HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — The season is a long way from being over, but Saturday’s game between the East Carolina Pirates and Marshall Thundering Herd could make it longer or shorter.
The winner of the Conference USA game East Division co-leaders could go a long way toward claiming the division title and playing for the conference title.
If the past is any indication of what will follow the noon kickoff this year, Saturday’s game should be a classic.
Marshall lost to 19-16 in overtime last season at East Carolina. The Herd scored late to tie the game but could have avoided not only overtime but a loss as well when Craig Ratanamorn suffered the first missed extra point kick of his career that left Marshall behind 13-9.
Two years ago East Carolina came to Marshall a heavy favorite and left on the short end of a 26-7 score.
This year the Pirates are 2-2 and 1-0 in C-USA. They opened with a 29-24 win over Div. I-AA power Appalachian State before losing at West Virginia 35-20 and North Carolina 31-17. They kicked off conference play last week with a 19-14 win over Central Florida.
Marshall is 3-1 and 1-0 in the league after last week’s 27-16 win at Memphis. East Carolina coach Skip Holtz said the Herd’s good start has had a positive effect.
“When I look at this Marshall football team, they’re playing with an awful lot of confidence. I think they have some really special athletes on that team. I think coach (Mark) Snyder has done a great job building that program, especially when you consider where it was four years ago and where it is today,” said Holtz.
But Snyder knows there is a reason East Carolina is the favorite not only on Saturday but to win the East Division as they defend their 2008 conference title.
“We’re 3-1 but we have the conference champs coming in here. The kids watch the film and it doesn’t lie. They know this is a good football team, so we won’t have any problems getting their attention this week,” said Snyder.
ECU is led by quarterback Patrick Pinkney who is 74-of-136 for 756 yards with four touchdowns and four interceptions.
The running game uses the tandem of Brandon Jackson with 206 yards and Dominque Lindsay with 133 yards.
“(Pinkney) has been there forever,” said Snyder. “He’s operating that offense very efficiently. He takes what the defense gives him. You take away this, he is going to go to that, or vise versa.”
Marshall counters with running back Darius Marshall who is third in the nation in rushing with 498 yards and five TDs. He had a career-high 203 yards last week against Memphis after getting 186 yards the previous week in a 17-10 win over Bowling Green.
Quarterback Brian Anderson is 63-of-106 for 629 yards and four scores. He has two interceptions.
The receiving corps features Cody Slate with 17 catches for 201 yards, Chuck Walker 13 for 124 and Antavious Wilson 10 for 155.
“I think that’s a very good offensive football team. They have the ability to control the ball and eat up time, yards and clock. I think their quarterback and wide receivers will continue to get better each and every week because you can see improvement from week one to today.”
While the offenses get the attention, the game cold come down to defense. Snyder is hoping the Herd can force the Pirates into some turnovers.
“It will be interesting to see this weekend. Maybe it will be a shootout, maybe it will change,” said Snyder.
Holtz doesn’t want the game to be decided by the Herd defense. From what he’s seen, it will be a problem for the Pirates’ offense.
“Their defense is very stout. It’s going to be another great challenge for us,” said Holtz.