Conference USA College Football Preview: East Carolina Pirates at Marshall Thundering Herd

East Carolina Pirates at Marshall Thundering Herd
Edwards Stadium – Huntington, West Virginia 

Friday, November 29, 2013, 12:00 pm Eastern, TV: CBS Sports Network
Opening Line: Marshall -1 1/2
Current Line: Marshall -3
Opening Total: 66
Current Total: 64 1/2
Opening Money Line: Marshall -145 . East Carolina +125
Current Money Line: Marshall -155 / East Carolina +135  

Marshall is a 3 point favorite at home against East Carolina Friday. The winner will clinch the Conference USA East Division title.
Marshall is a 3 point favorite at home against East Carolina Friday. The winner will clinch the Conference USA East Division title.

The 9-2 East Carolina Pirates and 8-3 Marshall Thundering Herd are tied for the lead at 6-1 in the Conference USA East Division. The two face each other in Huntington, WV Friday afternoon, and the winner will clinch a berth in next week’s Conference Championship game. The winner will likely host the Championship game against the West Champion. Rice leads the other division with a 6-1 record, and will clinch the division with a win over Tulane Saturday. UTSA, North Texas and Tulane are all 5-2 in Conference.

East Carolina leads the series against Marshall 10-4, and the Pirates have won 4 of the last 5 in the series. The two schools are 3-3 in Huntington.  ECU won last year in Greenville 65-59 in double overtime. Three of the last five games in the series have gone into overtime, East Carolina will leave Conference USA next season for the American Athletic Conference.

East Carolina is coached by Ruffin McNeill. The Pirates have losses to Virginia Tech 15-10 at home and at Tulane 36-33 in overtime. East Carolina has won five straight games since the Tulane loss. The Pirates have home wins over Old Dominion 52-38, Florida Atlantic 31-13, Southern Miss 55-14, Tulsa 58-24, and UAB 63-14, along with road wins at North Carolina 55-31, Middle Tennessee 24-17, Florida International 34-13, and last week at NC State 42-28. East Carolina is 6-5 ATS and the total is 7-4 this season. The Pirates were 4.5 point favorites at North Carolina State and the total was 55.

East Carolina took a 21-7 halftime lead against NC State. The Pirates would expand the lead to 35-7 in the third quarter. With 1:56 left in the fourth, East Carolina led 42-14. The Wolfpack scored two cosmetic touchdowns in the last minute of the game to make the final 42-28. ECU had 445 total yards including 275 passing yards. NC State had 441 total yards including 312 passing yards. Neither team had a turnover.

East Carolina is outscoring teams 42-22 this season. The Pirates are #11 in scoring and #32 in points allowed nationally out of 125 FBS teams. East Carolina averages 461.6 yards per game including 335.2 passing and 126.5 rushing yards. The Pirates are #10 in passing, #103 in rushing, and #30 in total offense. ECU is allowing 347.3 total yards per game on defense, including 243.4 passing and 103.9 rushing yards. The Pirates are #90 in pass defense, #9 in rush defense and #21 in total defense nationally. East Carolina is +6 in turnovers with 19 takeaways. The Pirates average 43 penalty yards per game and opponents average 48. East Carolina is 96/175 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 97/215. The Pirates have forced 33 sacks and allowed 27 this season. ECU is 56/64 scoring in the red zone with 45 touchdowns and opponents are 25/36 with 19 touchdowns. The Pirates have 3 defensive touchdowns and have allowed two this season.

East Carolina quarterback Shane Carden has completed 72.8% of his passes for 3,575 yards with 32 touchdowns and 7 interceptions, along with 77 carries for 49 yards and 9 touchdowns. Carden is #5 nationally in passing yards and tied for third in touchdown passes.

Running back Vintavious Cooper has 185 carries for 902 yards with 9 touchdowns, along with 36 catches, 359 yards and a touchdown. Breon Allen has 50 carries for 226 yards and 2 touchdowns, along with 6 catches for 101 yards. Chris Hairston has 49 carries for 186 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with 6 catches for 60 yards. Little used running back Zico Pasut is out for the season with a foot injury.

Receiver Justin Hardy has 95 catches for 1,130 yards and 8 touchdowns. Isiah Jones has 45 catches for 433 yards and 5 touchdowns. Reece Wiggins has 24 catches for 352 yards and 4 touchdowns. Lance Ray has 27 catches for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns. Bryce Williams has 17 catches for 183 yards and 5 touchdowns. Davon Grayson has 18 catches for 176 yards and 4 touchdowns. He is out for the season as are three other little used receivers, Danny Webster, Quataye Smyre, and Jimmy Williams. Three defensive players are also out for the season.

Marshall is coached by Doc Holliday. The Thundering Herd have home wins over Miami-(OH) 52-14, Gardner-Webb 55-0, Texas-San Antonio 34-10, Southern Miss 61-13 and  UAB 56-14,  along with road wins at Florida Atlantic 24-23, Tulsa 45-34 and last week at Florida International 48-10. The Thundering Herd have won four straight games. Marshall has road losses at Ohio 34-31, Virginia Tech 29-21 in triple overtime and Middle Tennessee 51-49. The Thundering Herd are 7-4 ATS and the total is 6-5 this season. Marshall was a 32 point favorite against FIU and the total was 55.5.

FIU took an early 3-0 lead but Marshall would score 34 unanswered points to take control of the game. The Thundering Herd would rumble to a 48-10 victory. Marshall had 558 total yards including 270 rushing yards. FIU had 262 total yards and 15 first downs. The two teams combined for 14 penalties for 117 yards. The Panthers had the only turnover of the game.

Marshall is outscoring teams 43-21 this season. The Thundering Herd are #8 in scoring and #25 in points allowed nationally. Marshall is averaging 510.9 yards per game including 295.3 passing and 215.6 rushing yards. The Herd are #22 or better in all three categories nationally. On defense, Marshall is allowing 349.3 yards per game, including 198.7 passing and 150.5 rushing yards. The Thundering Herd are #24 nationally in total offense and #15 in passing defense. Marshall is +2 in turnovers with 22 takeaways. The Thundering Herd are averaging 49 penalty yards per game and opponents are averaging 45. Marshall is 95/182 on third and fourth down conversions and opponents are 71/202. The Herd have forced 28 sacks and allowed 20 this season. Marshall is 46/51 scoring in the red zone with 39 touchdowns and opponents are 32/41 with 23 touchdowns. Marshall has a punt return for a touchdown and 2 pick sixes this season and has allowed a fumble return and 2 punt returns for touchdowns.

Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato has completed 59.3% of his passes for 3,042 yards with 32 touchdowns and 7 interceptions along with 78 carries, 248 yards and 4 touchdowns. Back-up Blake Frohnapfel has thrown for 206 yards with 3 touchdowns and a pick, along with 11 carries for 86 yards and a touchdown.

Running back Essray Taliaferro has 159 carries, for 845 yards and 9 touchdowns, along with 10 catches for 111 yards. Steward Butler has 66 carries, 661 yards and 7 touchdowns, plus a catch. Kevin Grooms has 91 carries for 503 yards and 6 touchdowns, along with 9 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown. Wide receiver Tommy Shuler has 80 catches for 872 yards and 9 touchdowns. Gator Hoskins has 34 catches for 592 yards and 12 touchdowns.  Devon Smith has 29 catches, 547 yards and 3 touchdowns, along with a punt return for a touchdown.  Craig Wilkins and Demetrius Evans will both get significant catches as well. Two defensive players and two offensive linemen are listed as questionable or out Friday.

East Carolina is 4-1 ATS overall, 2-5 in road games, 5-13 after a straight up win, 2-6 after scoring 40 points or more, 1-5 in Friday games, 1-8 against teams with winning home records, 1-12 against teams with winning records, and o-7 after allowing more than 280 passing yards.

Marshall is 5-0 ATS at home, 12-1-1 against teams with winning road records, 6-1 after passing for 280 yards or more, 4-1 in November and on fieldturf, 6-2 after scoring 40 points or more, 5-2 after rushing for more than 200 yards, and against teams with winning records, 4-11 after a straight up win of more than 20 points, 2-6 after gaining more than 450 total yards, and after allowing less than 20 points, 3-9 after allowing less than 170 passing yards, and 1-6 after allowing less than 275 total yards.

Even though both defenses are in the top 25 nationally, the offenses are even more explosive. This should be a high scoring affair. I don’t know if they will score 124 points like they did in last year’s meeting. Carden and Cato are among the top quarterbacks in the country, and should have a classic duel. I like Marshall to win a close game at home and clinch the division title.

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