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Louisiana vs. Marshall Prediction: Teams Meet as Sun Belt Foes for the First Time

Ragin’ Cajuns and Thundering Herd face off on Wednesday night for just the second time ever after last season’s New Orleans Bowl

Midweek college football returns on Wednesday night with Marshall hosting Louisiana in a key Sun Belt matchup. Both teams are in the mix to win their respective division, so there’s an outside chance this game could be the conference title game in December. However, both the Thundering Herd and Ragin’ Cajuns have some work to do in order to play for the Sun Belt title, and Wednesday’s matchup is the first step to getting on track in league play.

Related: College Football Predictions for Every Game in Week 7

Marshall has seen its share of highs and lows through the first five games of 2022. Second-year coach Charles Huff guided the team to a huge 26-21 upset at Notre Dame in Week 2, but the Thundering Herd slipped after the victory, dropping back-to-back games on the road, including a 16-7 defeat to Troy on Sept. 24. A 28-7 win against FCS Gardner-Webb brought Marshall’s record back on the right side of .500 (3-2). However, the schedule won’t get any easier after this matchup, as Huff’s team still has to play James Madison, Coastal Carolina, and Appalachian State in its debut season in the Sun Belt. But the good news: Both Coastal Carolina and Appalachian State have to visit Huntington.

Similar to Marshall, Louisiana is also experiencing its share of growing pains early in the 2022 season. Former Ragin’ Cajun quarterback Michael Desormeaux was promoted to head coach after Billy Napier left to take the top spot at Florida and is 3-3 in his first six games (counting the 2021 bowl victory). Louisiana started the year with back-to-back wins over Southeastern Louisiana and Eastern Michigan but has lost three games in a row, including two key Sun Belt matchups against ULM and South Alabama.

This is only the second time Marshall and Louisiana have met on the gridiron. The first time? Last season in the New Orleans Bowl.

Louisiana at Marshall

Date: Wednesday, Oct. 12 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: ESPN2
Live Stream: fuboTV (Start your free trial)
Spread: Marshall -10
Tickets: As low as $19 on SITickets.com*

When Louisiana Has the Ball

Desormeaux and coordinator Tim Leger hope the extra time to get ready for this game can help get Louisiana’s offense on track. This unit has averaged 4.5 yards per play or less in each of its last three games and has scored 24 or fewer points in four of its five matchups this year. In nine conference matchups in 2021, this group averaged 6.1 yards per play. Through two Sun Belt games in ’22, the Ragin’ Cajuns are averaging only 4.3 yards per snap struggling to generate big plays, and rank ninth in the Sun Belt in touchdown percentage in the red zone.

How does Louisiana get back on track? Better quarterback play is a must, but the offense won’t have Chandler Fields due to injury on Wednesday night. However, backup (and former Fresno State transfer) Ben Wooldridge has played in all five games and passed for 440 yards and three scores. He will get the nod against a Marshall defense that leads the Sun Belt in pass efficiency defense and has allowed just five scores through the air this fall. Michael Jefferson (20 catches) and tight ends Johnny Lumpkin (11) and Neal Johnson (10) are likely to be Wooldridge’s top targets in the passing game. Although Wooldridge has experience, he’s averaging just 5.9 yards per pass attempt and will have to push the ball downfield more to win on Wednesday.

Louisiana’s ground game has finished in the top five of the Sun Belt in rushing in each of the last six years but extending that streak will require an uptick in production. In addition to better quarterback play, Desormeaux needs more out of his ground game to jump-start the offense. The Ragin’ Cajuns rank 10th in the Sun Belt in total rushing yards a game (118) and average just 3.8 yards per rush. A rebuilt offensive line has played a role in the slow start, and the backfield doesn’t lack talent with Chris Smith (265 yards), Terrence Williams (119), and Jacob Kibodi (102) handling the bulk of the work.

Although Desormeaux would like more production out of the ground game, doing so against Marshall’s defense is a tough assignment. The Thundering Herd are holding teams to just 2.5 yards per rush and limited Notre Dame to 130 yards in Week 2. Overall, this unit ranks second in the Sun Belt by limiting offenses to only 71.2 yards a game on the ground. Marshall also ranks second in the Sun Belt in scoring defense and third in fewest yards per play allowed.

When Marshall Has the Ball

Similar to Louisiana, Marshall hopes a little extra time to prepare can get its offense back on track. The Thundering Herd scored 55 points against FCS Norfolk State to open ’22, posted 26 in a win at Notre Dame, and posted 31 against Bowling Green in Week 3. However, the offense managed only seven points and 174 yards against a good Troy defense on Sept. 24 and posted 28 (and 4.9 yards a play) against FCS Gardner-Webb on Oct. 1.

The unquestioned strength of Marshall’s offense is the ground game, and this part of the attack has been successful despite not having star running back Rasheen Ali all season. Khalan Laborn has picked up the slack in Ali’s absence, rushing for 731 yards and eight scores over five games. Laborn has gone over 100 yards in every game, including 191 in the Oct. 1 win over Gardner-Webb. Louisiana ranks eighth in the Sun Belt against the run but is giving up only 3.8 yards per rush. ULM ran for 227 against this defense, but the other four opponents never topped 116.

Marshall’s offense has 239 rushing attempts compared to just 143 passes in five games, and while Laborn has been outstanding, more consistency through the air is needed. Texas Tech transfer Henry Colombi has started all five games and passed for 875 yards and six touchdowns, while freshman Cam Fancher has played in all five contests and passed for 121 yards and a score over 27 attempts. After starting the year with three solid performances against Norfolk State, Notre Dame and Bowling Green, Colombi passed for only 49 yards against Troy and 138 with an interception versus Gardner-Webb.

Getting better quarterback play is a must if Marshall wants to win the Sun Belt, but if Colombi can get on track, this offense has the playmakers to stretch the field through the air. Corey Gammage (19 catches), Caleb McMillian (nine), Talki Keaton (16), and Charles Montgomery (11) form one of the Sun Belt’s top receiving corps. A key part of the passing game concerns certainly rests up front. Marshall has allowed 19 sacks through five games, which limits Colombi or Fancher’s ability to stand in the pocket and test teams downfield (just two completions of 40-plus yards).

Although Louisiana’s offense is struggling in 2022, that’s not the case on the other side of the ball. The defense ranks fifth in the Sun Belt by holding teams to 20.4 points a game and is giving up just 5.2 yards per play. Additionally, the Ragin’ Cajuns are third in the conference in pass efficiency defense and have surrendered just seven plays of 30-plus yards.

Final Analysis

Both teams enter Wednesday night’s game in a similar spot. Although basically half of the season remains, Louisiana and Marshall need a win to stay alive in the race to win the Sun Belt. Additionally, the offenses are under the spotlight after inconsistent play in recent games. Both teams rank near the top of the Sun Belt in forced turnovers, and with the offensive concerns, a couple of takeaways could make a big difference. The guess here is Laborn, Marshall’s defense and a key takeaway are enough for Huff’s team to hold off the Ragin’ Cajuns at home.

Prediction: Marshall 27, Louisiana 17

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