FACTS & STATS: Site: Joan C. Edwards Stadium (38,227) -- Huntington, West Virginia. Television: CBS Sports Network. Home Record: ECU 5-1, MU 5-0. Away Record: ECU 4-1, MU 3-3. Neutral Record: ECU 0-0, MU 0-0. Conference Record: ECU 6-1, MU 6-1. Series Record: East Carolina leads, 10-4.
GAME NOTES: A trip to the Conference USA Championship will be on the line, as the East Carolina Pirates and Marshall Thundering Herd square off at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Friday.
The Pirates took a step out of conference action last week and earned their fifth win in a row by defeating NC State, 42-28, in Raleigh. The victory gave ECU wins over North Carolina and NCSU for the first time in the same season in program history. The Pirates have not won six games in a row since 1995. Coach Ruffin McNeill's team is 9-2 overall and tied with Marshall atop the East Division standings with a 6-1 league record. This will be the final regular season game for ECU as a member of the C-USA, as it will join the American Athletic Conference for the 2014 campaign.
Doc Holliday's Thundering Herd have kept pace with the Pirates each step of the way and finally created a tie in the C-USA standings last week with a 48-10 rout of FIU in Miami. Marshall now will return home to Joan C. Edwards Stadium, where it has not lost since Oct. 27, 2012, a span of seven games. The Thundering Herd have not played for a C-USA Championship before and have not won a league title since their 2002 MAC Championship season under coach Bob Pruett.
The Marshall and ECU rivalry dates back to the 1967 season. The schools have closed their seasons out against each other in each of the past two seasons and both contests went to overtime. The Pirates survived last season's thrilling double-overtime shootout with a 65-59 victory that prevented the Herd from becoming bowl eligible. ECU holds a 10-4 all-time series lead, but Marshall has won two of the last three encounters at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
ECU has averaged 41.5 points per game and needs only needs 21 points to tie the program single-season scoring record of 478 points set in the 2010. The Pirates have been unstoppable this season due to their excellent passing attack, which ranks 10th nationally with an average of 335.2 yards per game through the air.
Shane Carden has been at the center of the attack for ECU. Last week versus NCSU, the junior quarterback threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns while also rushing for two short scores. Vintavious Cooper also had a solid showing against the Wolfpack with 148 yards on 22 carries.
Carden is seventh among FBS signal callers in passing yards per game (325) and has completed a national-best 72.8 percent of his throws for 32 scores with only seven interceptions. He has consistently connected with Justin Hardy, who has made at least three receptions in every game of his career. Only four players in the nation tallied more catches than Hardy, who has turned 95 receptions into 1,130 yards and eight TDs to set a new school record for receiving yards in a single-season.
McNeill's defensive unit is surrendering only 347.3 total yards per game, which is the second lowest average in the C-USA. ECU is especially strong against the run as its opponents are netting just over three yards per carry and 103.9 ypg on the ground, which gives it the ninth best rushing defense in the nation. Derrel Johnson has anchored the unit by registering 69 total tackles, 11.5 tackles for loss and 5.5 sacks. Last week, ECU's defense only allowed one touchdown through the first 54 minutes of action before the Wolfpack tacked on two more late in the fourth quarter.
The Pirates will have to stop both the run and the pass to keep their title hopes alive as they clash with Marshall's incredibly balanced offense. The Herd are ranked atop the C-USA in both scoring offense (43.3 ppg) and total offense (510.9 ypg). Marshall amassed 558 total yards of offense against the Panthers last week with 270 coming on the ground. Rakeem Cato completed 15- of-31 passes for 241 yards and connected with Gator Hoskins for three of his four touchdown passes. Hoskins finished with 137 yards on six receptions. Tommy Shuler also made six grabs for 74 yards and a score. Six different players contributed to the running attack as Marshall gained 270 yards on 31 carries. Backup quarterback Blake Frohnapfel compiled a team-high 78 yards on four carries and Steward Butler broke away for a 72-yard touchdown run.
Butler is leading the C-USA in yards per carry (10.0) and Essray Taliaferro is the team's most productive rusher with 76.8 yards per game and nine TDs.
Hoskins's three touchdown catches brought his season total to 12, which is five more than any other tight end in the nation. Cato has hit on just under 60 percent of his throws for 3,042 yards with 32 TDs against seven interceptions. His favorite target has been Tommy Shuler, who has reeled in 80 catches for 872 yards and seven scores.
Marshall continued its solid play on the defensive side of the ball in its last outing, limiting the Panthers to only 264 total yards. The Herd's defense leads the nation in terms of improvement in scoring defense compared to the 2012 campaign (22.0 fewer points allowed per contest). MU is ranked second in the C-USA in pass defense (198.7 ypg) and has allowed only 12 passing TDs with 14 interceptions. Jermaine Holmes has been the anchor with 68 total tackles, 7.5 TFL and an interception.
ECU will have to receive another huge performance out of Cooper to knock off the Herd in Huntington. Marshall's level of play has been much better at home and its ability to slow down opposing passers will have it in good position to avenge last season's loss. The Herd and the Pirates have been the top two teams in the C-USA and on a collision course throughout the season. Marshall would like nothing better than to send ECU to the AAC empty-handed, but slowing down Carden is going to be a tough task.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 38, East Carolina 35
Friday, November 29, 12 p.m. (ET)