The fastest-rising rivalry in C-USA will come to a head Saturday night when the Marshall Thundering Herd hosts the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the 2017-edition of the Moonshine Throwdown.
Both teams come into this showdown with back-to-back losses, however, and in need of a win. The Herd sits at 6-3 overall and 3-2 in C-USA play having dropped its last two games to Florida International and Florida Atlantic while the Hilltoppers sit at 5-4 and 3-2 in C-USA play having dropped their last two games to Florida Atlantic as well as Vanderbilt of the SEC.
This will be the ninth all-time meeting between Marshall and WKU with the series tied at four wins apiece, but the Hilltoppers have won the last three against the Herd since joining C-USA in 2014 including a 60-6 win in Huntington last season, the worst loss for Marshall in the history of Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
But this season’s meeting should be drastically different than that aforementioned 2016 encounter, and the odds back up that premise. The Herd is currently a 13-point favorite over WKU and ESPN’s Football Power Index gives Marshall a 78.4 percent chance to get the win over the Hilltoppers.
A key matchup to look for in this game will be a facet of the game that has cost Marshall its last two games, turnovers. During its 6-1 start, the Herd turned the ball over a total of eight times.
But during the recent two-game losing streak, Marshall has a combined seven turnovers that led to 34 points for the opposition including six interceptions by quarterback Chase Litton.
If Litton can get back to his old self and the Herd can win the turnover margin like it had done the majority of the season, Marshall should have a great chance at defeating a WKU team that comes in wounded with several injuries on both sides of the ball.
Hilltoppers’ starting quarterback Mike White got dinged up at the end of the Vanderbilt game on Nov. 4 and he, along with several other teammates, is listed as day-to-day in regards to the Marshall game.
If White has to miss Saturday night’s game or is not close to 100 percent, that will put extreme added pressure on WKU’s anemic running game that only averages 73.3 yards-per-game.
This is a huge game for both teams on several levels. Not only is it a rapidly-developing rivalry game, both teams need a win to right the ship for their respective seasons. A loss would set Marshall back to 6-4 overall and its slim chances at a C-USA East Division Championship would be officially gone.
The same can be said for WKU and a loss would set the Hilltoppers back to .500 at 5-5 overall and not only would they be out of the East Division Championship picture, they would have to win at least one of their last two games to gain bowl eligibility. Both teams want to win and need to win, but an underrated factor might greatly affect the course of this game.
This year’s Moonshine Throwdown will represent the 47th anniversary game in honor of the November 14, 1970 plane crash that killed 75 Marshall players, coaches, and fans.
The Marshall program started the tradition in 2013 of wearing a 75 decal on each helmet for the game closest to the plane crash date and since then, the Herd has won each game by a combined score of 180-65. And since 2015, Marshall has worn black jerseys in honor of the game as well.
Marshall doesn’t take this game lightly and playing for the 75 on the game closest to the plane crash date is added motivation that is hard to explain to those who aren’t familiar with the Marshall program.
The Herd and the Hilltoppers have created a rivalry that is arguably C-USA’s best and this season’s meeting has all the makings and high stakes of being a memorable showdown.
Marshall and WKU kickoff at 6:30 p.m. EST Saturday night at Edwards Stadium in Huntington, West Virginia and the game will be televised by beIN SPORTS.