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CAN HERD CRACK THE WOLFPACK?

September 23, 2018
Pictured is Herd quarterback Isaiah Green.

HUNTINGTON — On the surface, the N.C. State-Marshall series has looked a bit lopsided with the Wolfpack winning all four meetings. However, that couldn’t be further from the case, and longtime Thundering Herd fans certainly remind you of that when discussing the game between 2-0 teams at meet at 7 p.m. Saturday in Joan C. Edwards Stadium (CBS Sports Network).

Marshall owned a lead in three of the four meetings, only to watch a potential program-changing victory slip through its fingertips.

Ask Marshall fans, and they still maintain more than 25 years later that the Herd got jobbed in the first two meetings between the teams. It started in 1991 when the Herd traveled down to Carter-Finley Stadium as a team that had yet to make its name in NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS). Marshall tried to announce itself to the nation, leading by two scores with only three minutes remaining before the Wolfpack pulled off one of the more improbable rallies in any game that season.

After scoring an initial touchdown, the Wolfpack recovered an onside kick.

It appeared the Herd might still escape when a fourth-down pass fell to the grass, but an offsides call gave N.C. State another shot. The Wolfpack cashed in on its new life, scoring a touchdown that proved to be the winner in a 15-14 win. Two years later, the Herd again made the trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, and battled with the Wolfpack. Marshall led 17-10 in the fourth quarter, but N.C. State again rallied with a pair of scores in the final 10 minutes for a 24-17 win.

Last season, the teams met for the first time since 1995 — a 33-16 N.C. State victory — and the Herd found itself leading by 10 late in the second quarter before a quick burst of two touchdowns just before the half flipped the game’s momentum in a 37-20 Wolfpack win. Even in that contest, Marshall had its chances to crawl back in, but mistakes hindered the team with a kickoff return for a touchdown called back and a fumble on the first play following a defensive stop that led to a subsequent touchdown that set the final score in what had been a 10-point game.

“We went in there and we really could’ve won that game, you know,” Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green said. “Hopefully, we make those plays and come out with a W this year.”

There has been one common denominator in each of the meetings that led Marshall to a loss at the hands of N.C. State. It was Marshall’s handling of adversity. Marshall head coach Doc Holliday knows the Herd has to stand tall once adversity hits to earn its first win over the Wolfpack.

“In order to win, we have to be the best team on the field,” Holliday said. “You have to put all three phases together. There will be adversity in this game, just like there is in all of them. We just have to keep fighting and play extremely hard.”

In each phase, there are several keys for the Herd, which will be crucial throughout the contest. Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green will face defensive speed like he hasn’t seen yet in college. Green’s decision-making must be sharp and he must read looks accurately at the line of scrimmage while also being patient and not trying to force things when they aren’t there.

Defensively, the Herd has the task of trying to slow down N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley, who has thrown for 679 yards and four touchdowns while completing 74 percent of his passes and leading the Wolfpack to a 60 percent conversion rate on third down. Marshall must force Finley into tough situations with pressure and get off the field on third down to limit the N.C. State offense.

Special teams might be the most vital task for the Herd, given its first two performances. Mistakes on special teams were plentiful for Marshall in the first two contests of 2018 and directly led to opportunities and points for the opposition. N.C. State’s special teams game is solid, but not great, giving Marshall an opportunity to earn a win in the game’s third phase, which could be crucial in a tight affair — as other Marshall-N.C. State games have been.

There has been one major difference in those games and the 2018 version, though. All four previous contests between the teams were played at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, and all have ended with the home team victorious. With this year’s game in Huntington, the home team emerging victorious in a trend the Herd wants to continue.

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