C-USA's best to collide
HUNTINGTON -- Saturday's football game between the Marshall Thundering Herd and the UCF Knights will be a collision of contrasts in style.
Marshall (3-4 overall, 2-1 conference) is tops in Conference USA in offense, quarterback Rakeem Cato leads the nation in passing and completions and the Herd likes to go fast, getting off about 90 plays per game on offense. UCF (5-2, 3-0) will come into Joan C. Edwards Stadium boasting the best defense in C-USA, and will try to slow the game down with a power running attack on offense.
Kickoff is 8 p.m. CBS Sports Network has the telecast on Huntington cable Ch. 174.
"It's obvious we have a great challenge this weekend," MU head coach Doc Holliday said during a press conference Tuesday. "They're physical, they're talented and it should be a great atmosphere Saturday night."
The Herd is fourth in C-USA in rushing, first in passing and first in scoring. UCF is the mirror image of that, fourth best on defense against the run, first against the pass and first in points allowed.
The Knight's offense goes against the run of the mill in the spread the field, pass-happy C-USA. Under old school coach George O'Leary, the Knights run a pro-style offense that relies on a power running game and the play-action pass to take shots down the field.
Marshall was much better against the run last weekend, a 59-27 win at Southern Miss, and will have to step it up again Saturday night.
"(Our defense) understands they have to tackle well," Holliday said. "You know what (UCF) is going to do. They're going to line up and play power football against you, and you have to be able to stop it."
He said the Herd's defensive unit has spent time practicing against that style of offense since fall camp, so they shouldn't be on their heels when they see it.
"They've seen that throughout the year because at some point you've got to be able to stop it," Holliday said. "This is one of those weeks you have to be able to line up, buckle your chin strap and get physical, because that's what kind of game it's going to be."
UCF is also one of the best teams in C-USA in turnover margin, making plays that give the offense a short field to work with.
"That's why they're 5-2," Holliday said. "They're playing great defense, they're not turning it over and they make you earn everything you get. They're a good football team coming in here Saturday night and we have to make sure we're a good football team, too."
UCF will have its own set of challenges in dealing with Marshall's offense. The one problem the Herd has not had all season is an inability to move the ball and put up points.
In all three of Marshall's wins, the team has scored more than 50 points. With the exception of the 27-24 loss to Ohio, MU has put up a minimum of 34 points in its losses as well.
The Herd is also starting to find balance, with its trio of freshmen backs -- Kevin Grooms, Steward Butler and Remi Watson -- providing some explosive running to compliment Cato's 378 passing yards per game.
"It's personnel driven," Holliday said. "You could sit here and say what great offensive minds we've got up in the box -- we've got good players.
"Those three freshman running backs have made a difference. That offensive line is playing better than anytime since I've been here," Holliday said. "Football is important to them, and they play extremely hard and work hard and they've come a long way. The receivers are blocking their tails off. We didn't just all of a sudden get smarter, we've got better players now."
UCF is 7-3 all time against Marshall.
If the Herd wins Saturday, the team will be 3-1 in C-USA play, and will sit atop the East division at 2-0.
"(UCF) is coming to Huntington, and it gives us an opportunity to get our fans out and get a packed house, and it's just a great atmosphere," Holliday said. "Like I said, we just have to a great job this week in preparation, so that when our number's called at 8 p.m. Saturday night we go out and play our tails off, because that's what it's going to take."