Appalachian State at Marshall: What to watch for

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall and Appalachian State meet for the 25th time on Saturday afternoon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. 

What is sure to be an emotion-filled game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and can be seen on ESPN+.

The contest will be a tribute game for the 75 victims of the November 14, 1970 plane crash near Huntington’s Tri-State Airport, which killed members of the Marshall football team along with coaches, administrators and supporters returning from a game at East Carolina.

The Herd (5-4, 2-3) is coming off a 12-0 shutout win last Saturday at Old Dominion, while the Mountaineers (5-4, 2-3) dropped a nationally-televised game on November 3 in their most recent outing at Coastal Carolina, 35-28.

Marshall and Appalachian State developed a close rivalry as members of the Southern Conference from 1977-1997.

Appalachian State leads the all-time series 15-9 and won last year in Boone, N.C., when it rallied for a 31-310 victory.

The Mountaineers are coached by Charleston Shawn Clark, an alumnus of George Washington High School. Clark has a 25-11 career record in three seasons.

Here are three things to look for in Saturday’s contest:

Don’t get beat by Brice

Marshall’s defense is among the nation’s best, ranked No. 8 in total defense, No. 2 in rushing defense and No. 6 in fewest points allowed per game. 

The group will get a test Saturday when it matches wits with Appalachian State sixth-year senior quarterback Chase Brice, who had stops at Clemson and Duke before joining the Mountaineers. 

Brice can beat opponents with his arm and his feet, while a surplus of experience is beneficial as well. 

Brice has 2,200 passing yards with 24 touchdowns and five interceptions through nine contests. He has also rushed for four scores.

It will be crucial for Marshall’s pass rushers to prevent Brice from developing a rhythm early.

After recording a shutout against the Monarchs, the challenge gets tougher, but the MU defense has been a force for much of the season.

Get vertical

The need for Marshall to push the ball downfield in the passing game has been a constant search this season. 

The Herd hasn’t been able to hit on long passes all season and the statistical inconsistency of the air game has been frustrating. 

After throwing for more than 300 yards in a loss to Coastal Carolina on October 29, Marshall quarterback Cam Fancher had only 89 yards in the win at Old Dominion. 

Herd coach Charles Huff relied instead on a strong rushing attack against ODU’s defense, and with how the Herd defense played, there was little reason to take chances. 

However, that recipe might not work against the Mountaineers. ASU’s rush defense is in the middle of the pack nationally, but has had some strong efforts, allowing less than 100 yards on the ground to Texas A&M, Troy and Texas State. 

The Mountaineers are stingier against the pass, but if Fancher can improve his passing efforts, it solidifies him as the Herd’s future offensive leader and will only keep defenses honest.

Special play from special teams

Marshall had a strong special teams performance last week and freshman kicker Rece Verhoff scored all 12 points in the victory. 

Redshirt freshman punter John McConnell was also effective and placed two punts inside the 20-yard line.

The kicking competition Saturday will be further heightened as Mountaineers’ sophomore Michael Hughes will handle placements and kickoffs after claiming both jobs earlier this season. 

Hughes played at GW High and has made three field goals, highlighted by a game-winner at Texas A&M. He has 29 touchbacks on 54 kickoffs as well.

ASU punter Clayton Howell is experienced and in his fifth season in the program and averages nearly 40 yards per punt.

There appears to be little separation between two teams that enter with the same overall and conference records, putting even more of an emphasis on special teams.

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