The 2017-edition of the Moonshine Throwdown is less than a month away and both the Marshall Thundering Herd and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers are preparing for key road games this week in their hopes of staying in the C-USA East Division Championship hunt.
The Herd is set to battle the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Friday night on the road while the Hilltoppers head out on the road Friday night to battle the Old Dominion Monarchs. Both Marshall and WKU are coming off blowout home wins with the Herd knocking off ODU 35-3 and the Hilltoppers routing Charlotte 45-14.
Both Marshall and WKU are among the leaders in the East Division with the Herd sitting at 5-1 overall and 2-0 in C-USA play while the Hilltoppers sit at 4-2 overall and 2-1 in C-USA play. Marshall’s battle with MTSU could get the Herd to bowl eligibility after going just 3-9 in 2016, but the recent series with the Blue Raiders has had a trend stay true every season.
Since MTSU joined C-USA in 2013, the home team has won every meeting between the Herd and the Blue Raiders. But MTSU comes in wounded literally and figuratively and sits at 3-4 overall and 1-2 in C-USA play including a nail-biting loss at UAB on Oct. 14.
WKU has yet to lose to ODU since the Monarchs joined C-USA in 2014 and will be facing a reeling ODU team that has lost four games in a row by at least 30 points each. And with the Hilltoppers finding major offensive production for the first time all season last week against Charlotte, that could spell doom for the Monarchs.
The odds are in the favor of both Marshall and WKU this week and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives the Herd a 58.9 percent chance to defeat MTSU Friday night and the current spread sees Marshall as a 2.5-point road favorite. The Hilltoppers currently have a 64.3 percent chance to defeat ODU according to ESPN’s Football Power Index and are 10-point favorites.
A key matchup to look for in Marshall’s showdown with MTSU is the Herd’s defense against Blue Raiders backup quarterback John Urzua. In Marshall’s 42-17 win against MTSU in 2016, Urzua was harassed all night by the Herd’s defense and with him making another start in place of the injured Brent Stockstill, Marshall’s much-improved defense will look to do the same this time around.
Urzua has thrown six touchdowns this season, but eight interceptions and if the Herd’s defense can get pressure on him, that could create errant throws. Getting pressure on Urzua, sacking him, and forcing turnovers will be key for Marshall in this game.
A key matchup to look for in WKU’s battle with ODU will be how well the Hilltoppers’ offensive line blocks the Monarchs’ defensive line. ODU leads C-USA in sacks and WKU’s offensive line has had trouble protecting quarterback Mike White at times this season as well as establishing the run game.
If ODU can create pressure on White, that could affect WKU’s passing game and force the Hilltoppers’ subpar running game, averaging only 82.3 rushing yards-per-game, to get going. This could be ODU’s only way to have a chance in this game.
The Herd and the Hilltoppers are both facing teams that are reeling, but recent history shows that Marshall is in for a tough game at the Blue Raiders given how much the Herd has struggled to pull out a win in Murfreesboro. WKU has taken care of ODU in recent years and all signs are pointing in that direction once again.
Marshall and MTSU kickoff at 7 p.m. EST Friday night from Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, and the game will be televised on ESPN2. WKU and ODU kickoff at 6 p.m. EST Friday night from S.B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Virginia, and the game will be televised on CBS Sports Network.