NO. 3 LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (3-0) At MARSHALL THUNDERING HERD (1-1)
Game Time: 8 p.m.
Location: Joan C. Edwards Stadium: Huntington, W.Va.
Television: CBS Sports Network
Announcers: Carter Blackburn (play-by-play), Aaron Taylor (analyst) and Jenny Dell (reporter)
Favorite: Louisville by 31
All-Time Series: Louisville leads, 16-12
Last Meeting: Marshall won 17-13 on Oct. 1, 2011 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium
Louisville Depth Chart:
Marshall has a long history of putting up huge offensive numbers and running up crazy scores on weeknights and in bowl games. This year has been no different as the Thundering Herd has started the season slinging the football all over the field on their way to putting up 50 points per game. Marshall likes to spread the field and get the ball out of the quarterback's hands quickly, but this year they have utilized their depth at wide receiver well and have been pushing the ball down the field more often. They have a big size advantage over Louisville out wide so it will be interesting to see if they try throw it up to their big receivers often.
Chase Litton is the Marshall quarterback who has been tasked with leading this talented skill group. Litton is a Florida kid that chose Marshall over USF and he's been very good for the Herd after taking over as the starter in game three last year as a true freshman. Litton threw for 23 touchdowns last year against 8 interceptions and he started out this year very well with an impressive game against Morgan State where he threw 6 touchdowns in 8 completions at one point. Litton didn't fare as well against Akron last week, throwing three picks, but he was accurate for most of the game and had a few fluke plays that led to turnovers. Litton has plenty of arm strength and puts great touch on his deep balls. What really stands out is his trust for his receivers. He thinks that his guys will go up and make a play for him and for the most part they do just that. Litton is rail thin and it's very obvious that he's not the type of guy that can handle a lot of hits. Louisville's zone blitzes have worked very well so far this year so I wouldn't be surprised to see Litton take a big hit on a coverage sack after a linebacker or linemen jumps into a passing lane.
(UPDATE: Litton is not expected to play tonight because of a concussion)
The Marshall running game is fairly non-existent, but that is pretty much the norm. The Herd like to split carries between Hyleck Foster and Keion Davis pretty evenly but neither running back has done much to impress this season. Davis is the bigger of the backs, but both have pretty good speed to get through an open hole and get a chunk run or two. I don't really expect Marshall to run the ball much and I don't think their running backs will be a big factor in the game.
The Herd really has a nice group of receivers that are all big and athletic and this group runs deep. Litton's favorite target is Michael Clark who is 6-7 and hadn't played football in five years before this season. Clark was a basketball player at Fordham and wasn't getting much playing time so he decided to transfer and give football another shot. Clark looks very natural as a receiver and he is a perfectly serviceable route-runner which surprised me. He is their obvious red zone choice and he has very good hands. Tight End, Ryan Yurachek is one of the better tight ends that Louisville will face this season. He can line up out wide and run most of the routes the receivers can but he's also a solid blocker and can be a security blanket for Litton. Josh Knight and Deon-Tay McManus are the other two receivers Louisville will see the most on Saturday with Justin Hunt being the veteran of the group who happens to be off to a slow start. Each of the receivers mentioned above are averaging over 17 yards per catch and it is very obvious that this Marshall offense wants to be vertical and use their size to create big plays.
The offensive line for Marshall has played pretty well over their first two games. Akron's blitzes gave them some issues at times but for the most part, they have given Litton enough time and they've cleared some good lanes for the running backs. I think that Todd Grantham will bring just as many, if not more, blitzes as usual as Litton is more or less a statue in the pocket so Marshall will likely try to get the ball out very quickly. This should make the line less of a factor, but Louisville has faced similar offenses and have had no problem getting pressure.
KEY PLAYERS: QB Chase Litton, WR Michael Clark, WR Josh Knight, TE Ryan Yurachek, WR Justin Hunt
Chuck Heater is not only a great football name but it is also the name of the very good defensive coordinator for Marshall. Heater was brought on at Marshall in 2013 and immediately cut the defenses yards per play allowed by nearly a full yard. Heater has also improved that number in each year he has been in charge. As a former Florida assistant, Heater has worked with great coaches and has a good track record but last week his defense gave up way too many big plays in the passing game. While the Marshall offense and special teams didn't help with turnovers and blocked punts, the defense had plenty of problems on their own. The Marshall defense will have the biggest challenge they've had in recent memory with the Louisville offense coming to town this weekend.
The Thundering Herd defensive line is a very athletic group that does a good job getting around the edges and pressuring the quarterback. Ryan Bee is a really good pass rusher off the edge at 260 pounds. He does a good job of using his length to keep blockers off of him so that they can't manhandle him. Bee had 8.5 tackles for loss last season and he's off to a good start this year with 3.5 in two games. The opposite side of the line is strong also with Gary Thompson, who led the team in TFLs last year and Ty Tyler, who leads the team this year, having plenty of pass rushing ability as well as athleticism in the run game.
The ends aren't the problem for Marshall so far. The tackles are a different story. Marshall likes to blitz and bring pressure from angles, but every defense in America needs something from the tackle spot and Marshall is one of many teams that just has guys that eat up blocks. Nyqual Harris and Tomell One are both newcomers to the line and so far they have not made many plays that will show up on the stat sheet. They are doing a good job of eating up blocks and making room for the linebackers and safeties on blitzes and outside run plays but they will have to do more to stop the Louisville ground attack.
Marshall has been in the nickel (like most teams) for most of the season as Morgan State and Akron both run spread offenses and rarely get into any power formations at all. With that being said, Marshall's linebackers haven't really been totally settled and I'm not sure if that isn't by design. The Herd rotate a lot of players in the front seven and which has led to their leading two tacklers playing the same position. Davon Durant is the team's leading tackler but he is listed as a second teamer to their second leading tackler, Chase Hancock. Both guys can run very well and do a good job playing downhill against the run as well as being good second level blitzers.
Devontre'a Tyler is the man in the middle who is tasked with not only stuffing the inside runs on zone reads and traditional run plays, but also helping to run down Lamar Jackson when he keeps the ball outside. If and when Damien Dozier is on the field it will be interesting to see how he plays the option. Dozier is a young player who will likely be thinking a lot while on the field. As weird as it may sound, thinking is the last thing you want a defensive player doing. Guys should be out there playing free and confident so that they can play fast. Marshall has the athletes to play fast and cause some problems for UofL. But, if they're not out there playing with confidence Lamar Jackson and Brandon Radcliff will be 20 yards down the field before they make up their mind on what they're supposed to be doing.
Marshall's secondary is a mixed bag of strong points and weak points. Corey Neely, Kendall Gant, and C.J. Reevis make up a very good group of safeties that can do everything you need from your back end. Neely is great at the line of scrimmage as a run supporter and short zone man. Gant is good as a deep safety. He can deliver a big hit and he can cover ground pretty well. Reevis is a good tackler in space and he's plenty good in run support. Neely will likely bee the man tasked with setting the edge against the run along with being the contain man on UofL's inverted veer runs. While all of these guys are good players that will be very good against the rest of Marshall's schedule, they will probably struggle to make the proper reads needed to seek out the outside runs that Louisville has killed defenses with. Where I think they will adjust from last week is in pass coverage with a safety providing some help to their cornerbacks. Louisville will likely look to film to see zero coverage with no safeties over top. Lamar Jackson could fall into a trap thinking that adjustment hasn't been made.
The cornerbacks for the Herd were exposed last week against Akron's receiving core. The Zips have one of the most productive receivers in the country and he used his size and strength to just overpower anyone Marshall threw at him. While the Cards don't have a guy that is a true "jumbo" receiver (Think Dez Bryant, Andre Johnson, etc.) They do have plenty of guys that can beat corners with size. Jamari Staples and Jaylen Smith should get plenty of targets this week down the sideline if Bobby Petrino decides to emulate what Akron did well. Akron also had a very small receiver do very well on the edges. Their 155-pound punt returner did well running guys off on comeback routes and found space against Marshall's man coverage. UofL doesn't use guys like Traveon Samuel on the outside, but James Quick and Jamari Staples both have the skills sets to kill with routes to the sticks. Marshall will have to adjust their scheme to give their corners help over top if they don't want a repeat of last week.
Excitement Level: 9.0
So long as Louisville remains unbeaten and ranked in the top five, the EL will not be dipping below a 9.0 in 2016. Having said that, this game has to be lower than last week and, assuming we win, next week. It also gets a couple deductions for Marshall's curb-stomping at the hands of Akron last week, and the report that quarterback Chase Litton won't be playing tonight.
Game Attire: Khaki shorts, red Cardinal t-shirt, dark grey U of L hat.
This figures to be a relatively tame game watch at home, so we're going back to the ensemble from Syracuse that brought us all so much joy.
Pregame Meal: Beer, homemade chicken wings
I've got a 2-year-olds birthday party to attend during the afternoon (shoutout to Cam Sinnard ... you did it, fam), but after that the plan is to head home, start drinking, fire up the grill, and football my head off for several hours.
Bold Prediction: Lamar Jackson throws for at least twice as many touchdowns as he runs for
We failed to hit two in a row last week, but I feel pretty confident about this one. Marshall's defensive scheme should allow Lamar to save his legs and rack up some big numbers through the air.
Cole Hikutini Touchdown Alert Level: Cerise (good)
As long as he gets the necessary reps, the alert level is optimistic.
Predicted Star of the Game: Lamar Jackson
Here's the deal: I will be selecting Lamar Jackson in this place every week going forward until he gives me a reason not to.
Motivational Opposition Tweets:
BIG TIME players make BIG TIME plays in BIG TIME games...that's been said often, but it's true. Embrace the lights, don't shy away #BeHerd— Graham Carter Hobbs (@CoachGC_Hobbs) September 24, 2016
I we beat Louisville, I'll burn down the football house #GoHerd— If we beat UofL... (@mubeatuofl) September 20, 2016
If we beat Louisville... I will drive to Louisville and shit in the student center #GoHerd— If we beat UofL... (@mubeatuofl) September 19, 2016
Opportunity of a lifetime... ⏳— ✨Garet_Morrell✨ (@GaretM) September 23, 2016
Game day! #BeatLouisville— Matthew Beardall (@beardallmatt) September 24, 2016
I love that we the underdogs. I like the fact nobody in America believe in us! Herdnation we got y'all !!!— Frankie Hernandez (@FrankNoLimit) September 22, 2016
Shock the world— Frankie Hernandez (@FrankNoLimit) September 19, 2016
Tonight's Gonna Be A Good Night, No Ceilings Woahhhh Woah— Quis Couch (@mc_4pound) September 24, 2016
--Louisville has lost its last four meetings with Marshall, a streak which includes the 1998 Motor City Bowl, the 2002 GMAC Bowl, and a 2011 home loss in Teddy Bridgewater's freshman season.
--Marshall quarterback Chase Litton will reportedly not play tonight because of a concussion.
--Louisville is 18-1 in its last 19 games against Conference USA opponents.
--Marshall is 2-18 all-time against teams ranked in the Associated Press Top 25, and is 0-14 in such games since 2004.
--Louisville leads the FBS in plays of 10 or more yards (54), plays of 20 or more yards (25), plays of 30 or more yards (12), and plays of 70 or more yards (2).
--Louisville is 32-2 over the last four seasons when attempting at least 35 rushes in a game. The only two losses came in 2014 at Clemson, and in the 2015 season-opener against Auburn.
--Louisville is 33-3 under Bobby Petrino when winning the turnover battle.
--Three of Louisville's 28 all-time shutout victories have come against Marshall.
--Marshall's 34 wins since the start of the 2013 season are the eighth-most of any team in the FBS.
--Marshall has won 21 of its last 23 home games.
--The combined scoring average of these two teams (Louisville 65 ppg, Marshall 50 ppg) will be the highest of any matchup in the FBS this weekend.
--Louisville is tied for the highest-ranked team (No. 3 West Virginia in 2007) that has ever played a road game at Marshall.
--Louisville has won 14 consecutive games when kicking off to begin the game, but has received to start all three games this season.
--Marshall is tied for fifth when it comes to Louisville's most played opponents all-time.
--Louisville is 33-1 under Bobby Petrino when favored to win by 14 points or more.
--Louisville running back Brandon Radcliff leads the nation in yards per carry (10.96 ypc).
--The Louisville defense leads the nation in sack yardage, and is tied for fifth in total sacks.
--Louisville is looking to start 4-0 for the first time since 2013, and for the fourth time under Bobby Petrino.
--Louisville is riding a three-game streak of scoring 60 points or more for the first time in program history.
--Louisville is 19-5 all-time in the month of September under Bobby Petrino.
--Lamar Jackson's 18 total touchdowns gives him more than 114 of the other 127 teams in the FBS.
--Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 202 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.
--Louisville is 172-9 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-101 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.
--"This is the chance you dream about from the time you were 2 or 3 years old playing ball in the backyard. It's the opportunity to play in a situation like this - the national stage - against the No. 3 team in America. You dream about those opportunities and you have to prepare for them when the time comes." --Marshall head coach Doc Holliday
--"The buzz is as good as any time I've seen it at Marshall. People are excited and looking forward to this game. And to be honest, I think they're excited to see Louisville and (Jackson). They don't think they're playing the (AP's) No. 3 team in the country; they think it's the No. 1 team. ... I'm not sure we've had a bigger game." --Marshall athletic director Mike Hamrick
--"Everything is just business as usual. We don't have that many games left, particularly our senior class. So we've got to go out and take advantage of every time we get to go out on the field and play." --Bobby Petrino
--"I'm not sure I've seen a better quarterback (than Lamar Jackson). Watch what he did against Florida State. Florida State's got guys who can run, and he runs away from them. I don't know if I've seen a guy who has taken over a game like that." --Marshall head coach Doc Holliday
--"Absolutely, the excitement has gone down, but we're still excited to go out there and play another game. We have to go out there and focus in and prepare for Marshall, so it's just going out there and working hard." --James Quick
--"We haven't reached our goal. We're not even close just three games into the season." --Bobby Petrino
--"What's scary is that everybody had the same information each week. Florida State had the information on the guy, just like we've got the information on the guy and they weren't able to slow him down, so that's the great challenge that you have." --Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck Heater
--"Starting 0-3 leaves a bad taste in your mouth and most of the guys came back feeling like we have something to prove. With us sticking together and the guys we have back, we feel like we can do great things." --Josh Harvey-Clemons
--"There's not a lot of times that you get to play against a team that's a top-10 team, a top-5 team that's as hot as ... what they are right now. So you should be excited about that opportunity. I know that I am (excited), and hopefully that rubs off on all our players that the coaches are and they will be equally as excited. I think they will be (excited) to see the stadium full. Hopefully, it's at least 90 percent green and white." --Marshall offensive coordinator Bill Legg
--"We're not where we want to be at all." --Drew Bailey
--"We expect to win every game we play, just like our fans do. We've got to the point around here, you lose a game and the world's coming to an end. That's OK. That's what expectations and standards [are about], that's where we are; there's nothing wrong with that." --Marshall head coach Doc Holliday
Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 56, Marshall 17
And then we can start talking about next week.