HUNTINGTON — Coming into 2019, Marshall was the football team that was supposed to be the Conference USA East Division favorite, while Old Dominion would have lots of new faces in the mix. As the Thundering Herd and Monarchs prepare to face off at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, it is turning into a battle of two teams both trying to find themselves.
Both have 0-1 records in Conference USA and are desperately looking to end losing skids.
Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder discussed both teams’ talent level earlier in the week.
“I truly believe this is a championship team,” Wilder said of ODU. “It’s just not happening as quickly as we all would like, but these guys are committed to the process of winning.
“Marshall is 2-3 right now, coming off a really tough loss on the road at Middle Tennessee where they turned the ball over too much. That’s really what hurt them. They had over 500 yards of offense and only 13 points.”
Turnovers were a critical part of both teams’ losses last week in league play.
Marshall had three interceptions, lost a fumble and had two more turnovers on downs in a 24-13 loss to Middle Tennessee. The Herd amassed 576 yards, including more than 300 in the second half, but did not have any second-half points due to the barrage of turnovers.
Old Dominion was on the other end of the spectrum. The Monarchs forced a pair of early turnovers that gave them possession inside Western Kentucky’s red zone, but the offense only turned it into three points. Old Dominion (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) never was able to forge another threat in dropping a 20-3 matchup with the Hilltoppers.
The missed opportunities for both teams produce a scenario in Huntington where both teams will be hungry for a win to keep their Conference USA East Division hopes alive.
Saturday’s battle of 0-1 teams will feature a pair of C-USA squads that are elite in one phase of the game.
Marshall comes in boasting of one of C-USA’s top offenses, averaging 427 yards per contest. The key to Marshall’s offense has been balance, which Wilder noted leading up to the game.
“They’re really well-balanced on offense,” Wilder said. “They’ve got over 200 yards on run and pass, which is impressive. Not many teams can do that.”
Marshall’s problem has been finishing in the scoring zones, which has kept points off the board.
“When you get down there, you have to score points, especially touchdowns,” Holliday said.
On the other side, Old Dominion boasts of the league’s second-best defense, ranking 23rd nationally against the run at 100.6 yards allowed per game. The Monarchs also are limiting opponents to only 60 plays per game, which ranks in the top 10 nationally. That makes capitalizing on opportunities and eliminating turnovers that much more important for the Herd offense this week.
Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green is coming off one of the top total offense yardage outputs in program history (460 yards, 11th all-time), but that pales in comparison to the turnover numbers and one number in particular — a loss.
“It’s the hardest position in sports and the most adversity-filled position in sports,” Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said. “To say me and [Green] had a good game on Saturday would not be true because there were five or six plays that we could’ve made that would’ve changed that game. The fact that he played 84 plays very well? That’s the quarterback position, man.
“The ball is in your hand every single play. You have to make the right decision 100 percent of the time, not 98 percent of the time.”
With Old Dominion’s defense focused on bringing seven or eight players into the box and shutting down the run, Green will have to make plays in the passing game for the Herd to get a win.
The Monarchs’ recent offensive struggles are well-noted with the loss to Western Kentucky last week among their four-game skid. However, each contest Old Dominion has been in this season has been a contested battle, no matter the opponent.
So which team will get over the hump on Saturday? It will all come down to execution.
That’s an aspect with which each has struggled, so something has to give at “The Joan” on Saturday.