In a potential preview of the Conference USA Championship Game, the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs will square off against the Marshall Thundering Herd to help kick off the weekend’s college football action. Game time is set for 7:00 EST on Friday, November 15 at Joan C. Edwards Stadium in Huntington, West Virginia. The game will be broadcast on CBS Sports Network.
Current odds list Marshall as 2.5-point favorites at home with an over/under of 56.5 points. Make sure you check out a full list of the Week 12 college football betting odds.
Louisiana Tech might be one of the most overlooked programs in the country right now. After losing their season opener to Texas, the Bulldogs have rattled off eight straight wins. Granted, none of those wins came against a power-conference opponent. But Louisiana Tech has taken care of business, winning six of their eight by at least 10 points.
As a result, the Bulldogs are in line to reach the Conference USA title game for the third time under Skip Holtz. Both ended in losses, so La. Tech is chasing their first conference championship since 2011 when they won the WAC. The Bulldogs are currently 5-0 in conference play and could absorb one loss in their final three games and still win the C-USA West division. However, they have another tricky road game against UAB next week, so the Bulldogs don’t want to stumble now and risk losing back-to-back games.
Marshall is in a similar position. The Thundering Herd started the season 2-3, losing to both Boise State and Cincinnati, both top-25 teams, before losing their C-USA opener to Middle Tennessee. However, Marshall has turned things around in a big way, winning four in a row to seize control of the C-USA East division.
As it stands, the Thundering Herd are 4-1 in conference play and can secure a spot in the conference title game for the first time since 2014 if they win their three remaining games. However, Florida Atlantic also has just one conference loss and would leapfrog the Thundering Herd if Marshall slips up. Unless FAU loses one of their two remaining games, Marshall’s only path to a conference championship is to win out.
This will be just the second game between Louisiana Tech and Marshall as Conference USA foes. Oddly enough, the only previous meeting came in the C-USA Championship Game in 2014. Marshall won that game 26-23 on their home field.
Even nine games into the season, it’s hard to get a read on Louisiana Tech because they haven’t faced too many true challenges outside of Texas in the season opener. But I think the Bulldogs are for real, so I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt. After all, winning eight straight games isn’t easy no matter who you’re playing. Also, three of Marshall’s five wins over FBS opponents have come five points or less. I’m not sure the Thundering Herd is good enough to win comfortably, so I’ll take La. Tech and the points.
Outside of the early part of the season, the Louisiana Tech offense has been outstanding. The Bulldogs are averaging 38 points per game on the season and have scored at least 35 points in six of their last seven games. Again, regardless of the competition level, that’s impressive consistency. If Marshall is going to win and cover, it’ll likely require a lot of points.
For Louisiana Tech, it starts with J’Mar Smith, who might be the most overlooked quarterback among Group of Five teams. This is his third season as the starter and he’s taken his game to another level as a senior. His completion percentage has skyrocketed from 57% last year to 65% this year. He’s also on pace to set career-highs for both passing yards and touchdown passes. Perhaps more importantly, he’s only thrown four interceptions this year.
On top of his much-improved passing, Smith is also the team’s second-leading rusher, using his athleticism to give opposing defenses headaches. The Bulldogs also have a top-notch running back in Justin Henderson, who has been the workhorse back all season. Henderson averages 6.5 yards per carry and has already found the end zone 15 times on the ground. While Marshall allows just 24 points per game, they’ve been a little vulnerable against some of the better teams on their schedule. That makes me think a balanced La. Tech offense could be able to sustain success against them.
On the other side of the ball, the Louisiana Tech defense has been rock solid throughout the season. Again, it might be fair to put a tiny asterisk next to the Bulldogs giving up less than 23 points per game. However, they’ve been able to win at the line of scrimmage and stop the run against every team they’ve faced outside of Texas. That’s a great sign for their matchup with Marshall.
The Thundering Herd is perhaps the best rushing team in Conference USA. They average over 200 yards per game behind Brendan Knox, who gets a little help from quarterback Isaiah Green. But if Knox is contained or Marshall ends up in a shootout, I’m not sure Green can win a game with his arm. The Thundering Herd need their rushing attack to help set up the pass, which concerns me with them going up against such a stout run defense.
To be honest, this game might as well be a tossup. Marshall is good enough to win a game like this, especially at home. However, I think Louisiana Tech is a little better defensively and has the better quarterback, which is just enough to push me toward the Bulldogs and the points in this game.