LOTS AT STAKE WHEN HERD, MIDDLE TENNESSE MEET
HUNTINGTON — Marshall University and Middle Tennessee football games always have a fun feel.
Whether a down-to-the-wire thriller, a game with a combined six missed field goals between the teams or odd weekday setups, there is a unique vibe to the Conference USA East Division matchup.
Alas, this week is another nontraditional date when the Thundering Herd and Blue Raiders tango at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Joan C. Edwards Stadium for a game televised by CBS Sports Network.
But this one? This has an even bigger feel to it because both teams are 1-0 in C-USA play and looking to get a leg up on the competition. With FIU off this week, the winner of Friday’s matchup will sit alone at 2-0 in C-USA’s East Division.
Despite the nontraditional game time, Marshall head coach Doc Holliday called on the fans to check out what many people consider to be the C-USA Game of the Week.
“You have to play it like a championship game and we have to have championship fans here,” Holliday said. “We have to play really well and see if we can go 2-0 in conference.”
To move to 2-0 in the league, Marshall (3-1,1-0 C-USA) will have to knock off a Middle Tennessee team that took C-USA by surprise last week. Middle Tennessee (2-2,1-0) fell behind Florida Atlantic, 21-3, but senior quarterback Brent Stockstill rallied the Blue Raiders, who got a score and two-point conversion in the final minute of a 25-24 win over the Owls.
Stockstill, the son of Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill, is the catalyst for the Blue Raiders, using veteran leadership to put the team in position to win.
“His dad has been there 12 or 13 years and it seems like he has been there longer than his dad,” Holliday said “He is just such a competitive kid. He is a great young guy who plays extremely hard. He is a handful.”
Marshall defeated Middle Tennessee in each of the last two seasons, but Stockstill did not play in either matchup. His last action against Marshall was in a wild 2015 game when the Thundering Herd missed five field goals in a 27-24 triple-overtime loss.
Stockstill threw for 353 yards and three touchdowns in that win for the Blue Raiders. Coming into Friday, he needs just 67 yards to reach 10,000 career passing yards. Despite being in his sixth year at Middle Tennessee, Stockstill is making only his second start against the Herd and first in Huntington.
Stockstill rarely makes mistakes, which means Marshall’s offense and defense alike are going to have to play sound football.
The defense has to eliminate big plays on third downs, which plagued the Herd in its contests against N.C. State and Western Kentucky. The Herd offense has to eliminate turnovers. In the last three games, Marshall coughed up the football 11 times and had four turnovers against Western Kentucky.
Ironically, the Herd is 2-0 in games in which it turned the ball over four times, although that statistic is of little solace to Holliday.
“You have to play great defense, and I thought we got better there,” Holliday said. “Of course, on offense, we have to eliminate those turnovers. Turning a ball over four times and winning a game is unusual.”
Middle Tennessee’s defense likes to induce pressure with the blitz, so Marshall’s charge is to identify the defense and get the ball into the hands of its playmakers, which include wide receivers Tyre Brady and Obi Obialo. Last week, Brady had eight catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns while Obialo netted four catches for 80 yards.
Marshall leads the all-time series between the schools, 5-2, dating back to 1992 when the teams met in the NCAA Division I-AA (now FCS) playoffs.
While the series has featured a bit of everything, one thing it doesn’t have is a Middle Tennessee win in Huntington. The Blue Raiders are 0-4 in trips to Joan C. Edwards Stadium A with the average margin of defeat about 25 points.