HUNTINGTON — As Marshall gets set for its biggest game of 2021, the Thundering Herd offense is also coming off its biggest performance of the season.
Marshall excelled in all phases last week in its 49-28 win over Charlotte.
Now, the Herd is looking to string together consecutive strong performances when facing a Western Kentucky team who has also showcased an excellent offense this season.
“Last week, we did a really good job,” Marshall head coach Charles Huff said. “I thought the O-line did a phenomenal job coming out and helping us run the ball with a lot of efficiency; our quarterback played well — another week without turning the ball over, which is something we harp on consistently in our building.”
Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. contest at Joan C. Edwards Stadium brings together two of the top-10 offenses in the nation, with Western Kentucky being third in FBS in total yards at 528.8 per game, while Marshall is No. 9 at 484 yards per game.
While Western Kentucky’s offense is pass-based with the nation’s top passing offense, Marshall’s has been more balanced with a passing attack that has produced 321 yards per game and a rushing attack that is third in the nation in rushing touchdowns with 34.
That balance showed itself in last week’s win over Charlotte in which the Herd dominated the line of scrimmage, rushing for 321 yards, while not allowing the 49ers’ pressure to get to quarterback Grant Wells.
Marshall offensive lineman Alex Mollette said that, after the UAB loss, the Herd offensive front accepted the challenge set forth from Huff and simply got back to playing Marshall football.
“We set a goal of 300 rushing yards and I’ll be damned if we got it, man,” Mollette said. “We got there. Obviously, our quarterback didn’t get touched and that was a big thing for us, too. We pride ourselves on running the ball and nobody touching Grant.”
Running back Rasheen Ali rushed for 203 yards and three touchdowns and the Herd had six of its seven scoring drives go for at least 73 yards in the win.
As Marshall goes against an offense known nationally for putting up points, Wells said the team is intent on simply playing its game this week — not worrying about what Western Kentucky is doing.
That means taking what the defense is giving and putting themselves in advantageous positions, as was the case last week when Wells used the check-down to keep the Herd in second- and third-down situations that were manageable and opened the whole playbook.
Most importantly, Wells and the Herd offense did not turn the ball over, which will be vital this week against a defense in the Hilltoppers that takes pride in getting turnovers once the opposition looks to match what their offense is doing.
“When you look at their turnovers, their opponents stopped playing their offense,” Wells said. “They tried to play the scoreboard. When you do that, that’s when turnovers happen. We have to focus on each play and not on the scoreboard.”
Last season, Marshall’s offense was able to set the tone from the start against Western Kentucky, getting big plays early and dominating with its offensive variance in jumping to a 38-0 road lead en route to a 38-14 win over the Hilltoppers.
Mollette said much of the personnel is the same from that defense seen last year, so there is some familiarity, but the Hilltoppers are a talented group against which the Herd will have to execute well in order to get the win.
Just as Marshall’s offense got back on track last week, Western Kentucky’s defense has been rolling as of late with six straight wins — all coming with the defense not allowing more than 21 points.
“I’m glad that we got back on track to that this past week, but we need to keep it rolling,” Mollette said.