Marshall’s surging defense faces struggling Roadrunners
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University plays its final football home game of the season Saturday and the matchup with UTSA appears to be two teams going in opposite directions.
The distance between them seems about as far as going from San Antonio to Huntington. Marshall (6-3, 4-2 Conference USA) and its surging defense meets a struggling UTSA (3-7, 2-4) offense at 2:30 p.m. Saturday on Senior Day in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“I think they have had some issues at quarterback,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “They have played a couple different guys and had a few injuries on top of that. Anytime you are not consistent at the quarterback position, you will struggle a little bit. How ever, they have some talented guys.”
Behind a musical chairs-type situation at quarterback, UTSA is last in the league in scoring offense (14.9 points), total offense (242.8 yards), rushing offense (94.2 yards), passing offense (148.6) and first downs (15.3) per game. The total offense figure is last in FBS.
On the other side of the football, Marshall’s defense has been surging, allowing an average of 203.5 yards in its last two contests. The catalyst for that defense has been stopping the run, which has been the Thundering Herd strength all season. Marshall leads C-USA and is fifth in the nation for yards per rushing attempt at 2.86.
By stopping the run on early downs, Marshall has forced teams into long distance third-down situations, which makes them one-dimensional and allows the pass rush to tee off.
The Roadrunners struggle to protect their quarterbacks. UTSA has allowed 28 quarterback sacks. Injuries have hindered the UTSA offensive front, as well. Jordan Weeks is the likely starter at quarterback, but Bryce Rivers could get a look after coming in against FIU last week and tossing a touchdown pass late.
“It’s been a tough season (for) the health of our team,” UTSA head coach Frank Wilson said. “But again, I love this team and I love these kids. They’re fighting.”
Marshall will have 18 seniors taking part in their final home game. Holliday said one of his most proud aspects of the group is all 18 seniors will graduate before they leave.
However, on the field, they have completed a career that for many players began as redshirts in the 2014 C-USA championship run, endured the difficulties of 2016 and brought the team back to being a conference contender in the last two seasons.
“Anytime you play your last game at the Joan, which these guys are, it is very emotional for the seniors,” Holliday said. “The young guys have great respect for the seniors and what they have accomplished here. For a lot of these guys, it will be their fourth bowl that they will go to. They have accomplished a lot of things, so it is important that we send them out the right way.”
Marshall dropped a 9-7 decision to UTSA last season on a game-winning 40-yard field goal by Jared Sackett with two seconds left. Sackett is back for the Roadrunners and is one of the team’s top weapons. Saturday’s contest will be the third between the teams with each earning a home win.