HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Looking to avenge the worst home loss in program history and stay in the Conference USA race, Marshall faces Western Kentucky in the annual “blackout” game.
Western Kentucky (5-4, 3-2) is coming off a 31-17 loss at Vanderbilt that saw the Hilltoppers run for minus-6 yards. Marshall (6-3, 3-2) finds itself coming off consecutive losses to FIU and FAU.
After facing one of the NCAA’s top rushing teams in FAU last week, the Herd’s defense will have to prepare for the exact opposite when Western Kentucky’s 15th-ranked passing offense visits Joan C. Edwards stadium.
“It is two extremes: Playing a great running team in Florida, then the following week you come in against a great passing team,” said cornerback Chris Jackson. “We just have to come in with a little different mindset and focus to get ready.”
The game has extra meaning for the Herd, given the approaching Nov. 14 anniversary of the 1970 plane crash that claimed 75 lives.
“We do realize that this is more than a game, but we can’t sit here and try to approach it differently,” said quarterback Chase Litton. “People are watching this game all over the country who have seen the movie, who have been involved with the plane crash. Alumni and boosters, this game means a lot to them and it means a lot to us.”
Western Kentucky (5-4, 3-2) at Marshall (6-3, 3-2)
Kickoff: 6:30 p.m., Saturday in Huntington, W.Va.
When the Herd has the ball: Litton will look to bounce back from his four-interception performance against the FAU Owls on the road.
“Bad quarterback play, that is all it was, nothing else,” Litton said. “It was great play calling, great execution for the most part, great defense and special teams. As a competitor as a quarterback, I have to step up on and off the field and carry myself the right way and lead this team to what they deserve to have, and that’s victories.”
The Herd will need to get off to a fast start after only scoring a combined 10 points in the first half of their last two games.
Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe leads WKU with 68 total tackles. Defensive backs Drell Greene and Joe Brown have two interceptions each, Greene has proven especially tough to throw on this season with 12 pass breakups.
“Teams are playing us different than what they put on film because they like to play man, but they see the talent we have at receiver,” Litton said. “This team likes to do what they do and they are good at it, so I would be shocked if they change it, but the coaches will have us ready for anything.”
When the Hilltoppers have the ball: With one of the top passing attacks in the nation, WKU averages 313 yards passing and 25 points per game.
Quarterback Mike White has thrown 14 touchdowns against six interceptions with a 62-percent completion rate. He was listed as questionable after leaving the closing minutes of last week’s game with an injury, but he expects to play.
WKU’s run game has struggled, as D’Andre Ferby leads the team with only 205 yards and averages just 3.1 yards per carry.
“They have run the ball extremely well in the past with the same guys (they still have), the center and right guard were all-conference,” said coach Doc Holliday. “I am sure they have the ability to do that, they just haven’t ran as well this year because they want to throw the football around, and they are doing a good job of that.”
The Hilltoppers roll into Huntington at less than full strength, as tight end Deon Yelder — WKU’s touchdown reception leader — and receiver Kylen Towner are questionable.
Wildcard: The all-time series is tied 4-4, but the Herd have never beaten Western Kentucky under Holliday and are still smarting from last season’s 60-6.
Line: Marshall favored by 13
— By Troy Alexander