So we’ve come to the final home-stretch of the 2019 college football season, and as usual there’s 120+ teams with 120+ agendas.
If that sounds cliché, well, most basic truths usually are – but I’m not talking about coaching tactics or recruiting visits or player-development…not even preparation for Rivalry Weekend. Instead, there’s 4 distinct groups of programs all looking for different versions of the same thing as others in their category.
There are aristocrats like Ohio State and LSU hoping to remain perfect and ascend into the College Football Playoff. There’s the have-nots like Rutgers and Akron who are just looking to have a respectable finish. Then there’s the schools in-between – those which have already qualified for a bowl berth and are hoping to earn the most-prestigious invitation possible, and those desperate teams who must win 1 or 2 games to finish with 6 victories and a postseason bid.
Marshall is in the 3rd category, and Charlotte, the Thundering Herd’s opponent this Saturday, is in the 4th position. Actually, the host 49ers are literally in 4th position in Conference USA’s East Division standings. But that hardly seems relevant to an improving squad which stands at 5-5 and has an opportunity to post 6+ wins and reach a bowl game for the 1st time in the school’s short history in the FBS.
Old Dominion is last on Charlotte’s schedule and would appear to present the best chance for a crucial 6th triumph. But the upstart 49ers don’t want to wait another week. Prevailing in this weekend’s match-up against the visiting Thundering Herd would be the safest and most-celebrated way to achieve the historic feat – and Las Vegas seems to think the newcomers have a decent shot at pulling it off.
Who: Marshall Thundering Herd at Charlotte 49ers
When: Saturday, November 23rd, 3:30 PM EST
Where: Jerry Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Lines: Marshall (-7) at Charlotte (+7) / O/U Total: (55)
The Over/Under total is falling slightly for this match-up, indicative of Charlotte’s strong effort on defense over the 49ers’ last pair of wins.
Charlotte actually has a 3-game winning streak going thanks in-part to improved points-against numbers, but it began with a shoot-out win over North Texas. Talented opposing QB Mason Fine threw the bean all over the Carolinians’ home field on October 26th, posting 5 TDs and 0 picks as the Mean Green racked-up nearly 40 points. But dual-threat 49er QB Chris Reynolds and his senior tailback Benny LeMay combined for close to 600 rushing and passing yards with help of a rejuvenated offensive line and an exceptional day from WR Victor Tucker.
Then it was the D’s turn to shine. MTSU’s Asher O’ Hara was held to just 9 completions in a 34-20 Charlotte victory, and the 49ers mounted an impressive comeback while shutting-out UTEP in the 2nd half of a 7-point win on 11/9:
The 49ers came out (of halftime) firing as they scored 14 straight points to tie the game heading into the fourth quarter. Kai Locksley opened the games’ penultimate quarter on fire, but the 49er defense was able to tighten up and slow the Miners’ offensive attack, pitching a second-half shutout.Chris Reynolds rallied the 49ers’ offense, leading them on a 95-yard drive with a 19-yard pass to TE Jacob Hunt for the go-ahead score midway through the final quarter.
An untimely 5-yard pooch punt by backup QB Brett Kean left the Miners with the ball and 2:36 to play at their own 41-yard line. Needing a touchdown to tie it, Locksley came out slinging. He found Jacob Cowing for a 28 yard gain deep into 49ers territory, and on the next play running back Josh Fields broke through the line moving the Miners into the red zone. With 1:10 to play it looked like this one was heading to overtime, but sophomore defensive end Markees Watts crashed through the pocket, hitting Locksley and forcing an errant pass that was intercepted by Henry Segura, sealing the comeback victory.
Bettors aren’t overlooking Marshall’s defense either.
Sure, the 7-3 Thundering Herd has a high-powered attack as the program often does, averaging about 200 yards on the ground through 5/6ths of the regular season. The ‘Herd also comes in hot, having prevailed in 5 straight contests dating back to a lay-up over Old Dominion on 10/12, but Brenden Knox rushed for 220 yards by himself as the Herd outlasted Lane Kiffin’s FAU Owls in a 36-31 triumph 6 days later.
Still it’s the Marshall defense that loomed large against Louisiana Tech last Friday as the Thundering Herd did not allow a TD pass or a 100-yard rusher in a 3-touchdown win.
Given those outcomes, maybe the O/U line should be dropping even more? But I happen to think this scrum might just come with some fireworks.
They say not to make predictions from the gut, but it’s the heads – and the psychology of the 2 warring teams this Saturday – that I’ve got in mind.
Charlotte’s defense isn’t elite enough to stop Marshall from scoring touchdowns, and the 49ers are likely to battle-back with their own high-octane offense. It won’t surprise me to see the hosts run some tempo in the 2nd and 3rd quarter just to try to build a lead against a strong opponent. If Marshall takes an early lead, Charlotte will open up with little to lose – coaches know they’ve got a weaker foe to potentially take advantage of next week. If Charlotte takes a lead, the Herd will become less of a running team and more of the 3 and 4-wideout attack we associate with the program.
Finally, it’s likely to be close in the 4th quarter with each team taking a free-spirited kick at the can. After all, it’s not like Marshall’s bowl bid will be hurt all that badly if the guests suffer a loss…and the Charlotte pass rush is a wild-card that could produce quick 3-and-outs or otherwise set the home team up in good field position.
It’s a counter-intuitive pick for sure – but the squads’ high-scoring outcomes in mid-season mean as much analytically as more-recent contests. Things are about to get real in Week 13 – and that means gambles taken on the gridiron as well as in Sin City.
Take the Over (55) for a winner in Charlotte.