By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON – Marshall football faces a national ranked opponent in front of a national television audience Saturday afternoon at Joan C. Edwards State with 23rd ranked Appalachian State coming to town.
The Mountaineers opened their season last week at home with a 35-20 win over Conference USA member Charlotte. Marshall had last week after opening the season with a 59-0 win over Eastern Kentucky.
Marshall and Appalachian State were scheduled to play a home-and-home series, starting next year in Boone, North Carolina. Both teams needed a game this year due to the Covid-19 pandemic and MU and ASU officials were able to add two games to the contract, starting with this week’s contest.
Marshall and Appalachian State are old rivals, dating back to their days in the Southern Conference. Both schools have also done well since moving to the FBS level.
Appalachian State leads the all-time series 14-8, but Marshall has won the last two meetings, including a 50-17 thrashing of the Mountaineers in Huntington on August 31, 2002. Appalachian State was still playing at the FCS level at the time.
Marshall last faced a ranked opponent just over a year ago, a 14-7 road loss to then-#24 Boise State.
Marshall can’t get too “pass-happy”
Marshall was able to showcase a balanced offensive attack against an FCS defense in the EKU win, as Herd quarterbacks threw for 345 yards and five touchdowns and the backs kicked in with 282 yards and three touchdowns. The search for balance won’t be easy, as the Apps’ defense was solid in the Charlotte win, holding 49ers quarterback Chris Reynolds to 11 of 30 passing last week, including two interceptions. This is the same Chris Reynolds who dominated Marshall’s defense last fall in a rainy game in Charlotte.
Special Teams Value
Saturday’s game could come down to who executes best on special teams. App State felt pretty good about that part of its game as Coach Shawn Clark put plenty of emphasis on it in preseason, but he was shocked as the Mountaineers gave up a 97-yard kickoff return to Charlotte. Clark will be looking for a much better effort, but the Mountaineers will face a Marshall special teams unit which was perfect in placement kicks against EKU, with new kicker Shane Ciucci nailing a field goal and eight extra points. The Herd will probably get its first punts off on Saturday, as junior punter Robert LeFevre wasn’t needed at any point in the EKU win. Marshall is hoping for more consistent kickoffs from newcomer Daton Montiel.
Avoid the “Fun Belt”
Appalachian State is hoping to continue the early winning ways of Sun Belt Conference members. As the Apps were beating Charlotte last Saturday, the league had three significant wins over Big 12 opponents–Louisiana-Lafayette won at Iowa State, Coastal Carolina smashed Kansas and Arkansas State won at Kansas State. The only blemishes were a close win for Georgia Southern over FCS team Mercer and South Alabama falling to Tulane. With a CBS national TV audience watching, Saturday’s game is not only a showcase for Marshall, but it’s a big game for Conference USA. A Marshall win over a nationally-ranked Appalachian State squad would do wonders for the conference and bring some much-sought respect on the national level. There are good teams in C-USA, such as Marshall, Western Kentucky, Louisiana Tech, UAB and North Texas. Saturday is a chance to prove Conference USA is a true “player”in the Group of 5.
Notes: Marshall’s new long snapper, redshirt junior Shane Appio, has been rewarded with a scholarship by Coach Doc Holliday. Appio was rewarded for hard work in preparing to replace one of the Herd’s all-time great long snappers, Matt Beardall, who graduated after last season. Appio hails from Normal, Illinois. App State Coach Shawn Clark says he’d like to make more trips back to his West Virginia home. Clark told the media this week that he’d like to face Marshall annually, especially since games at both schools are easy drives for visiting fans, matched with the interesting history of the past games between both schools. Clark also said he’s had trouble getting tickets for all of his family and friends in his native Charleston who want to come to the game.