HUNTINGTON — Coming into Saturday’s contest, Marshall and FIU are two teams on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum.
Marshall (7-4, 5-2 C-USA) comes off a disappointing loss at Charlotte that took control of the Conference USA East Division out of their own hands.
FIU (6-5, 3-4 C-USA) rides into Huntington off the biggest win in program history — a 30-24 win over the University of Miami, which got the Panthers bowl-eligible.
For Marshall to keep its slim Conference USA East Division hopes alive, the Herd must find a way to reverse that feel in a noon contest at Joan C. Edwards Stadium that will be shown nationally on CBS Sports Network.
Head coach Doc Holliday said that, in addition to the ramifications, it is important to send his seniors out the correct way after what they’ve contributed to the program.
“Obviously, FIU had a great win over Miami last week and we’re getting ready to play an excellent team,” Holliday said. “This game means a lot of things for 18 reasons... 17 of those (reasons) are the guys who will be honored here on Senior Day. Those guys have given a lot of blood, sweat and tears to this program. It’s important that we work really hard to send those guys out the right way.
“The 18th reason is that we still have a lot of football to play for. We have the opportunity to still win the East and we have to go win this game.”
To do so, Marshall is going to have to quickly fix flaws from last week that were exposed in the 24-13 loss to Charlotte.
Offensively, the Herd has to find a way to get its passing game back in order after a dismal performance that saw the team have more interceptions (2) than completions to wide receivers (1).
Quarterback Isaiah Green is likely going to be faced with a similar scenario to last week’s soggy Saturday in Charlotte as weather is calling for a 90 percent chance of rain with accumulation to half an inch and a high of 49 degrees.
Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said the team used last week’s struggles as a lesson and have worked toward solutions for similar issues in practice leading up to Saturday’s contest.
“When it was a light rain, you’re OK and you can throw the ball in those situations,” Cramsey said. “Heavy rains, we’ve got some plans and ideas to get people involved, some short, quicker passes — RPO, bubble game — stuff like that so we can still be able to move the ball and get the ball to our perimeter athletes in space if it gets to that point again.”
Defensively, Marshall has the challenge of facing a quarterback in FIU’s James Morgan who has thrown just two interceptions all season and is wanting to get the taste out of his mouth of last year’s loss to the Herd when he came in with similar numbers, but was benched.
While Morgan poses a challenge, the key to containing Morgan is first shutting down the talented rushing tandem of Anthony Jones and Napoleon Maxwell — something no team has been able to do so far in 2019.
Jones and Maxwell have combined for 1,339 yards and 15 touchdowns out of the backfield.
The key to the FIU offense has been an offensive line that has protected well, no matter the form of moving the ball. FIU is averaging 4.6 yards per carry and the Panthers have allowed just 13 sacks on the season.
Getting to the quarterback has been Marshall’s strength throughout the year, but the Herd has managed just one sack in its last two games, which has led to issues defensively.
Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert praised the skill level of the Panthers and added that his team can’t let last week defeat them two weeks in a row — especially with what is potentially at stake.
“What you work for since January is to make this time of year count,” Lambert said. “As I told the defense (Tuesday), one thing I know for sure is that we can’t go to the conference championship game if we don’t win.”