HERD-ODU GAME A MUST-WIN FOR BOTH
NORFOLK, Va. — There will be a different feel in the air when Marshall University and Old Dominion University football teams meet at Foreman Field in a 3:30 p.m. Saturday contest.
It is a sense of desperation and urgency shared by both teams. Both are coming off losses that left a bitter taste and have them backed into a corner as the second half of the season gets underway.
For each to reach their goals for the season, a win is a must-have, and there’s no way around it.
“It’s going to be blow-for-blow,” Marshall running back Tyler King said.
Last week, King was the highlight of Marshall’s 34-24 home loss to Middle Tennessee. After being bottled up for much of the early part of the season, the sophomore running back exploded in the first half against the Blue Raiders with 138 of his career-high 165 rushing yards prior to halftime as the Thundering Herd took a lead into the locker room.
As the rushing attack faded in the second half, so did Marshall’s chances at victory. The offense was unable to find its rhythm as Middle Tennessee scored 24 consecutive points after halftime en route to the win.
Once Marshall’s offense lost that balance, Middle Tennessee established its pressure and the end result were turnovers that helped lead to points.
Turnovers plagued Marshall (3-2, 1-1 Conference USA) in recent games.
Since opening the season with a turnover-free win over Miami (Ohio), the Herd has coughed the football up 14 times in four games, which has been costly.
“We have to take care of the ball,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “That is No. 1 in everything we do. ... There is no doubt that any time you turn over the ball, that is magnified because that just gives them another possession.”
Against Old Dominion (1-5, 0-3), turnovers become a greater impact because the Monarchs have found an offensive rhythm in the last three games that has produced 117 pointsan average of 39 points per game.
Much of that production has come from the arm of quarterback Blake LaRussa, who started the year as the backup before entering in the early portion of the contest against Virginia Tech. LaRussa proceeded to throw for 495 yards against the No. 13 Hokies en route to Old Dominion’s 49-35 victory which represents their lone win of the season.
While wins haven’t come in ODU’s last two outings, LaRussa’s production continued. In a three-game span, LaRussa has thrown for 1,135 yards and eight touchdowns while completing 66 percent of his passes.
“When they stuck him in there against Virginia Tech, he kind of lit them up,” Holliday said of LaRussa’s impact.
LaRussa’s throws are finding the hands of wide receivers Jonathan Duhart and Travis Fulgham — arguably, two of C-USA’s best. Duhart has five straight games of at least 100 receiving yards. Fulgham caught fire last week in a loss to Florida Atlantic (52-33) with 10 catches for 151 yards and one touchdown.
Given Marshall’s struggles in stopping the opposing passing attack, it is likely Old Dominion targets Marshall’s secondary early and often.
“We’ve got to be ready for that,” Marshall defensive back Nazeeh Johnson said. “If their running game (isn’t) working, they’re going to open their playbook and start passing it all over.”
Marshall quarterback Alex Thomson is looking to improve following his first start last week when he was sacked six times. Thomson will have to have a faster quicker mental clock and get the ball out to receivers quicker to avoid a strong ODU pass rush led by defensive end Oshane Ximines, who is second nationally with 7.5 sacks.
Thomson said Marshall can’t be looking at last week’s loss if it wants to turn the page and get a road win.
“We can’t hang our head on that Friday night,” Thomson said. “We have seven more conference games to go. We’ve got to treat every one like a conference championship at this point with the one loss.”