HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Points could be scarce when Marshall travels to UT-San Antonio in a matchup of two of Conference-USA’s best defenses.
The Herd (7-3, 4-2) no longer have a chance to reach the league title game, while UTSA (5-4, 2-4) is coming off a 24-19 loss to UAB and trying to become bowl-eligible.
“Looking at their stats defensively, the two top team’s in the league are them and us,” said coach Doc Holliday. “They have really good players at every position on defense.”
UTSA gives up just 163 passing yards per game, sixth-best in the country. The Roadrunners are also ranked sixth in total defense and 13th in scoring defense.
“It is up to the offense this week to finish drives and put up points for the defense,” said Marshall quarterback Chase Litton.
The Herd’s defense allows just 121 rushing yards per game, 18th in the nation, and ranks 24th in total defense and 21st in scoring defense.
“They have a really good defense, but so do we,” said offensive lineman Alex Mollette. “I am sure the coaches will have a great plan for us, we just need to execute it.”
Marshall (7-3, 4-2) at UT-San Antonio (5-4, 2-4)
Kickoff: 7 p.m., Saturday in San Antonio, Texas (FCBK)
When the Herd has the ball: If Tyre Brady and Marcel Williams are unable to play, expect Marshall to run the ball often against the Roadrunners’ highly-touted secondary.
Litton has struggled the past three games, throwing six of his 10 interceptions over that stretch of games.
“You look at us, we are 7-0 when we have won the turnover battle,” said Holliday. “The turnovers are so critical, and I am sure they are telling their team the same thing.”
Running backs Tyler King and Keion Davis combined for 298 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns last week against Western Kentucky, as the Herd ran the ball 49 times compared to just 28 passes.
Without Brady and Williams, tight end Ryan Yuracheck and receiver Willie Johnson become the top targets. They have combined for half of Marshall’s 18 touchdown catches.
UTSA’s Marcus Davenport will be a focal point of Marshall’s blocking scheme, the defensive end has dominated the line of scrimmage this year with 14.5 tackles for loss, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles.
“He can do everything, I wouldn’t be shocked if he got a shot at the next level at outside linebacker,” said quarterback Chase Litton, who will have to do his best to avoid Davenport in the backfield Saturday. “He can move, he can pass rush and play the run, he has a little bit of everything to him—that is what makes him so diverse and so good.”
Safety Nate Gaines leads the team with three interceptions. Linebacker La’Kel Bass has a team-high 59 tackles (7.5 TFL) and two fumble recoveries, making him and Davenport a devastating combination against the run.
When the Roadrunners have the ball: Dalton Sturm is the textbook definition of a dual-threat quarterback. Sturm has ran the ball 97 times this season for 499 yards while also throwing for 1,830 yards and 15 touchdowns with just three interceptions.
“He is really an athletic guy, that when things break down for him he can make something happen,” said Holliday. “He is a tremendous player who can make all the throws.”
Running back Jalen Rhodes is averaging 5.1 yards per carry and has 601 rushing yards and five touchdowns.
Receiver Josh Stewart, a 6-foot-4 target, leads the team with 32 receptions for 427 yards and three touchdowns.
Kicker Jared Sackett has converted 14-of-16 field goal attempts for the Roadrunners.
Wildcard: These programs have met just once, a 2013 matchup Marshall won 34-10
Line: UTSA favored by 1
— By Troy Alexander