By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON – First place in Conference USA’s East Division is on the line as FAU visits Marshall this week. The Owls enter the game 1-0 in league play, while the Herd boasts a 2-0 conference record and 4-0 overall record.
Here’s what to watch for Saturday at The Joan:
Slowing down the Owls “Jet”
When Lane Kiffin left FAU late last year for the head coaching job at Ole Miss, you might have thought the Owls high-tempo offensive approach might change. It didn’t. Even under new coach Willie Taggart’s leadership, FAU likes to push the pace offensively, often running plays 15 seconds apart. That pace is meant to wear down defenses. It will be up to Marshall’s national-leading defense to not fall into the Owls trap, plus the ability to switch out defensive personnel will be crucial in order to keep fresh legs on the field. Marshall’s defense strength is its sideline-to-sideline speed and preserving that advantage on the Owls will be crucial. Also important for Marshall’s defense is not allowing FAU quarterback Nick Tronti to use his running skills by escaping the pocket and continuing drives.
It’ll be exactly three weeks between games when the Owls hit the Joan C. Edwards turf on Saturday. That much time between games might concern coaches that FAU might struggle against a fired-up MU squad which has picked up road wins over the last two weeks. Taggart seems to be confident that his team will be ready for a fast start, saying of the Owls “They are excited to be back, but I think that they all understand that they have to work themselves back into football shape and conditioning. I think they could all tell that they lost a little conditioning being out, but more importantly, they are all excited about being healthy and being able to get back out there to practice and prepare for a game. “
Wells spreading the wealth
When Marshall receivers Willie Johnson and Talik Keaton went down with minor injuries in the Louisiana Tech win, the Herd showed the depth of its receiving corps through the work of backups Corey Gammage and Artie Henry. The pair, which each battled injuries in 2019, had a touchdown catch apiece. Gammage had 5 catches in the Tech win for 65 yards, while Henry caught three Grant Wells throws for 72 yards. Similar numbers for the pair on Saturday would mean good things for Herd fans on Homecoming Saturday. Look for Wells to also incorporate youngster Shadeed Ahmed into his passing radar. Speedster Jaron Woodyard (Nebraska Graduate Transfer) has been quiet since the season opener against Eastern Kentucky and is due for more action.
Notes….Marshall has receiving the opening kickoff in all four games this season…MU’s national defensive numbers continue to impress, as the Herd is third nationally in scoring defense (9.5 points per game), third in rushing defense (68.5 yards per game) and 5th in total defense (272.8 yards per game). The Herd has also force seven turnovers in its four games….FAU has won eight straight games, the last loss coming to Marshall in Boca Raton, Fla. last October 18th, a game which featured MU’s Brenden Knox running for 220 yards and two touchdowns, including the winning score of 17 yards with 36 seconds left…Marshall’s offensive line picked up some future depth this week, as former Huntington High Class AAA All-State player Billy Ross announced he was transferring from North Carolina to Marshall, while Spring Valley Senior Lineman Bryce Biggs posted on social media that he had verbally committed to play for the Herd.