 110th in the FBS.
Michael Mudoh is the team leader in tackles with 74 through the first eight
games, and he has two forced fumbles. The majority of the disruption in an
opponents’ backfield is caused by Derrick Alexander, who has 7.5 tackles for
loss and five sacks along with two forced fumbles. The team only has four
interceptions on the season, but that number should change going against an
SMU team known for giving the ball away.
This is a very unappealing matchup in the AAC, but even though the two teams
are in the basement of the conference standings, Tulsa is still several steps
above SMU. The Golden Hurricane’s 23.9 ppg average will be enough to get by
the Mustangs, who haven’t been on the road since the first weekend in October.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Tulsa 34, SMU 12