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Marshall Thundering Herd vs. Pittsburgh Panthers Preview and Prediction

Pat Narduzzi

Pat Narduzzi

It has been a disappointing season so far for both Marshall and Pitt. The Thundering Herd suffered an unexpected blowout at home against Akron and then were taken behind the woodshed against Louisville. Being without starting QB Chase Litton against the Cardinals did not help. But Litton is back this week and should give Marshall a boost of confidence as the Herd travel up the road to Pittsburgh.

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Pitt has also seen its share of disappointment this season. The Panthers had momentum against Oklahoma State, only to have the weather slow them down. Last weekend was even worse, as North Carolina converted numerous fourth downs to come from behind and beat the Panthers.

One team will extend the other's misery this weekend, and it will all come down to which defense plays the best.

Marshall at Pitt

Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV Channel: ACC Network
Spread: Pitt -16

Three Things to Watch

1. Can Marshall cut down on the penalties?
Let’s be honest — the Herd face an uphill battle in this game and need a few things to go their way. Marshall is ranked dead last in the FBS in penalties per game, averaging just over 11. The Herd will need to drastically cut down on giving up free yardage if they are going to spring the upset.

The Panthers have suffered their two losses this season by a combined eight points, and that's without their opponents doing them many favors. If Marshall wants to keep this game close, it will need to remain disciplined, and that means no unnecessary penalties.

2. Will either defense find success?
Both defenses in this contest have been less than stellar so far this season. Pitt has given up an astounding 993 yards through the air already this season. With Marshall’s Chase Litton back this weekend, the Panthers' defense may again be in for a long day. Litton has put up 722 passing yards with 10 TD passes even though he's hasn't played a full two games.

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On the other side, Marshall has given up 124 points in its last two games. And despite being 2-2, the Panthers are averaging 36 points per game. The Herd have given up plenty of yards through the air as well; Louisville’s Lamar Jackson had a record day against Marshall, throwing for 417 yards last week. But Pitt's Nathan Peterman is not Lamar Jackson.

It's unlikely that Marshall will be able to muster much of a ground attack against Pit, which currently ranks third in the nation in rushing yards allowed per attempt at just 2.08. Marshall’s defense is giving up 4.35 yards per carry on the season.

3. Will Pitt follow its pattern and rely on the running game?

Pitt has been primarily a run-first team this season. Peterman has attempted only 96 passes, while the Panthers have run the ball 199 times. Marshall’s secondary is prone to giving up yards through the air, so could the Panthers be tempted to change their approach for this game? It's doubtful. Marshall is giving up a little more than 155 rushing yards per game, while Pitt is averaging just more than 250 on the ground. Look for the Panthers to try to establish the run as they've done all season thus far.

Final Analysis

Both offenses in this contest have the ability to move the ball effectively. Marshall’s air attack led by Chase Litton is lethal. Likewise, Pitt has shown the ability to run at will this season.

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The determining factor in this game will be defense. And while both defenses have been subpar to this point, Marshall’s inability to establish a run game against a strong Pitt defensive front could be a difference-maker.

I do not believe Pitt will cover the spread in this contest, but the Panthers will get back on track by exploiting an undisciplined Marshall team on the ground.

Prediction: Pitt 37, Marshall 28

— Written by Jeremy Simon, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and editor-in-chief of, a must visit for any and all West Virginia Mountaineer fans. Follow on Twitter @Blue_GoldSports.