Western Kentucky (6-5) at (19) Marshall (11-0) (ET)
GAME NOTES: With just one game remaining in the regular season, the 19th- ranked Marshall Thundering Herd will try to stay unbeaten as they host the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in a Conference USA bout at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Western Kentucky sits on a 6-5 overall record, and although the Hilltoppers aren't going to the Conference USA championship game in their first year as a member of the league, they are bowl eligible. They've won three games in a row, including a decisive 45-7 victory over UTSA last weekend.
Marshall is one of two unbeaten teams in the nation (Florida State being the other), and already owns a spot in the C-USA championship game with an unblemished league mark. The Herd almost let it all slip away with a narrow 23-18 victory over UAB last weekend.
Marshall leads the all-time series with Western Kentucky, 4-1. The last time these new conference rivals met, however, was back in 1996, when the Thundering Herd won, 37-3. Marshall owns a 3-0 advantage in Huntington.
Western Kentucky has built a solid foundation this season around its offense, led by quarterback Brandon Doughty. The Hilltoppers enter this game against Marshall averaging 41.9 ppg, which means this could be the most offense Marshall faces all season long. In 11 games, Doughty has thrown for 3,853 yards (ranked second in the FBS - 20 yards behind the injured Connor Halliday of Washington State) with 36 touchdown passes, which is the most in the FBS nation.
Last season for the Hilltoppers, the run game was essential. This year it's more of a complementary aspect with Leon Allen, who has rushed 1,253 yards and 11 touchdowns. Allen averages a respectable 113.9 rushing ypg, and has carried the ball 226 times this season.
Doughty has done an excellent job spreading the ball around to various receivers. Jared Dangerfield leads the team with 56 receptions and 621 yards, adding in a team-high eight touchdown grabs. Willie McNeal (seven touchdowns), Taywan Taylor (six touchdowns) and Antwane Grant (five touchdowns) are all receiving threats for WKU.
Offense has been plentiful for the Hilltoppers, but the downfall for the team has been on the defensive side. Western Kentucky allows 36.8 ppg and 483.1 offensive ypg to opponents this season through 11 contests, which has allowed teams like UAB (42 points), Florida Atlantic (45 points) and Louisiana Tech (59 points) to pick up crucial wins against the Hilltoppers. WKU has been especially bad against the run, allowing 224.1 rushing ypg to opponents.
Nick Holt has been a threat defensively, racking up 93 tackles with seven tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries. Dejon Brown is the next closest Hilltopper to Holt with 65 tackles on the year, and Ge'Monee Brown has a team-best eight tackles for loss. The Hilltoppers will need to force some Marshall turnovers in order to stay competitive in this one.
Marshall's 23-point outing against UAB was by far the lowest total for the Herd this season, but a win is a win in coach Doc Holliday's eyes. Now the team must pick up its final one in the regular season against the high-scoring Hilltoppers this weekend at home.
"(Coach) Jeff Brohm has done a tremendous job - they're bowl eligible for the first year in Conference USA," Holliday said. "I think that is a tribute to him and what he's done. Their quarterback, Brandon Doughty, is a tremendous player who's thrown for a ton of yardage. ... Offensively, they score a lot of points, and defensively they are well-coached. They are going to come in here ready to play, and we have to make sure we are too."
The Herd are led offensively by Rakeem Cato under center. Cato hasn't necessarily had the campaign many had expected from him, but with 28 touchdown passes, 2,897 yards and a 157.7 passer efficiency rating, he is one of the best leaders and field generals in all of college football.
In the run game, a pleasant surprise has been the emergence of Devon Johnson. The tight end convert has carried the ball 184 times this season, and has gained an eye-popping 1,573 yards with 16 touchdowns. And he missed a game with a leg injury. He leads the team with 157.3 rushing ypg, and has helped the Herd score 44.9 ppg this season.
Cato has a reliable set of weapons through the air, led by veteran pass catcher Tommy Shuler. Shuler has caught a team-best 57 passes this season for 737 yards and seven touchdowns, while talented freshman Angelo Jean-Louis has racked up 456 yards with five touchdowns in 11 games played. Tight End Eric Frohnapfel is second on the team with 30 receptions, adding 375 yards and a trio of scores to his resume.
While Marshall's offense is crushing foes, the team's defense has been doing the same. The Herd are allowing just 16.5 ppg to opponents, including just 324.4 offensive ypg. Only twice this season has a challenger managed to accumulate more than 20 points against the Herd defense, with UAB's 18 points being the third-highest total for an opponent this year.
Linebacker Neville Hewitt leads Marshall's defense with 91 tackles, and also has registered 10 tackles for loss with 4.5 sacks. The ability to get after opposing quarterbacks and running backs in the backfield has been apparent throughout the season for the Thundering Herd, who have three defensive players that all own tackles for loss totals in the double digits. In the secondary, players like Taj Letman (three interceptions), Darryl Roberts and Corey Tindal will need to be wide awake when going up against one of the nation's leading passers.
"I spoke to Jimbo [Fisher, head coach at Florida State] the other day, and for them to win that many games is tremendous," Holliday said. "If winning was easy, there would be a lot more people in this position than us and Florida State. At some point, you have to grind them out. Florida State has had to grind a bunch out, we had to grind one out Saturday and that's a tribute to all of these guys. At the end of the day, it's about winning and losing, and in the last two years these guys have won 21 of them."
Western Kentucky's typical high scoring totals may go out the window when the team travels to Huntington to take on the unbeaten Herd, because Marshall's defense is just so strong. But if Doughty is on point, then Marshall could get a scare like the team did last week against UAB. Don't expect Holliday to let his players forget how close last weekend was, so complacency won't be an issue this weekend at Marshall.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 41, Western Kentucky 30Game Date and Time
Friday, November 28, 12 p.m. (ET)