Marshall (4-0) at Old Dominion (3-2) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Foreman Field (19,818) -- Norfolk, Virginia. Television: FSN. Home Record: Marshall 2-0, Old Dominion 2-1. Away Record: Marshall 2-0, Old Dominion 1-1. Neutral Record: Marshall 0-0, Old Dominion 0-0. Conference Record: Marshall 0-0, Old Dominion 1-1. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: The Marshall Thundering Herd are rested and refreshed after a bye last weekend, and are set to travel to Virginia to take on the Old Dominion Monarchs in a Conference USA matchup at Foreman Field.
Marshall is a perfect 4-0 to start the season after easily skating through non-conference play. The Herd, as was expected prior to the start of the 2014 campaign, are extremely strong on offense, and they've shown that by scoring at least 42 points in each of the team's first four contests.
Old Dominion's first official season at the FBS level is off to a promising start, although the Monarchs are coming off a 41-28 loss at the hands of Middle Tennessee last weekend. It was the first home loss for ODU this season, and the team will now have to bounce back against Marshall.
This is the first time these new Conference USA rivals will face each other. Both are very offensive-driven programs with two of the better quarterbacks in the league, so this first meeting should provide fireworks.
The last time the Thundering Herd took the field, they absolutely manhandled the Akron Zips (who just beat Pittsburgh last Saturday), 48-17, thanks to 210 yards and a touchdown attributed to quarterback Rakeem Cato, who also scored two rushing touchdowns in the win. As a whole, the Herd rushed for 284 yards in the contest with five touchdowns on the ground. Both Remi Watson and Devon Johnson went over 100 yards - Watson with a team-best 124 and Johnson with 103. As a unit, Marshall is averaging 286 rushing ypg, led by Johnson's 482 yards and five touchdowns.
Cato has sustained success over the past three seasons, and is expected to continue his dominance this season. So far, Cato has thrown for 1,163 yards and 10 touchdowns with just two interceptions through four games. He averages 290.8 passing ypg and 43.8 rushing ypg (he has four rushing scores as well).
Cato's two most frequent targets are Tommy Shuler (17 receptions) and Davonte Allen (14 receptions). Freshman Angelo Jean-Louis has been as good as advertised too, averaging 29.2 ypc. The three make up eight of Cato's 10 touchdown connections this season.
Marshall's four non-conference matchups this season were pretty light this season, and it showed in the team's results. The closest finish so far is a 42-27 Herd victory over Miami-Ohio in the season opener. Needless to say, Marshall's defensive statistics are reflective of the team's schedule. The Herd enter the matchup against ODU allowing just 16.2 ppg and 328.2 total offensive ypg to opponents.
In four games, the Herd have forced nine turnovers (five interceptions and four fumbles), led by two interceptions apiece from Taj Letman and A.J. Leggett. Darryl Roberts tops the squad with 26 tackles so far, adding six pass breakups and a half-tackle for loss to his line. Marshall kept Akron's third- down offense at bay a few weeks ago, limiting the Zips to 2-of-13 on third- down tries. On the year, opponents have just a 25 percent success rate on third down against the Herd.
Old Dominion fell behind to Middle Tennessee, 24-7, by the end of the first half last weekend, and just simply couldn't catch up in the second half. The Monarchs are averaging 33 ppg and 454.6 total offensive ypg, which on paper should contend with almost any team. ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke has had some spectacular games this season, and some very unspectacular ones as well. Two weeks ago, he threw for five touchdowns and 430 yards in a win over Rice. Last weekend, he passed for 362 yards, four touchdowns and had three interceptions. The offense is averaging 313.6 passing ypg through five games played.
Heinicke's top targets were in action in the loss to Middle Tennessee last Friday. Zach Pascal caught a team-high eight passes for 110 yards, while Antonio Vaughan hauled in seven receptions for 105 yards and three touchdowns in the losing effort. Pascal leads the team, averaging 87.8 receiving ypg, and Vaughan has a team-best seven touchdown receptions through the first five weeks.
The running game has taken a bit of a back seat in the last few weeks for ODU. Gerard Johnson still leads the team with 354 yards on the ground, while freshman Ray Lawry enters this weekend's game with a team-high four touchdown runs. Against the Blue Raiders, Old Dominion gained just 41 yards via the ground game.
As is usually the case for Old Dominion, an offensive battle ensues and it's a race to see which team can score more. Defense hasn't been a strong point for the Monarchs, who surrendered 539 total offensive yards to Middle Tennessee, including 280 rushing. Opponents are averaging 32 ppg and 438.2 offensive ypg so far. ODU's defense has given up 11 rushing touchdowns through five games.
Linebacker Martez Simpson registered 11 tackles to lead the team, and added a half-tackle for loss and a quarterback hurry in the loss to Middle Tennessee. He and season leader Fellonte Misher (38 tackles) will be extremely busy trying to contain Cato and the Marshall run game. Misher is the only ODU player to have an interception through five weeks of the 2014 season.
Expect this game to be another offensive shootout, which is characteristic of these two programs. But when it comes down to the defensive side of the football, Marshall has proven that it is able to shut down opponents and force turnovers. If Heinicke is forced to make mistakes (which he does about every other game), the Herd shouldn't have much of an issue in this one. This is possibly the best quarterback battle Conference USA will see this year.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 45, Old Dominion 34Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 4, 12 p.m. (ET)