— by Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — After resounding wins over Navy and North Carolina Central to begin the season, Marshall will likely step up a level in competition this week as the East Carolina Pirates visit Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Saturday’s game kicks off at 6 p.m., and will be televised nationally by CBS Sports Network.
East Carolina is coached by Mike Houston, who is 7-16 in three seasons in Greenville. Houston previously was the head coach at James Madison, where he led the Dukes to a NCAA FCS national title in 2016.
Thus far this season, ECU lost to Appalachian State 33-19 and fell at home last week to South Carolina, 20-17. The contest with the Mountaineers was played in Charlotte, meaning this will be the Pirates’ first road game.
While ECU has yet to win, first-year Marshall head coach Charles Huff isn’t evaluating the Pirates based on their record.
“They’re really good,” Huff said. “This will be the best team we’ve played so far this season — the best overall team.”
The Pirates’ defense, which is giving up 350 yards per game, has been stingy against the rush. ECU held South Carolina to 111 rushing yards last week.
“This is a very experienced defense,” Marshall quarterback Grant Wells said. “They return nine or ten starters on defense. Whenever you play a team like that, you know they’re experienced and they play well together. They are going to be where they need to be.”
Huff continues to be concerned with his team’s turnover habits. Marshall has fumbled five times, though it has lost just one. But MU has thrown four interceptions — three for Wells and one for backup quarterback Luke Zban.
“In the other couple of games, I thought we had some advantages from a personnel standpoint in certain areas,” Huff said. “This game is probably going to be about even. Every game comes down to execution, but when you have some personnel advantages, you may get away with putting the ball on the ground.
“When the bar is even, those are the things that end up biting you. I talk about it all the time. It catches up to you. We’ve been trying to emphasize that over and over.”
Marshall and ECU have met 15 times previously, with the Pirates holding a 10-5 edge in the series. The last time the teams met was in Huntington in 2013, a 59-28 Marshall victory.
The most famous meeting between the schools took place on November 14, 1970 in Greenville, North Carolina — a 17-14 Pirates win. Later that night, the charter jet carrying the Marshall team back to Huntington crashed near Tri-State Airport, resulting in the death of 75 Marshall football players, coaches, administrators and others.
East Carolina was a 17-year member of Conference USA and was 7-3 against the Herd in the 10 years both were part of the league. ECU joined the American Athletic Conference after the 2013 season along with other former C-USA members Tulsa, UCF, Tulane, Houston and Memphis.