HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — After a disastrous 3-9 record last season, Marshall’s outlook is drastically different heading into their final regular-season game of 2017.
The Herd (7-4, 4-3 C-USA) are looking to improve their bowl prospects on Saturday against Southern Miss (7-4, 5-2).
“I think that what we have done is really remarkable, a lot of people get lost in the fact that we have lost four games, they wanted us to win the conference and so did we,” said defensive end Blake Keller. “Coming from 3-9 to 7-4 is really a turnaround and it speaks volumes to how hard me and my teammates have worked this offseason.
‘If we can go out and finish this thing 9-4 that is a huge accomplishment. We are just focused on winning these next two games, and finishing the season off on the right note so the guys next year have a nice foundation to build off of.”
Southern Miss (7-4, 5-2) at Marshall (7-4, 4-3)
Kickoff: 2:30 p.m., Saturday in Huntington, West Virginia (STADIUM, TWITTER)
When the Herd has the ball: With Tyre Brady and Marcel Williams both questionable, the offense could once again struggle to get the passing game going. USM gives up only 179 passing yards per game, 16th in the nation.
When asked what the offense could do to turn around their woes, quarterback Chase Litton made it simple.
“Scoring, we definitely have to score more than seven points. We are playing a tremendous defense,” said Litton. “We have to come and execute, I know I sound like a broken record, but that is the only way to win football games.”
Marshall will look to breathe some life into the run game after running the ball 23 times for just 40 yards against UTSA. Tyler King, who has 666 yards rushing and six touchdowns this season, was limited to just seven carries with an unspecified injury.
Receiver Obi Obialo established some rapport with Litton against UTSA, pulling down a season-high six catches for 80 yards.
Hyleck Foster, who converted from running back to receiver in the offseason and was responsible for the only touchdown against UTSA, could also be a frequent target.
“I threw to him in camp and spring practice, he had a tremendous camp and got his shot this past weekend,” said Litton. “He made the most of it, he can’t let that slow him down. We have to get our timing down and be ready to go against this veteran defense.”
The Golden Eagles’ defense has eight interceptions.
On the front seven defensive lineman Xavier Thigpen and linebacker Paxton Schrimsher each have 4.5 sacks.
When the Golden Eagles have the ball: Running back Ito Smith demands the most attention on USM’s offense. The senior running back has 1,171 yards in just 203 attempts this season while also finding the endzone 12 times on the ground and twice through the air.
“We have seen a lot of good running backs this year, every one is different,” said linebacker Chase Hancock, who leads the team with 102 tackles on the year. “We just have to control what we can and make our tackles—we have to finish on this guy because he likes to break away and squeeze through tackles, he is a really good playmaker.”
The Golden Eagles biggest receiving threat is receiver Korey Robertson with 65 catches for 952 yards and 10 receiving touchdowns.
Junior quarterback Kwadra Griggs, in his first year with Southern Miss, has brought stability to the position competing 58 percent of his passes for 1,623 yards. Griggs plays extremely smart with the football as evidenced by his 12-to-2 touchdown to interception ratio.
Wildcard: The series between these two programs, which have met every time since Marshall entered C-USA in 2005, is tied at 6 wins each. Last year the Golden Eagles handed the Herd a 24-14 loss in Hattiesburg, Mississippi.
Line: Marshall favored by 3
— By Troy Alexander