Marshall at North Texas
Start Time: 6:00 PM CST. Saturday, October 8th.
Location: Apogee Stadium. Denton, Texas.
TV: American Sports Network
Records: Marshall: 1-3. UNT: 2-3.
Line: Marshall -10. O/U: 64.
After being a Conference USA powerhouse during the past few seasons, Marshall is off to a rather unimpressive start in the 2016 season. The Thundering Herd opened the season with a win but have since managed to lose 3 straight games to make their record 1-3 overall. They are coming off of a 43-27 loss to Pittsburgh in a game which they trailed 27-0 at halftime.
Although the team has only managed a 1-3 record to this point, there are still a number of talented players on this roster than can lead the Herd to a bowl game yet again this season. Quarterback, Chase Litton, may be number one on that list.
Litton has accumulated 962 yards and 12 touchdowns through only 3 games this season. An injury sidelined him for the Louisville game, explaining the 3 game total rather than 4. Litton has also only thrown 4 interceptions in his 105 attempts. These numbers are impressive, and Litton is a talented player, but a closer look at the numbers gives a bit of a reality check.
6 of Litton’s 12 touchdowns came against FCS school, Morgan State, in Marshall’s first game. The next game, Litton threw 3 interceptions in their loss to Akron. Last week the Pittsburgh defense, who is allowing the third highest passing yards per game, held him to only 240 yards and 2 touchdowns with an interception. Litton and his receiving corps, led by Michael Clark, will need to improve from last week if they want to put up big numbers against a Mean Green defense that is only allowing 224 passing yards per game.
In the event that the Marshall passing attack does not have the expected success, they will need to rely on their rushing attack. The Herd has 4 running backs with over 100 rushing yards this season, led by Keoin Davis’ 220 yards. Although their numbers on the ground are not over the top, the opportunity is present this week to shine against a Mean Green defense that has struggled all year to stop the run.
The make or break of this game will be the defensive play from Marshall. North Texas has a young struggling offense, but they’ve shown that they can be dangerous if you let them get into a groove. If Marshall, who ranks 119th in total defense this season, allows the Mean Green offense to gain some momentum at home they may need big offense numbers to secure a win in this one.
The Mean Green are coming off of a rather disappointing loss to Middle Tennessee at home last week. The team got off to an impressive offensive start and then stalled out after going up 7-0 early in the game. This week they will be looking to improve to 3-3 for the first time since 2013 and make a statement in Apogee against the Thundering Herd.
North Texas is still towards the beginning of a rather large re-building project. However, this season’s team has made noticeable improvements from week 1 to now. Most notable last week was the performance of quarterback, Mason Fine. Fine threw for 303 yards and a touchdown in only his fourth NCAA start. The true freshman controlled the tempo of the offense and showed an increased chemistry with his entire receiving cast.
One interesting aspect to watch for throughout the remainder of the season will be Fine’s chemistry with individual receivers. North Texas has a number of receivers returning next season including Terian Goree, Willie Robinson, Kelvin Smith and O’Keeron Rutherford. If Fine begins to gain chemistry with the returning group, North Texas could be a lethal offense in Conference USA next season.
An area of the offense that did not show improvement last week was the ground game. North Texas finished with only 5 rushing yards on 22 attempts and picked up only 1 touchdown from Jeffrey Wilson. Although Marshall is allowing their opponents an average of 179 yards per game this season, the Mean Green will still need Wilson and the entire running game to play at a much higher level than last week.
The key to this game for North Texas, much like for Marshall, will be their defensive play. The Mean Green will have chances to score through the air against a Marshall defense that has allowed the 7th most passing yards per game in the NCAA. It will be up to the North Texas defense to stop Marshall from scoring and allow Mason Fine and the offense to take the field as often as possible and get into an offensive rhythm. Luckily for North Texas, the Marshall rushing attack is not nearly as good as their passing attack. Much like the North Texas rushing defense is not as good as the passing defense.
You could make the argument that this game is a “must-win” for both teams in terms of bowl game eligibility. On one hand, Marshall will need this victory to avoid a 1-4 start and keep their bowl games hopes comfortably alive. On the other, North Texas will find it very hard to find four wins in a slate of games that includes Southern Mississippi, Louisiana Tech, Army and Western Kentucky. A win in this one would give North Texas a much easier road to a possible 6 win season. The North Texas defense will find a way to contain Litton and allow the Mean Green offense more chances to score.
North Texas 34, Marshall, 28.