Conference USA Game of the Week: Showdown in Huntington


The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders travel to Huntington, West Virginia, this weekend to take on the undefeated Marshall Thundering Herd, in a showdown between Conference USA’s two best teams. This game will have major conference championship implications, and so Wave the Red Towel selected the matchup as its second installment of the “C-USA Game of the Week.”

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The Blue Raiders face a daunting task in attempting to escape Joan C. Edwards Stadium, or “the Joan,” with a victory. Since its opening in 1991, the Herd hold the record for the highest home winning percentage in the FBS (some school in Alabama that wears crimson ranks second). Not surprisingly, Marshall is a 21-point favorite in this game. Last week, Marshall throttled Old Dominion in a 56-14 rout, and will look to continue it’s home dominance against MTSU. However, the Blue Raiders knocked off the Herd last season, and with three conference victories already under their belt this season, will not be intimidated by a large Homecoming crowd. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at the matchup.

Thundering Herd Players to Watch:

  • Rakeem Cato – If you know one player on either team, chances are it’s Herd quarterback and C-USA Preseason Player of the Year Rakeem Cato. Cato enters the game with 1,361 passing yards, 12 touchdowns, and four interceptions. With a touchdown Saturday, Cato will tie Russell Wilson’s record of most games with consecutive passing touchdowns at 38.
  • Devon Johnson – Johnson is a converted tight end that leads the conference in rushing. You may want to pause a second and allow that statement to sink in. At 6’1″ and 243 pounds, Johnson possesses the size and skill to terrorize defenses. It’s uncommon for up-tempo offenses to feature powerful, bruising backs, which makes Marshall even harder to defend. Through five games, Johnson has rushed for 680 yards and eight touchdowns.
  • James Rouse – The defensive lineman gained a sixth year of eligibility by NCAA hardship waiver appeal after not playing two seasons due to injury. Rouse was voted team MVP last season, and entering this season was named the C-USA Preseason Defensive Player of the Year. He posted 39 tackles last year, including 14 for loss, and has followed up with 11 tackles so far this year (four for loss).

Blue Raider Players to Watch:

  • Austin Grammer – Grammer owns the highest completion rate in the conference, and has 1,551 passing yards and 7 touchdowns through the first half of the season. The dual-threat quarterback is in the midst of a breakout sophomore season, showing he can get it done in the air and on the ground. Against the Tops, Grammer rushed for 125 yards to go along with over 200 yards in the air.

Sep 26, 2014; Norfolk, VA, USA; Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders quarterback Austin Grammer (2) scrambles away from Old Dominion Monarchs defensive tackle Malik Gumbs (51) during the first quarter at Foreman Field. Mandatory Credit: Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

  • Reggie Whatley and Jordan Parker – The duo of Whatley and Parker has been a formidable 1-2 punch so far this year for the Blue Raiders’ running attack. Whatley leads the team in rushing with 403 yards and three touchdowns, while Parker has added 343 yards and 2 touchdowns. MTSU will use both, as well as Grammer, in its running game to keep the defense on its toes.

This game features two of the best quarterbacks in the conference and two balanced offenses, so you should expect a high-scoring shootout. When playing the Blue Raiders, teams must keep Grammer in the pocket and limit the damage he can do with his legs, meaning containment will be key in Marshall’s defensive gameplan. If Marshall can turn MTSU into a one-dimensional team, whether it be passing or rushing, the Herd will increase their chances of victory. On the other side of the football, the Blue Raiders must focus on one of the best quarterback-running back combinations in the country in Cato and Johnson. When facing great players, it is impossible to completely shut them down, and you can only hope to limit their success. The Blue Raiders need to be in damage-control mode, and hope they are still in the game with a chance to win in the fourth quarter. If they can do that, they might have a chance to escape Huntington with a rare victory.

So who wins and why? Both teams have established themselves as a notch above the rest of the conference so far this season, and should be fairly evenly matched. But Cato is a first-class quarterback, and has the ability to win games by himself. With all things being equal, experience wins games, and Marshall has a veteran group. Factor in a large Homecoming crowd and Marshall’s home dominance, and I have to give the edge to the Thundering Herd, although I don’t expect them to cover the 21-point spread. [ed. note – Fansided has a Marshall site, so for full gameday coverage, go checkout our pals at]

What are your thoughts on the game of the week? Do you have any predictions? We love interaction, so share your thoughts in the comment section below, or on Twitter at @WaveTheRedTowel, and be sure to catch the game Saturday on the Fox Sports Network at 11 a.m.