Both teams are coming off divisional victories from last week and both carry impressive winning streaks into this game. For the first time since 1987, the Flashes are on a three-game winning tear, with victories over Northern Illinois (44-34), Buffalo (35-15), and most recently Ohio (24-14) and are in no mood to let even the 4-time MAC champs spoil their string of victories. Marshall has won six straight since opening the season in Gainesville and losing to the Florida Gators 49-14.
Neither team has established itself as a defensive powerhouse, but each has a savoir-faire and have taken care of business when it counts. Marshall's defense is more notable for such as they have come up with big plays in most all of the Herd's victories this year, including a Charlie Tynes interception of Charlie Frye to halt an Akron rally late in last week's game.
Kent is not without its own game-saving effort, referring to last week's game at Ohio. Kent freshman DB Shannon Davis scooped up a Bobcat fumble and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown that put the Flashes up by 10 late in the game. Davis also had 14 tackles in the game and was awarded the Mid-American Conference's defensive player of the week award. Not to be outdone, Marshall linebacker Max Yates had 21 tackles (13 solo) and a sack in the game against Akron.
When Kent has the Ball:
- Marshall will again face another Big Ten-style of offense that is balanced, but bruising, similar to that of Akron's. What Marshall will not face is the big, talented, and experienced offensive line like Akron had; One that was able to push around Marshall's somewhat undersized defensive front on many plays.
The Kent offense is young, but is led by what may be the most deadly young guy in the Mid-American Conference this year in quarterback Josh Cribbs. With 292 yards of total offense last week, Cribbs accounted for over 70% of the Kent production against Ohio and was awarded MAC offensive player of the week honors. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 196 yards and carried the ball for 96 yards on 10 carries.
The true freshman made his first appearance versus I-AA Bucknell back on Sept. 8 and has the Flashes on a roll. Look for Cribbs to initially had off to RB Chante Murphy, and when throwing, looking for WR Jurron Kelly.
When Marshall has the Ball:
- There is not much question on what the Herd needs to do when it is on offense: Start with the run, then let Byron Leftwich take possession of the game. The Herd signal-caller has been on fire and, as a junior, is the only QB in MAC history to put up three consecutive 400-yard passing games. If Leftwich stays in form, there is always the possibility that a fourth is in store, but all streaks are made to end.
Marshall's offense has been hitting on all cylinders and has stayed delightfully healthy, especially compared to last year. There is only one way to stop Marshall's offensive onslaught, and that is to get to Byron Leftwich and put him on his back. Leftwich has been able to pick apart nickel and dime defenses, and has proven his ability to tuck and run the ball for big gains when the play isn't there.
Marshall's Keys to Winning:
1. Defense, defense, defense: - Kent can hurt you in many ways on offense, and no team can win shootouts forever. Marshall has shown it can play when it has to, but now perilously close to the matchup with Miami-Ohio, the Herd defense will have to prove it can play even when it doesn't have to. Four solid quarters of holding down the Kent offense is needed to win this game against a offensive unit.
2. More defense: - Chante Murphy is an experienced and powerful running back who may give the Herd trouble, which is all the more reason to not over-concentrate on Josh Cribbs. If Marshall must chose the lesser of the two evils, it would have to be keeping Cribbs in the pocket and making him throw. Whether the play is designed for him to run or not, the Herd cannot allow him to break containment. Defensive end Ralph Street is a solid pass rusher, but will have to be careful to not over-pursue and allow the young QB outside. Tackles McKinney and Cordell must also hold ground and support from the linebacking corp is crucial. The Herd secondary is good enough to cover the Kent receivers and should allow some coverage sacks, so long as they do not play the zone too softly.
3. Win on 1st and 10: - Last week versus Akron, the Herd defense allowed Akron big gains on first down and allowed the Zips a lot of 2nd and 3-or-less situations. This can allow a team to go for the long throw downfield for a touchdown and still leave them with 3rd and short if the play is unsuccessful. If Marshall is unable to produce some good gains offensively on 1st down, Kent will be more than ready to drop as many as 7 or even 8 coverage players back to nab a Leftwich pass on a 2nd and 10 or 3rd and 5 play. This will be a battle fought on both sides of the ball for Marshall.
Overall, Marshall is much more talented and experienced on all sides of the ball and should win comfortably if things go as planned. However, Kent plays the Herd very tough at home and should the Herd be looking ahead to next week's pivotal showdown with Miami, they might find themselves out of the division race in a "Flash".
The KB Gameday Power Ratings:
The Prediction: Marshall 31, Flashes 17