Despite a winning record through the first five games of the 2018 season, the Marshall Thundering Herd has yet to click on all cylinders and is reeling a bit after a disappointing home loss on Oct. 5 to Middle Tenessee.
Marshall held a 17-10 halftime lead against MTSU, but the Blue Raiders outscored the Herd 24-7 in the second half to get the 34-24 win and take control of C-USA’s East Division in the early stages of conference play. The Herd’s second-half performance against MTSU continued the trend of not being able to put four quarters together.
A season-opening victory on the road at Miami (OH) has been the most complete game Marshall has played this season, but even it was far from perfect after having to hold off a RedHawk comeback bid to escape with a 35-28 win after getting up 28-7 midway through the third quarter.
A special teams debacle in Week 2 at home against the Eastern Kentucky Colonels resulted in a closer than it should have been 32-16 win in a game in which the Herd’s special teams accounted for three turnovers. Marshall’s Week 3 road game at South Carolina was canceled due to Hurricane Florence, but a huge home game followed.
The now-20th-ranked Wolfpack of NC State visited Huntington, West Virginia on Sept. 22 and turned a 23-7 halftime lead into a 37-20 victory over the Herd. C-USA play opened up on Sept. 29 on the road at Western Kentucky and Marshall struggled mightily offensively against the Hilltoppers.
However, a 98-yard touchdown drive resulted in the eventual game-winning touchdown with under two minutes remaining and Marshall escaped with a 20-17 win. The Herd was unable to keep that momentum rolling against MTSU, but having to break in another quarterback, along with a couple other key injuries, didn’t help things out.
Freshman quarterback Isaiah Green was injured at the end of the WKU game and he missed the MTSU game, leading to graduate transfer Alex Thomson getting his first start for Marshall. In his first game at the FBS level and first game played in over a year, Thomson struggled at times.
Thomson will be the starter when the Herd travels to Norfolk, Virginia for a key road game Saturday at Old Dominion. The Monarchs are 1-5 on the season, but this is a dicey game for Marshall and ODU is more than capable of getting the win if the Herd doesn’t get back on track.
The Monarchs’ lone win on the season has been the upset of the year so far in college football when they shocked Virginia Tech at home on Sept. 22. Since that game, ODU has found its offense thanks in large part because of junior quarterback Blake LaRussa, who was inserted into the Virginia Tech game and has been on fire since then.
LaRussa is completing 65.8 percent of his passes for 1,318 yards and nine touchdowns with only three interceptions. ODU lost a narrow 37-35 game at East Carolina on Sept. 29 and lost at defending C-USA Champions Florida Atlantic last week 52-33 after the Owls pulled away in the fourth quarter.
If Marshall continues to play erratically, ODU can pull off this win, especially if the Herd continues to turn the ball over at the rate it has been. In the last 16 quarters of play, Marshall has 14 turnovers. That has to improve on the road at a team that is averaging 39 points-per-game over its last three games.
In addition, the Herd has allowed the opposing quarterback to throw for over 300 yards in three of the five games so far this season and ODU comes in averaging 304 passing yards-per-game riding the recent offensive high of inserting LaRussa as the starting quarterback.
The Herd needs to take advantage of a subpar ODU defense that has been torched at times. The Monarchs allow 38.7 points-per-game on the season along with allowing 525 yards-per-game. Marshall hasn’t scored 30 points since the EKU game on Sept. 8 and has scored just 20 points, 20 points, and 24 points in its last three games respectively.
When looking at Marshall’s schedule, this ODU game becomes even more important because if the Herd slips up, just getting back to a bowl game could become a real challenge. FAU comes to Huntington next week followed by a road game at Southern Miss, so if Marshall loses to ODU, a four-game losing streak and potential 3-5 record could be a possibility.
If the Herd falls to 3-5 on the season, it could not afford another loss in its quest to simply get back to a bowl game. And with only 11 games on the schedule at the moment thanks to that South Carolina game being canceled, that’s one less chance to gain bowl eligibility.
No Marshall fan imagined a season in which reaching a bowl game would be difficult, but if the Monarchs knock off the Herd on Saturday, that could become a reality. Without getting into too much hyperbole, this is probably a must-win game for Marshall.
It’s gut-check time for the Herd and Saturday’s game could go a long way in determining the fate of the 2018 season one way or another. Marshall and ODU kickoff at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at S.B. Ballard Stadium and the game will be televised by Stadium.