HUNTINGTON-As the second half of the regular season begins, Marshall University is finally entering divisional play in Conference-USA.
Saturday in Hattiesburg, Miss., the Thundering Herd meet C-USA East Division counterpart Southern Miss. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. at Carlisle-Faulkner Field at Roberts Stadium.
Marshall (2-4, 1-1) took advantage of an off week following two straight losses, while Southern Miss (0-6, 0-2) lost last week at UCF, 38-31, in double-overtime.
"This time a year ago, our football team was sitting exactly in the same position," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "That football team had a small group of seniors, but those seniors played their best football the last six or seven weeks of the season, ended up winning five of the last seven, and finished on a positive note.
"It's important that our goals ... we have not played one team in the East Division, yet. So all their hopes and dreams and goals are out there."
Under first-year head coach Ellis Johnson, Southern Miss has not enjoyed nowhere the same type of success as last year when the Golden Eagles finished 12-2. Strength of schedule is a major reason their win column is stuck at zero. Non-conference losses included at Nebraska (49-20), at Western Kentucky (42-17), and home against Louisville (21-17) and Boise State (40-14).
Who: Marshall (2-4)
What: Conference-USA game
When: 6 p.m. today
Where: Carlisle-Faulkner Field (Hattiesburg, Miss.)
Losing quarterback Austin Davis to graduation also left a huge void for the Golden Eagles. Last year, Davis threw for 3,496 yards and 30 touchdowns, while adding 352 yards and four TDs on the ground.
After rotating a trio of players at that same position this year, Southern Miss has finally settled on freshman quarterback Anthony Alford as its full-time starter. Against UCF, Alford threw for 165 yards and rushed for 71 while scoring two touchdowns.
Desmond Johnson leads Southern Miss ballcarriers with 410 yards on 70 carries, while Alford (66-234) is the team's top scorer with five touchdowns. Topping the charts in the receiving department is Dominique Sullivan with 173 yards on 12 catches.
"You are seeing the same Southern Miss team from a year ago athletically minus that quarterback who was a four-year starter and made a lot of plays for them," Holliday said. "Like our freshman (Rakeem Cato) a year ago, he got better as the year went on and the more he played. I think Alford took a step in the UCF game."
Continuing to spearhead the Marshall offense is Cato, who ranks first among NCAA Division I quarterbacks in completions (218) and passing yards (2,311) and fifth in touchdown passes (18). The sophomore need just 20 completions, 341 yards through the air and two touchdown completions to crack the school's top 10 all-time in those respective categories.
Sophomore wide receiver Tommy Shuler ranks second in nationally in receptions (58).
"Marshall is not extremely multiple, but they hide what they do extremely well," coach Johnson said. "Pre-snap, they do a great job of moving late and have just enough time to change up. They run really well and are very capable of being destructive."
Southern Miss holds a 5-2 edge in the series between the two schools. Last year in Huntington, Marshall rallied from a 14-point deficit to win 26-20.
Saturday's game will be broadcast by CBS College Sports with Dave Ryan, Steve Beuerlein and Evan Washburn calling the action.