HUNTINGTON — Expect both Marshall and Middle Tennessee to have chips on their shoulders as they meet at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium at 3:30 p.m. Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Both teams want to erase the bitter taste of lopsided losses and start their 2019 Conference USA seasons with the sweet taste of victory in a game that will be streamed on CBS Sports Network’s Facebook page.
“We know we’re playing a very talented team, a very well-coached team,” Middle Tennessee coach Brent Stockstill said. “They’re coming in off a tough one, and we’re coming in off a tough one.”
Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said he has known Stockstill since the 1970s and there are few people in the game that he respects more than his coaching counterpart on Saturday.
“He’s as good a person as he is a coach,” Holliday said. “The one thing I know about his team is that they’ll always be well-prepared. He does things the right way. They’ll be physical and ready to play. We have to make sure our team is as well.”
This matchup, the conference opener for both teams, pits this season’s favorite to win C-USA’s East Division against last season’s East Division champion. The Blue Raiders earned that with a 34-24 win over Marshall in Huntington that proved to be the difference.
While the coaches have great respect for each other, the game normally takes on the tone of a rivalry, as Middle Tennessee veteran safety Jovante Moffatt pointed out early in the week.
“[Sunday] I was talking to some of the defensive backs, and I told them the Marshall game is always big,” Moffatt said. “We both know what is at stake here.”
From a game-play standpoint, the run game will be the crucial factor in the contest. Middle Tennessee (1-3) has struggled to both establish and stop the run this season. However, many of the numbers are skewed because the Blue Raiders have taken on three difficult Power Five opponents — Michigan, Duke and Iowa.
Marshall (2-2) is rushing for more than 206 yards a game and the Blue Raiders are allowing 254 yards per game on the ground. But Middle Tennessee’s defense features talented players such as Moffatt and fellow veteran safety Reed Blankenship, along with linebacker Khalil Brooks.
On the other side, Marshall seeks to make the Blue Raiders a one-dimensional team and put more pressure on quarterback Asher O’Hara. O’Hara has performed well so far this season, no matter who the competition was. O’Hara is completing 70 percent of his passes while throwing for 895 yards and eight touchdowns with only two interceptions.
His favorite targets are veteran big-play receiver Ty Lee, who set the Middle Tennessee record for consecutive games with a reception (44) last week, and Jarrin Pierce. O’Hara also is the team’s leading rusher with 235 yards on the ground.
“All you need to do is pop in the tape of those three games and you’ll see they had a hard time tackling him,” Holliday said. “He’ll be a challenge that we have to deal with.”
The two teams have split their six matchups as members of Conference USA and the road team has won the last two.
Given that this is the conference opener for each, the game becomes even more important, which was a focal point of Marshall’s players this week.
“It’s pretty evenly matched throughout the conference, so whoever shows up and plays on that Saturday is going to be the one,” Marshall linebacker Tyler Brown said.