HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Marshall University football is no stranger to having its backs against the wall.
For the second straight season, the Thundering Herd are faced with the task of having to win their final two games of the regular season in order to become bowl eligible.
Last year, they managed to defeat Memphis and East Carolina to earn a trip to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
On Saturday in its final home game of the 2012 campaign, Marshall (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) tries to ruin any bowl plans (Houston 4-6, 3-3) might have in the offing. Kickoff is set for noon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
"Our kids understand what is at stake," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. "Last year against Memphis, we found a way to win and this is what this team has to do."
Marshall is coming off a disappointing 38-31 loss at UAB -a game in which the Thundering Herd fell behind 31-7.
Since winning four of five games, Houston has dropped two straight - including last week's 41-7 defeat to Tulsa at home.
"For the seniors who have been here, to send them out with that 13th game is at the forefront of our minds and is our top priority," Houston coach Tony Levine said.
Both offenses figure to have a field day since the opposing defenses rank in the bottom 10 in the country in points allowed per game.
"Marshall is extremely explosive on offense," Levine continued. "They're up-tempo, no huddle and throw the ball all over the field. They've got a group of talented receivers and running backs who run the ball more than people give them credit for."
Despite throwing for only 216 yards against Tulsa, Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato set a school record for completions in one season with 343 - breaking the old mark of 340 established by Tony Petersen in 1987.
His counterpart, Houston's David Piland, has thrown for 2,927 yards and 16 touchdowns. On the downside, Piland also has been picked off 12 times.
"They've lost a lot of players from last year, but if you look at them now they still have a lot of athletes running around on both sides of the ball," Holliday said. "Piland is a guy that played for them prior to Case Keenum. He has a lot of experience and can throw the football."
When Houston's ground game is in rhythm, the more likely the Cougars will win. They are unbeaten at 6-0 when running back Charles Sims rushes for more than 100 yards. Sims, however, did not play last week and is doubtful for the Marshall game.
Another casualty as Houston prepares for the Thundering Herd is cornerback D.J. Hayden, who suffered a near fatal injury after colliding with a teammate during practice. The injury required immediate surgery, forcing Hayden to miss the rest of the season.
Hayden was leading the league with four interceptions, including two which resulted in touchdowns.
"We are going on the road with our backs against the wall, trying to win a football game and with a lack of leadership," Levine said. "We're going to have to create that. We've got to push that aside, the lack of possibly Charles Sims, Jacolby Ashworth and D.J. Hayden who are three of our four captains."
Houston leads the all-time series, 2-1. Last year in Houston, Keenum threw for 376 yards and six touchdowns as the Cougars defeated Marshall, 63-28.