First-year head coach Lane Kiffin has Florida Atlantic in line for its first Conference USA title and first conference championship of any sort since winning the Sun Belt in 2007. To win the East division of Conference USA however, the Owls may need to take down Marshall on Friday night.
At 6-2, the Thundering Herd have more wins than anyone else in the conference, but following a 41-30 loss to Florida International, they will need to win Friday to keep their conference title hopes alive. FAU comes in red hot after winning four straight games — all in conference — with the most recent being a 42-28 victory at Western Kentucky.
Marshall has won four straight in the series with FAU, including a 27-21 victory last season. After going a combined 6-18 and 4-12 in conference, the Owls and Thundering Herd have combined to go 11-5 already this season and 7-1 in conference.
Marshall at Florida Atlantic
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 3 at 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Florida Atlantic -8
Three Things to Watch
1. Devin Singletary
The most explosive offensive player for Saturday's game will be Singletary. Since being held in check by Navy and Wisconsin to begin the year, Florida Atlantic's sophomore running back has rushed for at least 100 yards in six straight games, including a career-high 244 yards and four touchdowns in last week's win over Western Kentucky.
Singletary certainly has the ability to make the big play, but he is a dependable workhorse. Singletary is averaging 6.6 yards per carry and has 18 rushing touchdowns this season. That's four more than any other FBS player. He rushed for 111 yards and a touchdown on just 13 carries last season against Marshall, but repeating that performance will be a tall task. The Thundering Herd have yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season.
2. FAU offense vs. Marshall defense
It sounds simplistic to say the game will be decided by one team's offense against the other team's defense, but for Florida Atlantic and Marshall, the strengths are very different. FAU has the second -best offense and the top-scoring offense in Conference USA while the Thundering Herd rank second in total and scoring defense. In conference play, Marshall is allowing less than 12 points per game. The Owls are scoring nearly 52 points per game against C-USA opponents.
In addition to Singletary, fellow running backs Gregory Howell Jr. and Kerrith Whyte Jr. both have big-play ability as does wide receiver Willie Wright. FAU quarterback Jason Driskel is more of a game-manager as a passer, but can make plays with his legs for a rushing offense that ranks in the top 10 nationally. For Marshall, linebacker Chase Hancock and safety Malik Gant each have noses for the football. Linebacker Artis Johnson and defensive tackle Ryan Bee have each lived in opponents' backfields this season. Bee leads the team with 4.5 sacks. Cornerback Chris Jackson leads the Herd with three interceptions.
3. Chase Litton vs. FAU secondary
Although Marshall isn't the prolific scoring machine that FAU is, the Thundering Herd may have the edge at the most important position on the field and that's quarterback. Litton, a 6-foot-6 pocket passer, is in his third season as the starting quarterback at Marshall and is on pace for a career high in yards. Litton already has thrown 16 touchdown passes this season compared to just five interceptions and is coming off a 350-yard effort against FIU. Litton was able to carve up the Owls last season for 330 yards in a 27-21 win. Litton has been well protected this season as Marshall has allowed just three sacks.
On Saturday, Litton will be facing an opportunistic FAU defense that leads Conference USA and ranks second in the nation with 14 interceptions. Sophomore cornerback Chris Tooley leads the Owls with four picks so far. Tooley returned one of those for a touchdown. FAU ranks just 72nd in passing defense, but are allowing just 6.5 yards per attempt. That's the third bes in the conference.
Despite being known for its defense, Marshall struggled mightily on that side of the ball against Florida International and will be facing a more prolific offense this week and to make matters worse, on the road. Since the start of conference play however, Marshall has performed much better offensively, with little trouble putting points on the board. FAU however, comes in with a ton of momentum. The Owls are deep when it comes to playmakers and are outscoring conference opponents by an average of 25 points per game. A win on Saturday would go a long way toward getting Florida Atlantic to the Conference USA title game.