HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — With a chance at the C-USA conference championship at stake, Marshall visits an Florida Atlantic team riding a four-game winning streak.
The Owls (5-3, 4-0) are coming off a 42-28 victory over Western Kentucky in which they scored 22 points in the fourth quarter. Marshall (6-2, 3-1) aims to rebound from its first conference loss, 41-30 to Florida International at home.
Under first-year coach Lane Kiffin, FAU averages 39.5 points per game (15th in the nation), mostly due to the Owls’ dominant ground game that averaging 296 yards (No. 8 in the FBS).
“Their offense is good,” Marshall linebacker Artis Johnson said. “Their offensive line is their strongest asset. They have eight seniors on offense. It is going to be a challenge up front and good competition, but we are confident in the matchup and looking forward to it.”
Marshall’s defense had been stingy during the five straight wins leading up the FIU upset loss.
“Leveraging the ball, making plays, using our speed to get around blocks and cause trouble,” Johnson said. “They have great running backs but we just have to go out there and be aggressive and execute. We’ve done it before this season.”
Marshall ( 6-2, 3-1) at FAU (5-3, 4-0)
Kickoff: 6 p.m., Friday in Boca Raton, Fla. (CBSS)
When the Herd has the ball: Marshall must get back to protecting the ball and taking advantage of scoring opportunities after doing neither against FIU.
Quarterback Chase Litton had two interceptions and one fumble, the offense went 0-for-3 on fourth-down conversions, and the special-teams unit suffered a field goal mishap.
FAU cornerback Chris Tooley leads the team with four interceptions and a fumble recovery.
“(Tooley) is a very rangy guy, who plays the middle of the field and can do it all for them,” Litton said. “They give up chunk plays, but bounce right back and cause an interception or fumble.”
Marshall running backs Tyler King and Keion Davis have been the strongest aspect of the offense over the past five games.
Defensive end Leighton McCarthy leads the Owls with three sacks and five tackles for loss, as well as a forced fumble and a rare interception.
Linebacker Azeez Al-Shaair leads the defense in tackles with 74.
When FAU has the ball: Expect to see plenty of running back Devin Singletary who leads the NCAA in rushing touchdowns with 18. Singletary also has 1,053 yards (ninth in the nation) on 159 attempts (6.6 per carry).
Quarterback Jason Driskel has thrown for 899 yards while completing 62 percent of his passes. Driskel has thrown for just four touchdowns and three interceptions as the Owls have mostly relied upon the ground game.
“They run the football so well, so their big plays come off play-action passes,” Herd coach Doc Holliday said. “You have to get extra hats in the back to stop Singletary and Howell, then once that extra hat is in there, they do a great job of taking shots down the field.”
Holliday said forcing FAU to pass the ball will be a key to the game.
“They don’t ask ask (Driskel) to throw it 30 times a game, because they are handing the ball off,” Holliday said.
Marshall’s defense will look to bounce back from last week’s matchup that saw them give up the most rushing yards they have all season (224).
Linebacker Chase Hancock — Marshall’s leader in tackles (77) and tackles for loss (7) — and safety Malik Gant, who has become known for his strong play against the run from the secondary with 55 tackles (2nd on the team), should both have busy days.
Wildcard: The Thundering Herd lead the all-time series 4-0.
Line: FAU favored by 7.5
—By Troy Alexander