Five years ago Marshall and FIU met in a bowl game for the first time. The Thundering Herd defeated the Panthers 20-10 in the St. Petersburg Bowl. Saturday night at FIU Stadium there will be no bowl berth on the line for either of these 3-7 teams. Instead MU and FIU will be playing to see who can finish the 2016 season better with one more game to go for each team after Saturday. The Panthers are 3-3 in Conference USA play. The Herd is 2-4 in the conference.
Much like that first matchup between Marshall and FIU, Saturday's game could be a run-heavy contest for both sides. This season each team has an offense that relies on the run game setting up the pass. Marshall's running game and offensive line have struggled throughout the season. The Herd is 119th in the NCAA in rushing with just 113 yards on the ground per game. FIU is a little better at 101st in the nation in rushing with 143 yards per game. Marshall and FIU rushers could see daylight Saturday because each team's run defense allows nearly 200 yards per game. The Herd gives up 194 rushing yards per game. The Panthers allow 199.5 rushing yards per game.
Despite the run game struggles, Marshall scores 30 points per game and a big reason has been the play of quarterback Chase Litton, who has thrown for 2,311 yards and 22 touchdowns. But if FIU can shut down any kind of Herd running game, the Panthers can go after Litton. However, getting pressure on the quarterback has been a task for FIU this season. The Panthers have just 14 sacks in 2016.
It will be a game-time decision has to who gets the start under center for FIU. Alex McGough is working his way back from injury and could play. Maurice Alexander, who started last game at Western Kentucky, showed what he can do with his legs leading FIU in rushing with 62 yards and a touchdown. But you don't want your quarterback being your leading rusher. Alexander was 14 of 23 for 129 yards and two interceptions against the Hilltoppers. FIU has to establish the run no matter who starts at quarterback.
FIU will look to get running back Alex Gardner going again. Since opponents started stacking the box, Gardner has not reached the century mark in rushing in the last four games. Charlotte, Louisiana Tech, Middle Tennessee and WKU all held Gardner under 100 rushing yards. Gardner (2,100 yards) enters Saturday's game 96 rushing yards away from the career FIU rushing record held by Rashod Smith (2,195 yards).
The city of neon lights thinks Marshall is one number less than T.Y. Hilton's FIU jersey number better than FIU. The Panthers have never beaten the Herd in four games. Weather will be chamber of commerce type with 72 degrees and just a five percent chance of rain at the 7 p.m. kickoff. Which might be the complete opposite next Saturday in Norfolk, Virginia for FIU's season finale against Old Dominion.