HUNTINGTON - Last season, Marshall went to Houston to face a winless Rice team and left with a hard-fought 20-7 win over the Owls.
In the contest, talent on the Rice side of the football was evident, but there was one glaring missing piece for the Owls - a solid quarterback.
This season, head coach Mike Bloomgren hasn't had such issues with TCU transfer Mike Collins stepping in nicely to bring some consistency to the Owls' offense.
Due to COVID-19, Rice has only played in three games so far this season, but Collins has been solid in all three outings.
"The one thing that they're a little different this year is that they've got that transfer quarterback in there that's given them some stability at the quarterback position," Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said.
Rice went from some of the league's worst quarterback play en route to an 0-9 start last season to Collins, who currently leads Conference USA in passing efficiency and has the Owls' offense moving methodically.
Collins is coming off his best statistical performance, even though it came in a 27-17 loss to North Texas. He finished 23 of 34 for 327 yards and two touchdowns.
One of the reasons for Collins' success is the benefit of having two solid receivers working the outsides of the Owls' scheme, which is patterned after Bloomgren's roots at Stanford.
The Owls use multiple tight end sets and are more of a run-first attack, but receiver Austin Trammell and tight end Jordan Myers have established chemistry with Collins, collecting 30 passes in the team's three games.
Trammell has continued the strong play he had in 2019, as well, catching six of Collins' 10 touchdown passes. Trammell leads the way with 16 catches for 335 yards while Myers has 14 catches for 138 yards.
"They are both excellent receivers that we have to be aware of and have to be able to match up with and be able to handle it," Holliday said.
Part of Rice's success with its passing attack is the use of play-action within those power sets.
Marshall defensive back Nazeeh Johnson said the safety play for Marshall will be crucial this weekend because those guys on the back end will be called on to offer run support, but they have to be disciplined to avoid receivers getting in behind them in the passing game.
"Coach always brings up the App State play when me and B.D. (Brandon Drayton), our eyes were bad," Johnson said. "He said plays like that can get us beat. We've been looking at the little things."
Johnson was forthcoming when doing a self-assessment of how he figures Rice will attack the Herd defense.
"I think their game-plan is going to try to out-smart us," Johnson said. "They know we're a physical, down-hill team. We've got our safeties in run support first, so if I was anybody, I would try to mess with our eyes, play-action pass, take shots."
That means if Marshall is to disrupt Collins' rhythm at quarterback, the Herd has to win one-on-one battles across the board.
It starts up front with getting pressure and beating blocks and continues with making plays on the outside in one-on-one situations within the passing game.
Pressure and winning one-on-ones has led to turnovers for the Herd defense, and Holliday wants to see that continue against a player who has performed as well as any quarterback in the league.
"Turnovers play a big part of every game," Holliday said. "Fortunately for us, I think we're leading the league in turnover margin. That's part of the reason we're having the success we have."