HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Conference USA's East Division could become a free-for-all if Marshall can take care of business against preseason favorite UCF tonight at home.
Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Following last week's 59-24 at Southern Miss, Marshall improved to 2-1 against conference opponents and 3-4 overall. UCF (5-2, 3-0 C-USA East) is seeking to become bowl eligible for the fifth time in eight seasons.
Sandwiched in between the Thundering Herd and Knights in the division standings is East Carolina (5-3, 4-1), which takes a week off from conference play while playing host to Navy today.
"It's a big game as far as Marshall having only one loss in conference, so we have to stay one game ahead," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "I think we're at a stage where we got to control our own destiny."
UCF relies on its defense to dictate the tempo of the game. The Knights are ranked first in C-USA in total defense (352.9 yards per game) and scoring defense (22 points per game).
"They are very physical and play extremely hard," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "Hopefully, we'll be able to balance things out."
Tonight's game will be strength vs. strength. Nationally, Marshall's offense ranks second in passing offense (390 yards per game), fourth in total offense (568.4 ypg) and eighth in scoring offense (43.1 ppg).
"With their no-huddle, some people call it NASCAR; I call it fastball and that's what they are going to do," O'Leary said. "What I look at is defense versus the score. Their opponents are getting 450 yards a game, too."
Last year in Orlando, Fla., the Knights defeated the Thundering Herd for the seventh straight meeting after pulling out a 16-6 win in a torrential downpour. UCF running back Brynn Harvey rushed for 180 yards despite having to battle seven inches of rainfall. This year, the senior has seen a limited number of carries (38-151, 1 TD).
Sophomore Storm Johnson leads the Knights with 416 yards rushing. His four TDs rank second behind backfield mate Latavius Murray, who has gained 382 yards on the ground with five TDs.
C-USA named Murray its Offensive Player of the Week after he gained 192 yards and scored twice in a 35-17 win at Memphis. The senior received the start for the first time since suffering an ankle injury in the season-opener at Akron.
First-year starting quarterback Blake Bortles' numbers include 1,598 yards and 12 TDs on 144-of-217 passing.
"We have to stop the run - if you stop the run then you have a chance to win any game you're in," Holliday said. "I thought our defense played well in that Southern Miss game. They stopped the run and created turnovers.
"This week is going to be different. There is no secret to what UCF is going to do when they come in here. They are going to run the football. They are going to line up and run power football right at you."
Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato continued his ascent up the record books in terms of the school's all-time passers. After completing 31-of-42 passes for 340 yards and one TD against Southern Miss, the sophomore entered the top 10 for career pass completions (431) and touchdowns passes (36).
In last year's loss at UCF, Cato completed just 11-of-29 attempts for 87 yards.
"Rakeem will never face adversity on the football field like he has faced in his life growing up - there's not an arena he will walk into that is going to intimidate him," Holliday said. "He's gown from that UCF game, and is so much more secure and confident.
"That game last year was part of the growing process."
Against Southern Miss, Marshall wide receiver Tommy Shuler finished with 111 yards on 11 catches and moved into a tie for 17th place on the school's single-season reception list with 69.
"The key to any fast break team is what I've said the whole season - three-and-outs," O'Leary said. "You got to get off the field and don't let them sustain drives."