Strength vs. strength
HUNTINGTON -- It's 22 players, two units and two of the best in Conference USA at their craft Saturday night.
When Marshall (3-4, 2-1 C-USA) collides with UCF (5-2, 3-0) at 8 p.m., Saturday, in Joan C. Edwards Stadium, it will pit the league's top offense against the league's top defense.
CBS Sports Network has the telecast on Huntington cable Ch. 174.
Marshall players are excited to see how it plays out. They know what to expect from UCF -- a physical, white-knuckle contest in which the offensive line tries to dictate the tempo and the style of play.
"I just feel like we have to beat them. There's nothing else to it. ..." Marshall offensive lineman Garrett Scott said. "We go at it head-to-head and it's always a real physical game."
Over the last several years, Marshall offenses have struggled to get back to the high-octane nature of the past. Consequently, the Thundering Herd has averaged just 14.5 points against UCF in its seven-game losing streak to the Knights.
This year is a bit of a different story for the Herd, however.
Marshall is atop the C-USA leaderboard, averaging 43.1 points per game. The Herd has eclipsed the 50-point mark in each of its three wins and has been limited to less than 34 points just once in seven games.
The Herd is coming off a 59-24 win over Southern Miss when the offense rolled up 629 total yards.
In three conference games, Marshall is averaging 50.3 points and 598 yards, which breaks down to 259 yards on the ground and 339 through the air.
Those figures will be met with brute resistance, however, Saturday.
UCF has prided itself on stellar defensive play under head coach George O'Leary, and this year has been much of the same with the team leading the league in scoring defense (22 points per game), total defense (352.9 yards per game) and passing defense (200.9 yards per game).
Last week, the Knights got an interception to stop a drive and followed it with A.J. Bouye's 79-yard fumble return for a score to help clinch a 35-17 win over Memphis.
While all eyes will be on Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato, the nation's leading passer with 2,651 yards, the game is likely to come down to the Herd's rushing attack.
The Herd got a career-high 119 yards by Kevin Grooms last week en route to 275 for the game, and the team has averaged nearly 305 yards on the ground in each of its conference wins.
If there is an area where the Knights are susceptible, it has been the ground game.
UCF gave up 280 rushing yards to Memphis last week -- a figure that was nearly double what the team had allowed heading into the game.
Marshall players are well aware of what happened in last week's contest, and they hope to be the aggressor this week when in possession of the ball.
"We just need to look at the schemes that we are putting in and perform them to the best of our abilities," Marshall offensive lineman John Bruhin said. "If we do that, the running backs will make good cuts and make us look good."
If UCF wins, it all but clinches the East Division by having wins over Marshall and East Carolina in its bag.
A Herd win would throw everything into limbo with Marshall, UCF and East Carolina all having one conference loss.
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