Inside Marshall Sports

Conference USA for 11/23

The league office has a bunch of bowl-eligible teams, but it also has a final week that doesn’t mean squat as far as the division champs are concerned. I’m sure all of you had North Texas vs. Florida Atlantic in the championship game, right? Phil Steele had both teams 5th in their divisions, with Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech duking it out next Saturday.

As far as the bowl outlook, 8 teams are in with a 9th assured (Middle Tennessee-Old Dominion winner), and Louisiana Tech fighting for No. 6. Advisory: There will likely be a surplus of bowl teams nationwide and I expect somebody with 6 wins in the league to be out of luck.

The schedule, in (my) order of limited interest:

TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (6-4, 3-4) at LOUISIANA TECH (5-6, 3-4), 7:30 p.m.
TV: ESPNU

Call this the Hard Luck Bowl — UTSA suffered its 4 league losses by a combined 17 points; La Tech lost 3 of its league games by 9 points, including an overtime heartbreaker to Southern Miss.

By the way, Jared Sackett was named the league’s special teams player of the week for his 3 field goals against Marshall, including the game-winner from 40 with 2 seconds left. UTSA leads the league in 8 defensive categories, thanks in part to that 9-7 game.

But J’Mar Smith is better than MU’s Chase Litton and will yank this one out and put the Bulldogs in the bowl picture.

LINE: La Tech by 1.5. LA TECH

OLD DOMINION (5-6, 3-4) at MIDDLE TENNESSEE (5-6, 3-4), 3 p.m.
TV: ESPN3

I’m sure about a month ago you had these teams battling to be bowl-eligible in the final week. MTSU had benefit of a UTEP-Charlotte swing and the return of QB Brent Stockstill; ODU is on a 3-game streak with RB Ray Lawry back.

Oddity: The teams have not met since 2014, a product of the 13-game schedule of 2015 and 2016. There were two West matchups that could not be fulfilled in those years, with the other being WKU-Charlotte.

MTSU is averaging 421.1 total yards over the last 7 games, while Lawry has rushed for 125 per game over the last 3 weeks. He needs 15 yards to top 4,000 for his career.

I still say Marshall had a pretty good win over MTSU, and this game may underline the point.

LINE: MTSU by 11.5. MTSU

WESTERN KENTUCKY (6-5, 4-3) at FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (6-4, 4-3), 7 p.m. Friday
TV: beIN Sports

Remember, by league rule, the 7-win teams take precedence in filling out the bowl lineup, so this is a big game.
Also remember: FIU gets another shot next week, playing Massachusetts in a game rescheduled because of Hurricane Irma. The Panthers will need it.

LINE: WKU by 2.5. WKU

TEXAS-EL PASO (0-11, 0-7) at ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (7-4, 5-2), 1 p.m.
TV: C-USA TV

UAB’s seniors shouldn’t have a ceremony, they should have a ticker-tape parade.

LINE: UAB by 20.5. UAB

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (8-3, 7-0) at CHARLOTTE (1-10, 1-6), 2 p.m.
TV: Stadium via Facebook

Owls will set the school record for wins since they rose to Division I-A in 2004.

LINE: FAU by 21.5. FAU

NORTH TEXAS (8-3, 6-1) vs. RICE (1-10, 1-5), 1 p.m.
TV: ESPN3

Mason fine threw for 386 yards and four touchdowns last week in a 52-49 win over Army. The Mean Green was 1-11 two years ago.

Whom do you pick for C-USA coach of the year? Seth Littrell? Lane Kiffin? Bill Clark?

LINE: North Texas by 10.5. NORTH TEXAS, LOCK OF THE WEEK

Last week: 1-5 (yikes!)
Season: 42-38

Standings

East: FAU 7-0 (clinched division), FIU, Marshall, WKU 4-3, MTSU, ODU 3-4, Charlotte 1-6.

West: North Texas 6-1 (clinched division), UAB, Southern Miss 5-2, UTSA, Louisiana Tech 3-4, Rice 1-6, UTEP 0-7.

Bowl eligible: Marshall (7-4), FAU (8-3), North Texas (8-3), UAB (7-4), FIU (6-4), Southern Miss (7-4), UTSA (6-4), WKU (6-5).

On verge: MTSU, ODU, La Tech (all 5-6).

Eliminated: UTEP, Charlotte, Rice.

Stat leaders

Rushing yards: Devin Singletary, FAU, 1,524; Jeffery Wilson, NT, 1,215; Spencer Brown, UAB, 1,194; Ito Smith, Southern Miss, 1,171. (Marshall: Tyler King 7th, 666.)

Passing yards: Mike White, WKU, 3,471; Mason Fine, NT, 3,190; J’Mar Smith, La Tech, 2,657; Chase Litton, Marshall, 2,545.

Pass efficiency: Mason Fine, NT (247-387-10, 3,190 yds, 26 TDs, rating 150.1; Kwadra Griggs, Southern Miss (119-205-2, 1,623 yds, 12 TDs, rating 141.9); Dalton Sturm, UTSA (176-281–3, 2,094 yds, 15 TDs, rating 140.7); Marshall: Chase Litton 8th (223-367-11, 2,545 yds, 19 TDs).

Receptions: Teddy Veal, La Tech, 68; Ty Lee, MTSU, 66; Korey Robinson, Southern Miss, 65. (Marshall: Tyre Brady, 6th, 56; Marcel Williams, 11th, 40; Ryan Yurachek 11th, 40.)

Receiving yards: Korey Robinson, Southern Miss, 952; Thomas Owens, FIU, 887; Ty Lee, MTSU, 846. (Marshall: Tyre Brady, 5th, 777; Marcel Williams 15th, 496.)

Team total offense: North Texas 477.4, FAU 472.6, Southern Miss 444.5. (Marshall 9th, 367.5)

Team total defense: UTSA 287.2, Southern Miss 316.5, Marshall 334.6.

Scoring offense: FAU 40.5, North Texas 38.2, Southern Miss 30.7. (Marshall 7th, 26.3)

Scoring defense: UTSA 16.7, Marshall 18.5, Southern Miss 22.6.

Overnight notebook, Herd-UTSA game

SAN ANTONIO — Once upon a time, Hyleck Foster was a slot receiver at Marshall, even starting.
But in 2015, his sophomore year, he was moved to running back. Than this season, he became an outside receiver, where he remained as a reserve.
Then came the fourth quarter of Marshall’s game Saturday at Texas-San Antonio, when he was a slot receiver once again.
Marcel Williams has been the Herd’s slot receiver and No. 2 pass-catcher, but he was injured early in the Herd’s win the previous game over Western Kentucky. Nick Mathews became the slot man, catching four passes for 46 yards.
Mathews started Saturday at the Alamodome, catching three passes for 31 yards. He was replaced by Gator Green, who caught a 1-yard screen pass early in MU’s TD drive. Two plays later, Foster was in the game in Green’s place. He was the target receiver on an incompletion on first-and-10 at the MU 37-yard line.
But on third-and-3, Chase Litton hit Foster for 6 yards and a first down. After Litton hit Keion Davis on a 30-yard catch-and-run to the UTSA 20, he lobbed a shot to Foster on the right edge of the end zone.
Foster caught the ball and toe-tapped inside the boundary like he has practiced all year. That was his third catch of the season, and fifth TD catch of his career.
“The play was really designed to go to [tight end Ryan] Yurachek,” Foster said. “Chase saw I was one-on-one; a safety was backed off and I was one-on-one with the safety, I beat him on the corner route with speed and Chase just put it in the corner of the end zone.”

***********

Losing doesn’t do much for a coach’s disposition, and the officiating Saturday did even less.
Coach Doc Holliday fumed on the sidelines at several points. There were several calls that ruffled him, but two were particularly painful.
One came early in the fourth quarter, when Dalton Sturm threw a slant pass to Josh Stewart. Stewart pulled the ball down, took a step and maybe two, then lost the handle. MU’s Davon Durant, thinking the ball was live, picked it up and ran it to the end zone.
Incomplete, the officials ruled. The game was not stopped for a video review, and Holliday would have had to risk a timeout to challenge the call. He didn’t feel he had to.
“In a situation that critical, you sure as hell would have thought they would have gone in there, taken a look at that,” he said. “I don’t know, I will have to see it on tape.”
Just as painful was the ejection of Ryan Bee. The defensive tackle was tossed for a personal foul during UTSA’s field goal with 7 seconds left in the first half.
Holliday appeared to be enraged. Defensive tackles coach J.C. Price rode the officials briefly, and Bee had to be persuaded to keep his cool on the way out.
“No clue. Call the head of officials; I don’t know,” Holliday said tersely.

***********

Foster’s catch preserved Marshall’s 17-year streak of not being shut out, one that dates to an infamous 42-0 loss at Toledo on Oct. 14, 2000. That is likely the latest the Herd has recorded its first score since.
UTSA was the 15th team since that 2000 game to hold the Herd to single digits, with Central Florida (2011) losing the shutout on a fumble return. Holliday’s teams avoided that fate from 2012-15, but was held to six by Western Kentucky last year.
Another painful milestone: It has been 26 years since nine points were enough to defeat the Herd. That came on Aug. 31, 1991, when Jim Donnan’s team opened the season with a 9-3 loss at Appalachian State. The previous low number in MU’s Division I-AA/FBS era was a 13-3 loss at Georgia in 2004.

***********

UTSA (6-4, 3-4) became the eighth Conference USA team to gain bowl eligibility, as the league stands to fill in vacancies left by other leagues.
Five of those teams have won seven or more games — Florida Atlantic, Marshall, WKU, North Texas, Alabama-Birmingham and Southern Mississippi. Seven-win teams have preference in filling C-USA’s bowl card.
The Roadrunners will try for their seventh win next week at Louisiana Tech, who need a win to become bowl eligible. Another eligible team will emerge from the Middle Tennessee-Old Dominion contest.

Grades for Herd-UTSA game

OFFENSE: F

With a touchdown finally scored with 1:31 left, this unit avoided its first blanking since 2000, and it was rough to watch. The first six possessions used only 23 plays and advanced 54 yards. The way UTSA shortened the game, that stretch extended into the 2nd half. 229 yards total, 12 first downs.

DEFENSE: A-

Yes, and I am only deducting a third of a grade for giving up the winning drive in the last 1:31. The unit could have done a few things better, but it gave up 4.6 yards per play and held UTSA without a TD in 4 trips to the red zone. The offense put this unit at a disadvantage the entire game, and the defense still delivered a manly effort, one that should have been rewarded.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C-

Kereon Merrell lifts this out of F-dom with his stop on the fake punt pass play. He was the only human with a white jersey who had a chance to track down the receiver short of the first-down marker. Special “un-kudos” for multiple penalties on a punt return, sending the Herd from the UTSA 48 to the MU 27. And Vedvik’s extra point would have made a super soccer goal, but it was the ugliest PAT I have seen in a long time.

QUARTERBACKING: F

Chase’s perfect throw to Hyleck Foster couldn’t rescue this grade. Dropped snap was a gut punch; interception could have been a killer.

COACHING: D

It’s not easy running an offense without its top 2 receivers against the league’s top defense, but 3rd-down calls drove me a little batty. Defensively, a re-emphasis on defending slant patterns is in order, but that unit was as well-prepared as you can ask for.

OVERALL: D

The level of frustration calls for a flunking, but giving up 9 points has to be commended. Still, the Herd loses to another winning team.

Herd-UTSA game prediction

Hello, Herd fans!

If I’ve counted them correctly, I am 5-5 picking Herd games this year, which reflects an uncertainty over how good this team ultimately will be. I picked losses in wins over Miami, Cincinnati and Western Kentucky; I picked wins in the Florida International/Atlantic swing.

Which brings us to another trip to Texas, as the Thundering Herd plays its seventh different foe in that big, big state (Cincinnati, Texas-El Paso, Houston, Rice, Southern Methodist and North Texas are the others.) You probably don’t mean to be reminded that the Herd is 1-9 in those games, with all nine games some degree of miserable.

I guess you know where this is going.

Marshall will have trouble running the ball and Chase Litton will be … um, chased out of the pocket several times. The Herd may slow down the two running backs, but will be burned by QB Dalton Sturm, who apparently is smarter than the average bear.

I have warned you all week that UTSA’s 2-4 conference record is extremely deceiving. The Roadrunners are itching for win No. 6, and will come out swinging.

I have circled this game all year for the wrong reasons, and I cannot believe the oddsmakers have made it a pick-’em, or close to it. Were I a betting man, I would throw the whole week’s bankroll on this one and forget about the rest of the schedule. Be sure to take the “under,” as well — 45 is quite low on the schedule, but it’s still too high.

UTSA 20, MARSHALL 7

Conference USA notebook, 11/14

Two rivalry games that matter, one other game of interest and some real dogs here in late November. The schedule, in (my) order of interest:

FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL (6-3, 4-2) at FLORIDA ATLANTIC (7-3, 6-0), 7 p.m.
TV: Stadium

Cue the John Facenda voiceover, for we have Shula Bowl 17 — and it matters! Well, not nearly as much as it would had FIU not booted one last week against Old Dominion. Even if FIU wins, FAU gets a tap-in putt at Charlotte to win the East title and host the championship against North Texas.

One of the craziest notes about FAU: Devin “Motor” Singletary has scored 22 rushing touchdowns, and could pass what Alfred Morris did in *four* years.

I thought the Owls would have trouble against a desperate Louisiana Tech team. I thought wrong, as the Owls went wire-to-wire and rendered moot a 512-415 total yardage. The final was 48-23.

It might be close to that in this game, but I have confidence that FIU will play better this week. (Did Facenda really pass away in 1984? Wow.)

LINE: FAU by 14.5. FIU TO COVER.

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (5-5, 3-3) at WESTERN KENTUCKY (5-5, 3-3), 8 p.m.
TV: CBS Sports Network

We have a winner-take-bowl contest in the “100 Miles of Hate” series. This is the most-played rivalry in C-USA, taking the field for the 67th time and in three different conferences (Ohio Valley, Sun Belt).

MTSU owns a 34-31-1 edge, but WKU has won the last two, including a 44-43 double-overtime thriller in 2016. Three of the last five meetings have gone to OT, and five of the last six have been decided by less than a touchdown.

For the Blue Raiders, Brent Stockstill has returned hot, throwing for three TDs in each of the last two weeks, both wins. He has become the school’s all-time leading passer with 8,159 yards, accomplished in just 28 games.

WKU’s Mike White has thrown for 300 yards the last five games, though his 334-yard effort at Marshall was nullified by an impotent running game.

LINE: MTSU by 3. MTSU

ARMY (8-2) at NORTH TEXAS (7-3), 6:30 p.m.
TV: beIN Sports

I don’t know how many times NT has been projected to play Army in the Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, but this game is the reason it won’t happen.

It won’t, right? It happened last year, as the teams played in the Heart of Dallas Bowl. So these teams are facing off for the third time in 13 months, with the teams splitting last year. So what gives?

Probably the Mean Green’s defense. Army has won six straight for the first time since 1996, and look for that to get stretched.

LINE: North Texas by 2.5. ARMY, LIKELY OUTRIGHT.

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (7-3) at FLORIDA (3-6), 4 p.m.
TV: SEC Network

Ohhhhh, Blazers. I give you guys so much love, but you just have to be a late-November SEC homecoming queen. How could you?

Yes, I know, Florida is lousy and the coach already has been fired. It would be fun to see the Blazers take the check and the win, but I’m not counting on it

UAB has a chance to win its eighth game, the most since it moved to Division I-A in 1996. Don’t worry; the Blazers play oh-for UTEP at home to finish.

LINE: Florida by 10.5. FLORIDA.

LOUISIANA TECH (4-6, 2-4) at TEXAS-EL PASO (0-10, 0-6), 3 p.m.
TV: CUSA TV

If you’re wondering, La Tech closes against Texas-San Antonio in a bout for a bowl berth. The Bulldogs surely aren’t going to get knocked out in this one.

LINE: Louisiana Tech by 17. UTEP TO COVER, SOMEHOW.

RICE (1-9, 1-5) at OLD DOMINION (4-6, 2-4), 2 p.m.
TV: ESPN3

If you’re wondering, the Monarchs close at Middle Tennessee in their bid for surprise bowl eligiblity. No harm here.
LINE: ODU by 8.5. ODU

Last week: 3-2
Season: 41-33

Standings

East: FAU 6-0, FIU, Marshall 4-2, WKU, MTSU 3-3, ODU 2-4, Charlotte 1-5.

West: North Texas 6-1 (clinched division), UAB 5-2, Southern Miss 4-2, UTSA, Louisiana Tech 2-4, Rice 1-5, UTEP 0-6.

Bowl eligible: Marshall (7-3), FAU (7-3), North Texas (7-3), UAB (7-3), FIU (6-3), Southern Miss (6-4). On verge: UTSA (5-4), WKU (5-5), MTSU (5-5).

Eliminated: UTEP, Charlotte, Rice. On verge: Old Dominion (4-6), Louisiana Tech (4-6).

Stat leaders

Rushing yards: Devin Singletary, FAU, 1,360; Spencer Brown, UAB, 1,177; Jeffery Wilson, NT, 1,143, Ito Smith, Southern Miss, 1,018. (Marshall: Tyler King 5th, 662.)

Passing yards: Mike White, WKU, 2,986; Mason Fine, NT, 2,804; J’Mar Smith, La Tech, 2,454; Chase Litton, Marshall, 2,356.

Pass efficiency: Mason Fine, NT, 223-351-9, 2,804 yds, 22 TDs, Rating 146.2; Dalton Sturm, UTSA (151-243–3, 1,830 yds, 15 TDs, rating 143.3); Kwadra Griggs, Southern Miss (99-178-2, 1,402 yds, 11 TDs, rating 139.9). Marshall: Chase Litton 8th (207-344-10, 2,356 yds, 18 TDs).

Receptions: Teddy Veal, La Tech, 62; Thomas Owens, FIU, 56; Korey Robinson, Southern Miss, 56. (Marshall: Tyre Brady, 4th, 56; Marcel Williams, 10th, 40; Ryan Yurachek 12th, 38.)

Receiving yards: Thomas Owens, FIU, 887; Korey Robinson, Southern Miss, 861; Tyre Brady, Marshall, 777. (Other Marshall: Marcel Williams 10th, 496; Ryan Yurachek 19th, 367.)

Team total offense: North Texas 476.2, FAU 462.7, Southern Miss 430.5. (Marshall 9th, 382.6)

Team total defense: UTSA 293.7, Southern Miss 324., Marshall 332.6.

Scoring offense: FAU 39.4, North Texas 36.8, UAB 32.0. (Marshall 5th, 28.2)

Scoring defense: UTSA 17.8, Marshall 19.4, Southern Miss 22.8.

Overnight notebook, WKU game

HUNTINGTON — When Marshall scored its sixth non-offensive touchdown of the season Saturday night, it proved to be the winning score in the 30-23 win over Western Kentucky.

The man who scored on a 45-yard interception return was someone you wouldn’t have guessed before the season started, redshirt freshman safety Nazeeh Johnson. The 5-foot-10, 180-pound resident of Martinsburg is still a walk-on, though that status doesn’t figure to last forever.

Johnson simply jumped an “out” route, a routine-looking pass by WKU’s Mike White. Bear in mind that White is a 10,000-yard passer who still has a low interception rate — seven in 418 attempts.

With Marshall ahead 20-10, White had started a scoring drive, passing for a first down and facing a second-and-5 on the WKU 41-yard line. Instead of moving across midfield, Marshall led 27-10 with 1:37 left in the third quarter.

As they say in the running back room, Johnson was emphasizing ball security on his way to the end zone. In plain English, he was protecting that ball as much as he could.

“I broke my hand, so I’ve only got four [healthy] fingers on that hand,” he said.

********

After being outscored 33-0 in points off turnovers the last two games, Marshall outscored WKU 10-0.

The Herd’s lone turnover came on a Chase Litton interception in the end zone, and proved harmless. That gave WKU the ball on the 20, and Johnson’s interception came four plays later.

And right after Johnson’s touchdown, the Herd forced the second turnover on special teams, when returner Jachour Pearson coughed up the ball. Chase Hancock recovered, but it was Jaquan Yulee who forced the fumble.

While Yulee continues to toil as a second-string linebacker, he is asserting himself on special teams.

“He’s always causing fumbles, knocking people out,” Hancock said of Yulee. “Double teams are coming at him, he’s holding his own in there, and it makes me excited about his future.”

Pearson, by the way, was taking returns in place of the injured Kylen Towner, who returned the opening kickoff for a TD in WKU’s 60-6 win over the Herd last year.

********

It was a very good day for special teams, with Kaare Vedvik’s three field goals, good kickoff coverage and Keion Davis averaging 30 yards on four runbacks. His last runback was perhaps the most critical — after WKU scored to cut the Herd’s lead to 30-23 with 3:02 left.

The Herd prepared for an onside kick, but the Hilltoppers opted to kick it deep and try to induce a three-and-out. Davis took the kick at the MU 4, curiously tiptoed a few steps before shooting through a crease and gaining 39 yards.

That set the stage for the Herd to run out the clock.

“I didn’t know what the hell he was doing on that last one,” Holliday joked. “It turned out OK. We had that ‘hands team’ in there and they’re supposed to get hats on the right guy; I thought Keion was going to take a knee. I was about ready to choke him.

“I look up and the ball was up at the 50. It was one of those deals where, ‘What they hell are you … oh yeah, that’s great!”

As for Vedvik, he had one of the rarest triples for a kicking specialist: He hit three field goals, topped 40 yards per punt (43.3) and incurred a personal foul penalty for a late hit.

********

MU and WKU has played some chippy games since the Hilltoppers joined Conference USA in 2014, even fighting before their first league game that year. Ryan Yurachek got caught up in the emotions late in the game, as the Herd was killing the clock.

He picked up the team’s second of three first downs on the game-ending drive. He caught a Chase Litton passed and advanced down the right sidelines, going 30 yards to the WKU 9.

But he was flagged for a throat-slashing gesture, which pushed the ball back to the 24. The Herd did get a fresh set of downs, but might have scored a late TD otherwise.

“They got me with the throat-slash,” Yurachek said. “I wasn’t doing the throat-slash, I was just kind of doing the ‘game over’ move. Kind of looked throat-slash-esque. Emotional game, that’s for sure.”

Litton said, “As soon as I saw it, I was like, ‘man,’ and put my head down. But we got the first down; look at the glass half full. ‘Chek, obviously, won’t get a ‘plus’ for that play, but great re-enactment.”

Of wrestling’s “Undertaker,” apparently.

“We were watching WWE last night, and he got excited,” Litton said.

Grades for WKU game

OFFENSE: B

It didn’t look great, did it? Only 334 total yards, 2 red-zone trips that fizzled into FGs, less than 3 yards per carry, even *2* sacks. But that opening drive in the 2nd half and that game-killing drive at the end, with 3 first downs, those were biggies, big enough to elevate this grade. Also: Herd went 7 of 16 on 3rd downs, the 13th game in which it outperformed the other offense in that category.

DEFENSE: A-

They followed the recipe for defeating 2016 player of the year Mike White: Kill the run, put pressure on him, get some 3-and-outs and get a big turnover. That’s 34 yards rushing, 3 sacks, 4 3-and-outs and one “pick-6.” White made the home folks nervous in the 4th quarter and threw for 334 yards, but both were expected. All in all, a very good performance.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-

I’m deducting for the illegal block penalty, even though it was wiped out by an offsetting foul by WKU. Otherwise, this unit had a great day, with Keion Davis averaging 30 yards per kickoff return, the kickoff coverage doing a great job and Kaare Vedvik hitting 3 field goals. LATE CHANGE: Upon remembering Kaare Vedvik committed a late hit, I raised the grade from B+. All hail kickers who commit manly fouls!

QUARTERBACKING: B

Chase Litton threw one interception in the end zone on an off-target throw, but that had the effect of a punt. Otherwise, he was efficient despite losing 2 of his best pass-catchers.

COACHING: B-

I’m scratching my head over the 3 runs and a 4th-down pass on a series with 6:00 to go and maybe some other play calls, but I’m not questioning a lot else. After 2 disappointing losses, this was a game that could have gone south, and these guys get credit for a good week of preparation.

OVERALL: B

Win No. 7, first C-USA win over Western Kentucky, an effort worthy of the “75.”

 

Marshall-WKU game prediction

Marshall should defeat Western Kentucky. Should be somewhat close, yet there should be no doubt.

The Thundering Herd should stop the run, make Mike White throw on every down and clock him multiple times. Make White’s 350 yards mean squat, in other words.

The Herd should run well, have a 100-yard rusher or two, and should pass efficiently. The protection will be there, as it has all year, as WKU’s pass rush isn’t knocking down doors.

This time, the Hilltoppers are legitimate underdogs. They have injury problems. Jeff Brohm isn’t walking into the Shewey Building visitors’ locker room on this evening — he’s trying to coax Purdue into beating Northwestern.

But somehow, everything can go awry. Another interception or three? Fumbles in the red zone? White sitting in the pocket, throwing for 500?

After watching three games of this rivalry, I see dominance. I see one side owning the other.

I’ve said it before: WKU-Herd has the strange look and feel of Furman-Herd back in the day. And after last year’s 60-6 catastrophe, I vowed to myself I would pick the Hilltoppers until Marshall does something about it.

Sorry, Herd fans, but I’m sticking to that vow …

WESTERN KENTUCKY 28, MARSHALL 27

Conference USA notebook, 11/9

We are still careening toward a Florida Atlantic-North Texas rematch in the Conference USA championship game, but pump your brakes on the Lane Kiffin worship. That’s all I’m saying.

The schedule, in (my) order of interest:

FLORIDA ATLANTIC (6-3, 5-0) at LOUISIANA TECH (4-5, 2-3), 3:30 pm.
TV: Stadium

Let’s go over La Tech’s hard-luck season: The Bulldogs had a field goal blocked by UAB, squandered a late lead and lost in overtime to Southern Miss, and gave up the winning TD with 6:04 left against North Texas (I know, Jonathan Barnes missed a late field goal, but it was 53 yards). Early in the season, the Bulldogs lost to South Carolina on last-minute Hail Mary and field goal.

In other words, this could have been a battle of division leaders and perhaps a preview of the C-USA championship.

On paper, Devin Singletary should run for 300,000 yards and the Owls should pick off J’Mar Smith a few times. But this game will test the Owls’ focus — they’ve got a huge game with rival Florida International, but that happens next week.

If you want to call this a “trap” game, you can, but I see a desperate and still-capable La Tech team fighting for its bowl life. That fight will be exhibited here.

LINE: FAU by 5.5 LA TECH

ALABAMA-BIRMINGHAM (6-3, 4-2) at TEXAS-SAN ANTONIO (5-3, 2-3)
TV: Local markets, both cities

The Roadrunners, who host Marshall on Nov. 18, have three shots to land in a bowl, and none are gimmes. And nothing is a gimme against the upstart Blazers.

Getting skunked for 46 minutes against FIU doesn’t inspire confidence, as the grumpier faction of Herd fans can attest. Before the Roadrunners’ only scoring drive, which began in the third quarter and finished a minute into the fourth, they gained only 109 total yards.

UAB is the real deal, and it’s starting to drop hammers on people. The 52-21 beatdown of Rice wasn’t necessarily impressive, but the 30-12 win over Southern Mississippi two weeks ago was. Spencer Brown has passed the 1,000-yard mark rushing, A.J. Erdley is the third-most efficient QB and the Blazers have caught the imagination of their city. Who am I to get in the way?

LINE: UTSA by 8. UAB, PROBABLY OUTRIGHT

OLD DOMINION (3-6, 1-4) at FIU (6-2, 4-1)
TV: CUSA TV

Would you laugh if I told you ODU dominated in a 6-0 win over Charlotte? It’s almost true — the 49ers missed a field goal and did little else. But it’s time for the Panthers to put the Monarchs out of their bowl-eligibility misery.

LINE: FIU by 9.5 FIU

MIDDLE TENNESSEE (4-5, 2-3) at CHARLOTTE (1-8, 1-4)
TV: ESPN3

If the Blue Raiders win this one and beat Old Dominion in the finale, it won’t matter that much what they do in the middle against Western Kentucky — they’re going bowling. It was good to see Brent Stockstill back last week, even if he struggled to go 13 of 30 against Texas-El Paso.

LINE: MTSU by 13. MTSU

UTEP (0-9, 0-5) at NORTH TEXAS (6-3, 5-1)
TV: ESPN3

Miners’ “roadblocks” to an 0-12 season: North Texas, La Tech and UAB. Good luck.

LINE: North Texas by 22.5 NORTH TEXAS

Last week: 3-4

Season: 38-31

Standings

East: Marshall, FAU 5-0, FIU 4-1, Marshall, WKU 3-2, MTSU 2-3, ODU, Charlotte 1-4.

West: North Texas 5-1, UAB 4-2, Southern Miss 3-2, UTSA, Louisiana Tech 2-3, Rice 1-4, UTEP 0-5.

Bowl eligible: Marshall (6-2), FAU (6-3), FIU (6-2), North Texas (6-3), UAB (6-3). On verge: Southern Miss (5-4), UTSA (5-3), WKU (5-4).

Eliminated: UTEP, Charlotte, Rice. On verge: Old Dominion (3-6).

Stat leaders

Rushing yards: Devin Singletary, FAU, 1,256; Spencer Brown, UAB, 1,049; Jeffery Wilson, NT, 999. (Marshall: Tyler King 5th, 560.)

Passing yards: Mike White, WKU, 2,652; Mason Fine, NT, 2,591; Chase Litton, Marshall, 2,166.

Pass efficiency: Dalton Sturm, UTSA (134206–2, 1,668 yds, 14 TDs, rating 153.5); Mason Fine, NT (200-316-9, 2,591 yds, 18 TDs, rating 145.3); A.J. Erdley, UAB (144-236-2, 1,692 yds, 12 TDs, rating 136.3). (Marshall: Chase Litton 6th, 130.8.)

Receptions: Teddy Veal, La Tech, 56; Tyre Brady, Marshall, 55; Korey Robinson, Southern Miss, 51. (Other Marshall: Marcel Williams, 10th, 40; Ryan Yurachek, 11th, 35.)

Receiving yards: Thomas Owens, FIU, 800; Tyre Brady, Marshall, 776; Jalen Guyton, NT, 729. (Other Marshall: Marcel Williams 10th, 496; Ryan Yurachek 20th, 329.)

Team total offense: North Texas 476.7, FAU 468.0, Southern Miss 420.9. (Marshall 8th, 388.0)

Team total defense: Southern Miss 318.0, Marshall 328.7, UTSA 329.4.

Scoring offense: FAU 38.4, North Texas 35.9, UAB 32.9. (Marshall 5th, 28.0)

Scoring defense: Marshall 19.0, Southern Miss 21.6, UTSA 21.9.

Marshall football overnight notebook

BOCA RATON, Fla. — Marshall entered its game Friday night against Florida Atlantic without giving up 100 or more yards to an individual rusher this season.

Devin Singletary put an emphatic stop to that.

The 5-foot-9, 200-pound sophomore rushed 28 times for 203 yards in the Owls’ 30-25 victory, becoming the first player in almost exactly a year to run that wild over the Thundering Herd. Old Dominion’s Ray Lawry riddled the Herd on Nov. 5, 2016, gaining  209 yards on 27 attempts.

Singletary scored on rushing touchdown, a 13-yarder. He had a long run of 66 yards, the longest play against the Herd this year. He also burned Marshall through the air, catching a 60-yard lob from Kamrin Solomon on a double pass play that broke a 16-all tie.

Marshall players tipped their figurative hats Singletary’s way.

“He’s a tremendous back and probably one of the best we’ve seen all year,” said defensive tackle Ryan Bee. “We had to gang-tackle him, and for the most part we did. He’s a great back.”

ingletary now has 1,256 rushing yards in nine games with 19 touchdowns, both leading Conference USA by a large margin.

******

Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Kendal Briles reached deep into the trick bags several times. The double pass was the most notable example.

“That was a well-drawn-up play,” Bee said. “We had never seen that before. Just kind of caught us off guard.”
But Kiffin took the intentional safety to a new level late in the game. He wanted to make certain Marshall wasn’t going to get the ball back with any time to mount a rally.

The Owls took over at their 43-yard line with 2:30 left after intercepting Chase Litton for the fourth time. The Herd had used its timeouts, but FAU needed to creatively stretch the clock.

On first down, Jason Driskel backed up 5 yards before taking a knee. On the next play, Driskel backed up 9, and then he lost 5 on third down. With fourth-and-29 on their 24, the Owls called timeout before lining up in punt formation.

They surely did not punt. Instead, they ran the ball backwards and out of the end zone, giving Marshall two inconsequential points with only 8 seconds left.

FAU then squibbed the free kick, with Eric Gates picking the ball up for the Herd at the Owls’ 48. He might have wanted to hit the deck to stop the clock, but decided to start the lateral brigade. The game of hot-potato ended when Marcel Williams inadvertently threw the ball forward, prompting a penalty at that spot.

The 43-yard “undrive” gave Marshall the consolation prize of a 381-353 advantage in total yardage.

Briefly
* Marshall did not score in the first quarter for the first time on the road.

* Hyleck Foster lost 5 yards on a punt return in a series of bad decisions — he caught the ball on the MU 9, was tackled at the 4 and the Herd committed an illegal block in the back along the way.

The Herd was 127th in the FBS on punt returns entering the game, gaining just 26 yards on 16 attempts. With that 5-yard loss, the average fell from 1.63 to 1.24.

* Brandon Drayton started for the first time in four games, playing the nickel back on the opening snap. As expected, Alex Mollette started at right guard, where he is replacing the indefinitely suspended Nate Devers.

Left tackle Sandley Jean-Felix missed his fourth straight game.