— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — After taking Marshall fans on an emotional roller coaster in last Saturday’s 20-13 overtime win over Old Dominion, the Thundering Herd hopes to climb back over the .500 mark with a second straight win when it plays Friday at North Texas.
Marshall (3-3, 1-1) scored a touchdown in the final minute of regulation to pull even with the Monarchs, then won on another on the opening possession of overtime.
After struggling, MU quarterback Grant Wells came through when it mattered most, hitting receiver Willie Johnson on a 52-yard scoring strike with 33 seconds left. Wells then connected with receiver Shadeed Ahmed on a 22-yard touchdown pass in overtime. Marshall’s defense kept Old Dominion out of the end zone on its overtime series to preserve the victory.
First-year Marshall head coach Charles Huff was pleased with the grit his team displayed, but remains concerned about mistakes keeping the Herd from greater success. Marshall did not fumble against ODU, but Wells was picked off twice and has nine interceptions on the season.
Penalties also continue to plague the Herd as Marshall was flagged 12 times against the Monarchs for 105 yards.
“I don’t think we can play like that and continue to win by any means,” Huff said. “I do think how we won the game says a lot about this program and where we are going. We won the game as a team. I told those guys before we left the locker room, ‘We got into this as a team and we’re going to have to get out of it as a team.’
“A couple players came up to me after the game and said, ‘Coach, we’re making progress because last year a lot of guys would have quit or a lot of guys would’ve checked out mentally.’ That’s encouraging as a coach but that won’t happen on my team. I don’t believe in that. I believe in fighting until the end.”
North Texas (1-4, 0-2) has struggled to this point against a tough schedule. Last week, the Mean Green lost at Missouri, 48-35.
Trailing 31-7 at halftime, the Mean Green staged a second-half comeback behind quarterback Austin Aune, who threw for 305 yards and four touchdowns against the Tigers.
UNT’s other losses came against SMU (35-12), UAB (40-6) and Louisiana Tech (24-17).
North Texas’ lone win came in its season opener, a 44-14 victory over FCS member Northwestern State.
Mean Green head coach Seth Littrell is in his sixth year and his career record is 32-35. Littrell is 1-0 against Marshall.
“In a football season, there’s a lot of ups and downs,” Littrell said. “We have seven games and a lot of football left. It’s really just focusing on this week and the opportunities it presents. The mentality has been great. They’re working hard. All year long this group has stuck together and they’re getting better together.”
Although Aune and the Mean Green offense showed some spark the past two games, the Mean Green’s offensive strength is found in its backfield, which leads Conference USA at 203.4 rushing yards per game.
The top runner is senior DeAndre Torrey, who is averaging 120.2 yards per game, tops in C-USA.
Marshall’s defense hopes to keep the Mean Green running game in check, putting pressure on the passing game to sustain drives.
Herd senior defensive tackle T.J. Johnson says wins on early downs will be critical.
“Our M.O. is to stop the run and force them to defeat us with the pass,” Johnson said. “Our secondary is getting better every week, so the defensive line is going to keep applying press on that third down. We’ve got to emphasize stopping the run first before we can even get to the pass.”
Friday’s game will kick at 7 p.m. and can be seen on CBS Sports Network.
The Herd and Mean Green haven’t met since 2016, a 38-21 North Texas win in Denton, Texas … The schools have met three times, with Marshall leading the series 2-1 — both Herd wins were in Huntington … This is the first Friday game in North Texas’ history … Marshall is No. 8 nationally in total offense at 514.3 yards per game. The Marshall passing game is eighth in the nation as well, averaging 356.3 yards per game.