— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall and Middle Tennessee State get to showcase Conference USA’s East Division on a national stage Friday as the Herd and Blue Raiders get together for an early season showdown at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
The contest kicks off at 7:30 p.m. and will be televised by CBS Sports Network.
Both teams picked up narrow league wins last Saturday. Marshall was able to make a defensive play in the last minute deep in its own territory to hold off Western Kentucky, 20-17, while MTSU surprised C-USA East Division favorite Florida Atlantic, 25-24.
Marshall enters the game with a 3-1 record, while the Blue Raiders are 2-2, with losses to SEC opponents Vanderbilt (35-7) and last year’s national runner-up Georgia (49-7). Marshall’s lone loss was at home to now nationally-ranked North Carolina State, 37-20.
The winner of Friday’s contest is suddenly the early team to beat in C-USA’s East Division.
Marshall senior defensive lineman Malik Thompson is looking forward to the challenge of defending Brent Stockstill, MTSU’s record-setting, fifth-year senior quarterback and the son of Blue Raiders’ head coach Rick Stockstill.
“We have to make sure that everyone is doing their job and that will be important to keeping him contained,” Thompson said. “As long as everyone is doing their job, I feel we shouldn’t run into difficulties.”
Stockstill should reach a career milestone against Marshall, as he’s only 67 yards shy of 10,000 career passing yards. He has also thrown at least one touchdown pass in his last 27 games, the second-longest streak in the nation, trailing only Penn State’s Trace McSorley (33 games).
Marshall senior defensive lineman Ryan Bee made the game-saving play Saturday at Western Kentucky as he knocked the ball from the hands of Hilltoppers’ quarterback Steve Duncan after leading Western inside the Marshall 10-yard line in the game’s final minute. After missing Marshall’s first two games, Bee was just happy to contribute.
“I was struggling after N.C. State and I didn’t feel like I played as I should have,” Bee said. “When the going gets tough though, I need to step up and make a play and it was really good to be able to do that for the team.”
Bee is looking forward to competing against Stockstill and the Blue Raiders.
“He’s been hurt the past two years, so I haven’t been able to compete against him since 2015,” Bee said. “He’s a great quarterback and he’ll run it as much as he’ll throw it, so it will be a major challenge this week to stop him.”
On other side of the ball, Marshall junior center Levi Brown believes MTSU’s defensive staff is giving the Herd plenty to work on in a short week of practice.
“Every year, they do something different on defense that you never see from anyone else,” Brown said. “They make you change your offense for their defense.
“They are a blitz-heavy team and they like to get their best players on our best players, so our communication on offense is critical this week.”
Herd senior wide receiver Tyre Brady had another big game in the win over WKU, with two scoring grabs, including the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth quarter. Brady finished with eight catches for 162 yards, and for his work, Brady shared Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week honors with Stockstill.
Brady’s winning 32-yard catch with 1:44 remaning finished off a 98-yard drive.
Brady says his job was aided by Marshall’s improved second half-running game, which he hopes is a continuing trend this week.
“The run game opens up the pass game and that allowed us to get the ball into our playmakers’ hands and opened things up for extra yardage in both the pass and run games,” Brady said.
The Herd and Blue Raiders have met seven previous times, with Marshall holding a 5-2 series lead. Marshall beat MTSU 38-10 last season in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
MTSU has never won in Huntington.