• Joe Broback

Why Marshall is the New Year's Six Dark Horse

It wasn't pretty. We'll at least acknowledge the fact that the Marshall Thundering Herd won a battle Saturday against Appalachian State. The win not only moved Marshall to a record of 2-0, but it put them on the map as a contender not only in Conference USA, but for the New Year's Six Bowl. With two impressive wins on their resume already, the Thundering Herd are showing they're a legit team. Saturday's win proved they have the tools to make a run, even in a tight game.

What do you need to win a big game? An established running game and a stingy defense are typically a good start. Throw in a little bit of luck, and you've found a potential winning formula. Taking down a team like Appalachian State requires sound football. The Mountaineers know a thing or two about winning big games, so intimidating them isn't an option. You have to take it to them for all four quarters. Marshall did a little of everything Saturday, starting with the reigning conference player of the year.

Marshall set the tone this weekend by getting running back Brenden Knox involved early. He led the Thundering Herd down the field for their first touchdown with a number of gashing runs, and that seemed to be the theme of the game for him. Knox ran the ball 28 times for 138 yards and a touchdown to lead the rushing attack, which helped Marshall pick up big yardage throughout the game. Appalachian State simply couldn't find a way to slow him down, which didn't help when their offense couldn't move the ball consistently.

Marshall's defense reminded everyone that they were just as much of a player in the Week 1 blowout of Eastern Kentucky as Grant Wells and the offense. The Thundering Herd defense through two games has produced the following:

- 265 total yards per game

- 2.8 yards per carry

- 7 points

- 11 quarterback hurries

- 5 sacks

- 7 tackles for loss

Linebacker Tavante Becket leads the charge with 24 tackles (1.5 for loss) for a defense that swarms the ball carrier. They held a Mountaineers team that averaged 231 yards rushing per game last year to just 96 Saturday, effectively limiting what the offense could do and giving the ball back to their own offense. Marshall knew they'd have a solid defense and an effective run game and, just like we expected, the pressure fell on Grant Wells.

Wells didn't have the best game, completing just 11 of his 25 passes for 163 yards with zero touchdowns and an interception, but he did happen to get lucky on one of them.

To say this was an ill-advised throw would be an understatement. Throwing into coverage with multiple defenders within feet of each other never makes the coaching staff happy, but it went Marshall's way. While there was plenty of stress involved in the throw, Wells brings something to the offense that this team didn't have before this year. Confidence in his arm. This will be a year where the coaches learn to live with the risk taking and just try to get him to take less of them or take lower risk chances. But if Marshall wants to be an NY6 team, they'll learn to live with it.

Look, no one's guaranteeing that the Thundering Herd will win Conference USA, but that's why they're the perfect dark horse. We know they can score (59 points in Week 1), and they proved they could beat a Group of 5 giant in Appalachian State. You don't always have to win pretty, which Marshall didn't, but you do have to win. Doc Holliday's team is just two games into the season, but they already have something special brewing. It's up to them just how special it will be.