Chuck Landon: Beat UCF, and Herd gets in line for success
Everything is on the line.
Figuratively and, yes, literally.
When Marshall hosts Conference USA arch-rival UCF in an East Division showdown at 8 p.m., Saturday, in Edwards Stadium, several key issues are at stake.
The list begins with the eventual championship of the East Division and a berth in the C-USA championship game. That hinges on this game.
If Marshall is to have any chance of fulfilling the preseason goal of playing for the league championship, the Herd first has to defeat UCF. That's because the Knights have a 3-0 C-USA record compared to Marshall's 2-1.
A UCF win wouldn't clinch the division, but a Marshall loss probably would drop the Herd from contention.
So, the East Division championship, a potential berth in the C-USA title game and the Herd's No. 1 preseason goal are all on the line for Marshall.
Coincidentally, all these opportunities are going to be won or lost at the line of scrimmage.
It all depends on Marshall's offensive and defensive lines. It's all on them. And guess what? That's precisely how they want it.
"Yes, that's what we're taking upon ourselves," said Garrett Scott, MU's right offensive tackle. "We say we want that one game where we can just put the team on our back. All of us in the trenches ... offensive line and defensive line.
"We just want to put the team on our back and show the team we can win that way. We want to show we're an asset, too. We know it's going to be a physical game up front. Coach (Doc) Holliday told us that.
"So, we're getting prepared for it."
Actually, Marshall has been preparing for it during the last two games. Against Tulsa and Southern Miss, the Herd's pass-happy offense developed a complementary running game to make the attack more balanced.
In those two games, Marshall has rushed for 444 yards (222.0 per game) on 87 carries (43.5 per game) for 5.1 yards per carry.
Talk about timing.
During that same two-week stretch, UCF's normally staunch run defense has surrendered 434 yards on 81 attempts for 5.4 yards per carry to Memphis and Southern Miss squads that have a combined 1-13 record.
So, the trough is set for the hogs.
"We're definitely going to try to make a statement running the ball ... for sure," said John Bruhin, senior right guard. "And that's what they're going to do. That's what they're known for."
Indeed, it is.
Keyed by powerful Latavius Murray, 6-foot-3, 223 pounds, the Knights are rushing for 169.3 yards per game and 4.6 yards per carry.
So, this game is setting up as a mano y mano war in the trenches.
"Oh, definitely," said Bruhin. "That's the kind of games you live for as an offensive lineman. You are saying, 'Put it on my shoulders.' "
The Herd defense is saying the same about UCF's run between the tackles attack.
"We want that," said Billy Mitchell, junior middle linebacker. "We want a tough, physical game. We have tough, physical players at every position. So, we're ready for this.
"As a defense with ego, we want a physical game. We want to show that we're physical. We're looking forward to this game."
That's because this is the matchup both Marshall lines have waited for all season.
"This could be that game," said Scott firmly. "We want it to be that game."
Forget Las Vegas.
That's the real line on this game.
Chuck Landon is a columnist for The Herald-Dispatch. Call him at 304-526-2827 or email him at email@example.com.