The Marshall Thundering Herd and Appalachian State Mountaineers will kick off Week 4 of the college football season with an intriguing non-conference showdown Thursday night in Boone, North Carolina.
Marshall, which beat the Mountaineers 17-7 in Huntington, West Virginia, last season, is 2-1 following a 42-38 loss to East Carolina last week. The Herd led 38-21 but were outscored 21-0 in the fourth quarter in new head coach Charles Huff's first career loss. App State also played East Carolina this year, winning 33-19 in the season opener after building a 33-9 lead. Following a 25-23 loss to Miami, the Mountaineers beat FCS Elon 44-10 last week to improve to 2-1.
Marshall has won the past three meetings with Appalachian State, but the Mountaineers lead the series 14-9. The teams' shared history goes back to their days in Division I-AA (now FCS).
Marshall at Appalachian State
Kickoff: Thursday, Sept. 23 at 7:30 p.m. ET
Spread: Appalachian State -7
When Marshall Has the Ball
Quarterback Grant Wells ranks third nationally with 371.0 passing yards per game this season and has set a new personal-best mark in back-to-back games. After opening with 333 yards in the 49-7 season-opening win against Navy, Wells threw for 347 yards and his first three touchdowns of the season against FCS North Carolina Central. He then blew past that mark with 433 yards through the air against ECU. Wells has averaged 9.6 yards per pass attempt, which ranks among the top 15 in the country, but he has also been intercepted five times, including twice last week. He was picked off at the goal line with six seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to seal the close loss to the Pirates.
Corey Gammage has emerged as Wells' top receiver, leading the Herd with 22 receptions for 344 yards. But Wells has done a good job spreading the ball around. Talik Keaton ranks second with 12 catches for 208 yards and has a team-high two touchdowns. Tight end Xavier Gaines has caught nine passes for 134 yards, and running back Sheldon Evans has eight receptions for 107 yards. Receiver Willie Johnson, wideout EJ Horton, and running back Rasheen Ali have each caught a touchdown pass.
Ali, whose nine receptions are tied for third on the team, is tied for the FBS lead with seven rushing touchdowns, and his 293 rushing yards rank third in Conference USA. Wells and Evans have each scored twice on the ground, and Knowledge McDaniel and Ethan Payne have both added a rushing touchdown to contribute to the Herd's 43.7 points per game, which ranks 10th on the FBS leaderboard. Marshall sits second in total offense with 603.7 yards per contest and No. 11 with 7.58 yards per play.
When Appalachian State Has the Ball
Chase Brice began his collegiate career at Clemson and famously kept the Tigers' College Football Playoff dreams alive by stepping in for an injured Trevor Lawrence to lead a 27-23 victory over Syracuse in 2018. Brice transferred to Duke last year and struggled. He threw 15 interceptions, and the Blue Devils led the nation in turnovers by a wide margin. Though not perfect with the Mountaineers, Brice has taken better care of the football this season. He has completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 751 yards and four touchdowns with two interceptions while averaging 8.7 yards per pass attempt. Last week, Brice set a career-high with 293 yards on 19-for-25 passing with an impressive 11.7 yards per attempt. He also ran for a touchdown.
Corey Sutton sat out 2020 but quickly returned to his role as the Mountaineers' top receiver this season with 18 receptions for 240 yards and one touchdown. Malik Williams leads the team with two touchdowns among his 11 catches and 183 yards, and last year’s receiving leader, Thomas Hennigan, has caught 10 passes for 160 yards and one score. Camerun Peoples and Nate Noel combine to form one of the top rushing duos in the nation. Peoples leads the team with 275 rushing yards and five touchdowns on 42 carries, while Noel has gained 250 yards on 48 attempts.
Given the offensive numbers both teams have put up thus far in 2021, it seems unlikely we'll see a defensive slugfest like last year's 17-7 matchup. Both defenses have taken a step back as well. After ranking third overall with 4.40 yards allowed per play last season, the Thundering Herd rank No. 40 (4.67) now. Appalachian State ranks 61st (5.13) in 2021 after a top-15 finish a year ago (4.94).
Turnovers will be key. The Herd won the turnover battle 2-1 last season, and Brice has been turnover-prone in his career. However, Marshall enters with a minus-four turnover ratio this year. Only eight FBS teams have been worse to date. If Wells doesn't take better care of the football, the Herd could suffer a second straight loss.
Prediction: Appalachian State 34, Marshall 24
Podcast: Week 3 Recap & Numbers to Know