Stage is set for Herd against UCF
HUNTINGTON -- Saturday night, under the lights, national television.
Conference USA's top offense hosting Conference USA's top defense.
The two leading contenders for the C-USA East division crown.
Two bitter foes taking part in one final chapter of an untraditional, but entertaining rivalry.
Saturday's 8 p.m. showdown between UCF (5-2, 3-0 C-USA) and Marshall (3-4, 2-1) has all the makings of one of the biggest and most meaningful games in recent history for the Thundering Herd. The telecast is on the CBS Sports Network (Huntington cable Ch. 174).
This is a rivalry that also firmly holds the hopes and dreams of a C-USA championship in its grasp.
"A win would mean everything," Marshall defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said. "Marshall's never beat UCF in Conference USA, but playing them here, it's going to be different. They're not just going to roll over us like they think."
UCF comes into the contest with its losses coming to Ohio State and Missouri earlier in the season. The Knights are the team that everyone -- Marshall included -- is chasing in C-USA's East Division.
The Knights feature a talented, playmaking defense that has forced 15 turnovers, including three last week which turned into 21 points in a 35-17 win at Memphis.
UCF's defense is top-ranked in C-USA in several statistics, including scoring defense, total defense and pass defense.
Ironically, those are the same areas where Marshall excels.
The Herd leads C-USA in scoring offense, total offense and passing offense.
The two sides are like oil and water -- they don't mesh and they often clash.
Philosophies are different between Marshall coach Doc Holliday and UCF coach George O'Leary, who formed his own opinions on the success of Marshall's offensive scheme.
"I don't think I'd want to be involved with a team that has to outscore somebody to win," O'Leary said during his weekly press conference. "I think eventually it's going to catch up to you when you face a team that can control the ball and can make you really struggle to get down there."
It's no secret UCF plans to do exactly that -- play ball control and run right at the teeth of Marshall's defense while relying on its defense to get stops.
However, stopping Marshall's offense has been something that not many have been able to do.
The Herd passing attack has been held to less than 300 yards just once, and that came in a win over Rice when the Herd went to the ground for 335 yards.
Meanwhile, UCF's pass defense has not allowed a 300-yard passer all season.
It's going to be a hard-fought, physical battle of will, passion and execution.
"I've already talked to those guys," said Taylor, a defensive captain. "This has to be their most physical game ever. You've got to be cutthroat and nasty. I'm confident with what we'll bring to the table on Saturday. I'm getting a little edgy just talking about it."