C-USA football fans have been waiting for this matchup since the very beginning. Marshall and Western Kentucky have proven time and time again to be the best two teams in the conference. Marshall at 6-1 in conference play gets a chance on Friday to claim the C-USA East division with a win over WKU while a win for them gives the Hilltoppers a perfect in-conference regular season record and their first shot at the C-USA crown.
“Without question,” WKU head coach Jeff Brohm said during his weekly press conference, “this is the game we’ve been shooting for. It’s a championship game to us. We’ve tried going to that playoff mentality where you have to win to advance. Really, this is somewhat of the culmination of it all in the regular season. To get these guys on our home turf, we’re excited about. We’re excited about getting them in our stadium. We’re hopeful that anything we can do to find an edge will help us win the game.”
Marshall has the advantage of coming into the game after a bye week. WKU had theirs just before playing FIU last week.
“Whenever you’re playing 11 straight weeks, you’re banged up,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said during his weekly press conference. “We’ve had the opportunity to get ourselves regrouped a little bit, refreshed and ready for this great challenge.”
It’s the perfect top offense vs. top defense matchup. While Marshall is not as dynamic offensively as they used to during the days of Rakeem Cato throwing to Tommy Shuler but they are the only team in the C-USA that has given up less than 100 points in conference play.
“One thing I’ve noticed is they have improved all year,” Brohm said. “I think they had a setback early in the year that they were able to overcome. They’ve gotten better. Defensively, they are No. 1 in the conference (in scoring defense) once again. They are going to be physical at the point of attack, take away the run, and challenge you on the outside. They are very sound in what they do. They don’t change a whole lot, but I think they’ve definitely add a few blitzes and a few more exotic things to the package that have helped them.
On the flip side, WKU is the only C-USA team to have scored well over 300 points in conference play. Their offense stems from sixth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, who has thrown for 3814 yards and 37 touchdowns. With him under center, the WKU offense ranks sixth in the FBS in passing yards per game (360.9) and fifth in points per game (43).
“I’ve seen too much of him,” Holliday said. “I know that. He’s a tremendous player. Jeff’s done a great job with him. A lot of the NFL scouts who come through here tell us that he’s going to be one of, if not the, top quarterbacks taken in the draft this year. He has a great future and is a tremendous quarterback that makes all the throws. He’s tough. He gets himself out of trouble.”
His top target is junior wide receiver Taywan Taylor, who has netted 1151 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns. The goal for Marshall is to use their top-notch defense to apply pressure on Doughty to disrupt the offense, but who hasn’t thought about that idea before? Against Doughty, that’s simply a hard thing to do.
“It’s hard to disrupt him because of how quick he gets the ball out of his hands,” Holliday said. “They do a great job of protecting him. Scheme-wise, he doesn’t sit back there and hold the ball a whole lot but he creates a lot problems for you in that he has enough escapability to get out of pressure and make throws down the field, which is what good quarterbacks do. He’s a problem for you in all areas and we’re going to have to do a great job of trying to contain him. You don’t stop him. They’re just too good. You have to get them on the ground when they make plays and hopefully play great red zone defense.”
The game is at Western Kentucky and will be on a “blackout” day. If that doesn’t give the home team the edge then what’s the point of cool uniforms? In college football, I always believe that a great offense prevails.