What to watch for: Cincinnati at Marshall

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall and Cincinnati resume their 2019 football seasons Saturday after both enjoyed a week from the gridiron.

The Herd and Bearcats meet at 5 p.m., at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in another battle of the more-highly respected programs from Group of 5 conferences.

The game is being shown on the CBS Sports Network Facebook page.

Both Marshall and UC enter the contest with 2-1 records. Marshall defeated VMI and Ohio, while suffering a close loss in between its two wins at Boise State. Cincinnati opened the season with a home win over UCLA, followed by a shutout loss at Ohio State and home win over Miami Ohio in one of the nation’s oldest football rivalries.

This will be the 14th meeting between the Herd and Bearcats. Cincinnati leads the all-time series 8-4-1. 

The teams last met two years ago at UC’s Nippert Stadium, with Marshall walking away with a 38-21 win. Cincinnati last visited Huntington in 2008 and beat the Herd, 33-10.

The game is the 120th at Marshall for the Herd’s 10th-year head coach, Doc Holliday. 

Luke Fickell, a former interim head coach at Ohio State, is in his third year guiding the Bearcats. Fickell has a 17-10 record and was named American Athletic Conference Coach of the Year.

Here are some things to look for in Saturday’s contest:

1 — Clearing the cobwebs

Since both Marshall and Cincinnati didn’t play last week, it will be interesting to see which team can get off to a better start and gain an advantage early in the contest. Marshall scored against Ohio two weeks ago in the first 2 minutes of the game and looked solid throughout the first half. 

Cincinnati had no trouble in its last game against an outmanned Redhawks’ team. 

Coaches worry about rust following an off week, but both Holliday and Fickell have said their team’s first bye came at a good time. It allowed players to heal and coaching staffs to game plan as well as hit the recruiting trail.

2 — Which defense performs better?

This game might very well be won in the trenches. 

Both the Herd and Bearcats feature veteran offensive lines and solid skill players, so the defensive group that’s more consistent could make the difference. 

Marshall is fifth in Conference USA in team defense, allowing just over 377 yards and 20 points a game, while Cincinnati is fifth in the American Conference, allowing 311 yards and 23 points a game. 

It could come down to the defense that can force the most turnovers. Both teams have an even margin of turnovers forced and turnovers given up through three games.

3 — Ground and pound

Both teams feature strong run games and athletic quarterbacks. 

The matchup between Marshall sophomore signal caller Isaiah Green and Cincinnati sophomore quarterback Desmond Ridder will be fun to watch, as both can make plays with their arms and legs. 

Both teams have solid, but not overwhelming receivers, meaning the key offensive matchup could be in the run game. 

Marshall’s hard-charging sophomore Brenden Knox will look to have a big night after a 100-yard first half in the Ohio win (he missed the second half due to injury, but will play this week). 

The Bearcats counter with do-everything junior back Michael Warren II, who is skilled as both a runner and pass receiver. 

Another key matchup is at the tight end spot, as Marshall’s Xavier Gaines and Armani Levias have proven to be playmakers, while Cincinnati could look to Josiah Deguara and junior Bruno Labelle. 

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