Oct. 5 NCAA Football Picks and Preview — Marshall (2-2) at Middle Tennessee State (1-3)

(Asher O’Hara photo courtesy Jeffrey Becker/USA TODAY Sports)

This is the full preview(s) as seen on the Winners and Whiners and Stat Salt websites. The confidence rating for all picks on a scale from 1 to 5 is in parentheses.

Note: The 5/5 does NOT represent the best overall pick of the day’s games when there are multiple games, simply the best pick(s) from each individual game.

When and Where: Saturday, Oct. 5, Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 3:30 p.m. EDT.

After playing one of the more demanding non-conference schedules in the country, Middle Tennessee State hopes the lessons learned can be applied to Saturday’s Conference USA opener versus Marshall.

Herd seek bounce-back win after thrashing by Cincy

Marshall (2-2, 0-0 C-USA East) is trying to regroup from its worst loss of the season, a 52-14 debacle at home versus Cincinnati last Saturday. The Thundering Herd gave up touchdowns on the Bearcats’ first two possessions, and the offensive never got in gear until it was well too late.

Marshall was forced to punt on eight of its first nine possessions and had only five first downs in the first three quarters. The Herd also gave up more than twice as many yards (525) as yards gained (256).

“We lost as a team,” Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green told the school’s official website. “We’ve got to move on … If we want to achieve our goal of winning a championship, we have to focus on getting better from right now to December.”

Green completed just 11 of 29 passes for 131 yards in the loss and has been the bellwether of Marshall’s performances. He has thrown for 444 yards and six touchdowns in the Herd’s two victories while completing 62.5 percent of his passes but only 187 yards with no scores and 45.7 completion percentage in their two defeats.

Getting a running game that has averaged 206.5 yards on the season going again would be a big help. Brenden Knox has a team-high 296 yards but was limited to 49 by Cincinnati as almost a third of the Herd’s 125 rushing yards came on wide receiver Willie Johnson‘s 40-yard end around for a touchdown.

Marshall, which has won six or more conference games in four of Doc Holliday’s last six seasons, have split six meetings with Middle Tennessee since becoming C-USA rivals.

Blue Raiders look to start conference play on positive note

Middle Tennessee State (1-3, 0-0 East) went through a challenging non-conference schedule that included lopsided road losses to nationally ranked Big Ten foes Michigan and Iowa as well as a home defeat to a Duke team that suffered its only loss to Alabama.

Little went right for the Blue Raiders last Saturday in their 48-3 defeat at then-No. 14 Iowa, which finished with more rushing yards (351) than Middle Tennessee had total yards (216). But coach Rick Stockstill was able to take some positives from the rough start and is optimistic those losses will pay dividends in conference play.

“We’re excited about getting started in that,” Stockstill said at his weekly availability. “Conference play is always an exciting time. Three of these first four, especially, have been a top 10 team, a top 15 team, a top 25 team. We’ve played a gauntlet of out-of-conference guys.

“We know we have a tough challenge ahead of us, and we’re ready for it.”

Last week was the first time quarterback Asher O’Hara failed to move the Blue Raiders consistently as he finished 15 of 22 for 110 yards. The dual-threat sophomore has completed 70.3 percent of his passes for 895 yards and eight touchdowns while adding another 235 yards and a TD on the ground.

Sixteen different players have caught a pass for Middle Tennessee, but O’Hara’s top two targets are Jarrin Pierce and Ty Lee, who have combined for 30 catches, 322 yards and three touchdowns. CJ Windham is his favorite red zone target, with six of the junior’s 15 catches resulting in touchdowns since the start of last season.

The Blue Raiders must find a way to tighten defensively against the run to have any sort of success. They have yielded at least 207 rushing yards in all four games and their 254.3 yards allowed per game is fourth-worst among FBS teams.

“Marshall, this game is always big,” redshirt senior safety Jovante Moffatt said. “You look at the games, and they’ve always been close. … I told [our team] to just be ready to bring your hats, because this is a big conference game for us.”

Notable Trends

Middle Tennessee is:

  • 16-5 ATS in its last 21 games after scoring 20 or fewer points in the previous game.
  • 4-1 ATS in its last five conference games.

Marshall is:

  • 2-6 ATS in its last eight games.
  • 1-6 ATS in its last seven games after allowing 450 or more yards in the previous game.
  • 1-5 ATS in its last six record games vs. teams with a sub-.500 home record.

*****5-Star Pick*****

OVER 26.5 points first half (-110)

****4-Star Pick****

OVER 53.5 points (-110)

Despite the flat touchdown total, the over is the play here as it has been trending with both teams. It is 6-1 in Marshall’s last seven games and 5-0-1 in Middle Tennessee’s last six. The over has also played well on the road and in conference play for the Herd, going 5-1 in the former and 5-2 in the latter.

The Blue Raiders have also shown a tendency to bounce back offensively after big losses, contributing to the over going 4-0-1 in their last five after losses of 20 or more points and 6-1 in the last seven after yielding 450 or more yards.

This line has come down 2.5 points as kickoff has drawn closer during the week, making the over an ever better play.

***3-Star Picks***

Middle Tennessee +4 (-110)

There is something to be said for playing the type of non-conference schedule Middle Tennessee State did, but at what price? History shows it has served the Blue Raiders well, finishing .500 or better in conference play each of the last four years, but their porous run defense makes it difficult to be aggressive taking these home ‘dogs.

Marshall has been hit and miss offensively with Green under center, though Knox is a sturdy runner. If the Thundering Herd can get their running game going, everything could turn out all right, but the belief is the Blue Raiders will finally show their true level of play in this game and at the very least keep it within one possession.

Middle Tennessee OVER 24.5 points (-110)

The feeling is the Blue Raiders will finally get on track offensively behind O’Hara, who has had his teething pains in his first season under center. Marshall’s defense has been exposed against the run in recent weeks and also has had trouble getting off the field, two things that could bode well for Middle Tennessee.

Middle Tennessee +2.5 first half (-110)

The Herd are a bit of a puzzle — they played Boise State to a 7-7 deadlock in their lone true road game but were run out of their own stadium last week by Cincinnati in falling behind 28-0. Middle Tennessee has given up 82 first-half points in its three games versus FBS teams, but that is tempered by who the Blue Raiders have played in those three games.

It goes against the grain, but the feeling is the home team raises its play in this one as Middle Tennessee keeps it close.

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