FACTS & STATS: Site: Floyd Stadium (30,788) -- Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Television: FS1. Home Record: Marshall 3-0, MT 2-1. Away Record: Marshall 1-2, MT 1-3. Neutral Record: Marshall 0-0, MT 0-0. Conference Record: Marshall 2-0, MT 1-2. Series Record: Marshall leads, 2-0.
GAME NOTES: Members of Conference USA's East Division get together for a Thursday night showdown, as the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders clash with the Marshall Thundering Herd at Floyd Stadium.
It will be 12 days since the Blue Raiders played their last game once they finally return to the field on Thursday, with the most recent outing being a 34-7 loss to North Texas on the road. With a 1-2 mark in conference play, Middle Tennessee is fifth in the division standings at the moment.
As for the Herd, they have won two straight contests, although they too have not played since Oct. 12 when they tangled with Florida Atlantic in a narrow 24-23 final in Boca Raton. Marshall's 2-0 start to league play has the team sitting atop the division, although East Carolina has one more win at the moment, as well as one defeat in league action.
In terms of the all-time series between the teams, the Herd owns a 2-0 mark against Middle Tennessee, with the latest victory coming in 1994 by a score of 49-14 in Huntington.
While far from perfect, the leader on the Marshall offense is quarterback Rakeem Cato who has an efficiency rating of 134.88, thanks to his 59.3 percent completion rate and 262.0 ypg through the air. Cato has tossed 12 touchdowns and has been picked off five times.
When given enough time, Cato often seeks out Tommy Shuler who has 43 catches for 456 yards, both team highs, yet he's made it into the end zone only twice. Packing more of a scoring punch is Gator Hoskins who has turned 12 receptions into 210 yards and a team-best five touchdowns.
Coming out of the backfield, Essray Taliaferro has the most carries with 88, leading to 386 yards and three touchdowns, but perhaps even more potent has been the play of Steward Butler who has used 42 attempts to generate 7.4 yards per carry and four scores.
On the defensive side of the ball, Marshall has done well to shut down opposing aerial attacks, ranking 10th in the country with just 180.3 ypg allowed. More than that, the Herd is also ranked sixth in the nation in pass efficiency defense with a rating of 98.93, and that has contributed to the group giving up just 18.3 ppg which is 14th in the country this week.
A player to watch on the Marshall defense is James Rouse who not only has the unit's lone blocked kick, but he is also tied for the team lead with six tackles for loss and has three sacks, all while coming up with a grand total of 19 stops overall.
Rouse and the rest of the Marshall defenders will be going after one of the weakest passing offenses in the country this weekend, one that ranks 111th in efficiency (105.87) and is generating only 177.6 ypg (105th nationally). Logan Kilgore has taken the majority of the snaps, hitting on 62.2 percent of his attempts, but his 155.1 ypg and six touchdowns are overshadowed by eight interceptions.
Except for Kyle Griswould who has two touchdowns on 24 receptions, but is averaging only eight yards per catch, no one else on the team has more than a single receiving score after seven games.
Middle Tennessee tends to spread the wealth a bit when it comes to running the ball, with Jordan Parker putting up 526 yards and four touchdowns, while Reggie Whatley checks in with 343 yards and three TDs on half the number of carries as Parker.
All but one opponent this season has scored at least 24 points against the Blue Raiders, which is why the team ranks 86th in points allowed with 29.9 ppg. Opponents are generating an average of 450.4 ypg (101st) and those are the sort of numbers that make it easy to send Middle Tennessee to the loss column on a consistent basis.
Nevertheless, T.T. Barber still has to be considered one of the top defenders in the conference with his 76 tackles, seven TFLs and three sacks, not to mention two forced fumbles and a couple of interceptions.
With a passing game that is lacking and a red zone offense that is one of the worst in the country, it is hard to give Middle Tennessee any sort of edge even though the team is playing at home.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 38, Middle Tennessee 17
Thursday, October 24, 7:30 p.m. (et).