— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall celebrates homecoming at 2 p.m. Saturday with Old Dominion in town for a Conference USA contest.
Both the Thundering Herd (2-3, 0-1) and Monarchs (1-4, 0-1) are looking to end three-game losing streaks.
The game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium and can be viewed on the CBS Sports Network Facebook portal.
Marshall lost 34-28 at Middle Tennessee State last Saturday after turning the ball over six times, while Old Dominion fell at UTEP last week, 28-21.
The Herd and Monarchs have met six previous times and Marshall has a 5-1 series lead. The teams last played in 2019, a game won by Marshall, 31-17.
Old Dominion opted out of playing in 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Both teams are led by first-year head coaches, with Charles Huff guiding Marshall and former Penn State offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne in charge at ODU.
What to watch for in Saturday afternoon’s game:
Marshall’s turnover problems have held it back from a potential 5-0 start.
Besides last week’s six turnovers at MTSU (four fumbles and two interceptions), the Herd had three turnovers in its first loss to East Carolina.
Most of the Herd’s turnovers took place in Middle Tennessee territory last week, meaning the miscues stopped promising drives.
Huff believes the Herd is close to stopping its self-inflicted mistakes, but does not want to see his team feeling sorry for itself over the miscues.
“I told them when I went in the locker room, do not hang your head. I believe you hang your head when you play your best and the other team beats you,” Huff said. “You don’t hang your head when you beat yourself. You’ve got to look in the mirror and say, ‘how can I get better?’”
Can Marshall slow ODU’s tall tight ends?
Marshall’s defense will get plenty of work on Saturday defending Old Dominion’s 6-foot-8 tight end Zack Kuntz, a Penn State transfer. Kuntz played for Rahne with the Nittany Lions. The Monarchs’ other tight end is also a factor — 6-5 Isaiah Spencer, who has nine catches for 79 yards.
Kuntz has been especially productive in the last three games, catching 18 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. He caught eight balls for 54 yards last week in the loss at UTEP. Kuntz is fourth among all FBS tight ends with 24 catches.
Kuntz and Spencer are also solid blockers in the run game.
“Our tight ends have been a major part of our team and they’re going to continue to be,” Rahne said. “I warned everybody that we were going to throw the ball more to our tight ends than maybe they have in the past around here. Those guys continue to be a major weapon for us, and we need to continue to find ways to get them the ball because they’ve proved to be very effective and reliable.”
With Marshall a three-touchdown favorite, there’s likely an expectation the Herd shouldn’t struggle on homecoming.
But for a Thundering Herd team three straight losses, its fair share of problems with turnovers and an inability to put a full 60 minutes together, Huff doesn’t want to see Marshall take the Monarchs lightly.
Huff is hoping that this week’s practice work will bring out a more polished effort from the Herd, similar to the season-opening win at Navy.
“I think when you watch their games, I think they’re in a very similar scenario as us,” Huff said of ODU. “They’re in a lot of games — there’s a turnover, or a penalty, or a drop, whatever it is that kind of separates them. We’ve got to be prepared, and I told the guys it’s really about us this week. It’s about us fixing the things we need to fix, improving the things we need to improve on all week, so we can go out and execute on Saturday.”
Marshall running back Knowledge McDaniel was arrested Friday and is not listed on the team’s online roster … MU has not won a coin toss this season … Huff and Rahne say they’ve maintained a long-running friendship. They worked together on at Vanderbilt and Penn State … Marshall is honoring one of its all-time great athletes Saturday morning with the unveiling of an 8-foot bronze statue for Herd basketball legend Hal Greer in front of the Cam Henderson Center. The statue was crafted by Huntington native Frederick Hightower. Greer was the first African-American scholarship basketball player in Marshall history and is a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame and the Philadelphia 76ers Ring of Honor.