— By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall, Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky are in a three-way tie atop Conference USA’s East Division, but that number will be reduced by at least one after the Thundering Herd and Owls meet Saturday in Boca Raton, Florida.
Kickoff at FAU Stadium is 6 p.m., and the game can be viewed on Facebook Live.
Marshall head coach Charles Huff called last week’s 38-0 win over FIU the most consistent game played by his team this season because of its solid execution in all phases.
“We didn’t turn the ball over and we had zero penalties on offense,” Huff said. “I’m really pleased with the way our defense has improved each week and our special teams continue to step up.”
Marshall’s defense is getting ready to deal with the a high-powered trio on the FAU offense — senior quarterback N’Kosi Perry, redshirt sophomore running back Johnny Ford and freshman receiver LaJohntay Wester.
Huff is impressed with Perry, who transferred from Miami after playing for the Hurricanes from 2018-2020.
“He’s done a really good job of distributing the ball in their system,” Huff said. “He runs well enough to create some plays with his feet.”
Huff also believes a tough challenge is in store for his team’s offense, which will oppose a Florida Atlantic defense that just might be the Owls’ unsung heroes.
“They’re stout and probably one of the better defenses we’ve played this year from a consistency standpoint,” Huff said. “They’re playing with a lot of confidence right now.”
The Owls’ standout defenders are 356-pound freshman nose guard Evan Anderson and senior cornerback Zyon Gilbert.
Former Arizona head coach Mike Stoops is FAU’s defensive coordinator. Stoops worked with Huff on last year’s Alabama coaching staff and is the brother of current Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops and former Oklahoma head coach Bob Stoops.
The Herd (5-3, 3-1) and Owls (5-3, 3-1) have met eight previous times and Marshall holds a 7-1 series lead. Marshall’s lone loss in the series came in Boca Raton in 2017, when an FAU team led by head coach Lane Kiffin beat the Herd, 30-25.
Willie Taggart is in his second year as head coach at Florida Atlantic, which beat UTEP at home last Saturday, 28-25. Taggart has a 6-4 record at FAU and a 57-62 career record, which includes stops at Western Kentucky, South Florida and Florida State.
Taggart is wary of Marshall’s success in its visits to Boca Raton, where the Herd has picked up a pair of wins against the Owls as well as a victory in the 2014 Boca Raton Bowl over Northern Illinois.
“The pressure is the same as it was last weekend and any other week that we play,” Taggart said. “Our guys take pride in playing at home, and since Marshall’s [nearly undefeated] here, something’s got to give. They know us well and we know them well, so it should be a really good ballgame.”
Taggart is impressed with the physical style Marshall’s displayed on both sides, but doesn’t want his team to change its approach for the Herd.
“We just have got to go play our game and play the way that we want to play,” Taggart said. “We have to go play our game and have a great week of practice and understand the things we need to do in order to get the job done. Play with fanatical effort and play FAU football. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel — I promise you that.”
The Owls also have wins this season over Georgia Southern, Fordham, Florida International and Charlotte, with losses to Florida, Air Force and UAB.
Marshall’s players of the week for its performance against FIU were running back Rasheen Ali on offense, defensive end Koby Cumberlander on defense and freshman safety JoJo Evans on special teams … During his Tuesday press conference, Huff jokingly announced that a squirrel that got on the Joan C. Edwards Stadium turf on Saturday had been “suspended” for breaking team rules. The squirrel actually stayed on the field while action was ongoing before being removed by Marshall Athletics Associate Director for Operations Scott Morehouse. Huff said in jest that he hoped that the squirrel would be available for Marshall’s next home game on November 13 against UAB.