Marshall (3-0) at Akron (1-1) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: InfoCision Stadium (30,000) -- Akron, Ohio. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Marshall 2-0, Akron 1-0. Away Record: Marshall 1-0, Akron 0-1. Neutral Record: Marshall 0-0, Akron 0-0. Conference Record: Marshall 0-0, Akron 0-0. Series Record: Marshall leads, 8-4.
GAME NOTES: The Marshall Thundering Herd are off to a strong start in the 2014 season, and will look to keep their record unblemished as they hit the road to take on the Akron Zips in a non-conference matchup at InfoCision Stadium Saturday.
Marshall has already taken down two Mid-American Conference opponents this season. The Thundering Herd had no trouble defeating Ohio on Saturday, cruising to a 44-14 victory.
Akron began its season strong with a resounding win over FCS opponent Howard, 41-0. The Zips then battled a Penn State team fresh off a trip to Ireland, but were defeated by the Nittany Lions, 21-3. This past weekend, Akron had an open spot on the schedule, so the Zips will be trying to come back against Marshall with fresh legs.
The Herd leads the all-time series against Akron, 8-4. The first game played in this series dates back to 1974, but it's been 10 years since these programs have met on the field.
For the third week in a row, Marshall posted over 40 points in a game - this time with the 44-point outing against Ohio. In three games, Marshall has racked up 134 points and has held its three opponents to a combined 48. The overwhelming ability to score is spearheaded by quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has passed for 953 yards and nine touchdowns to just one interception already. In three games, Cato is averaging 317.7 passing ypg, which he shattered against Ohio with his 425-yard, four-touchdown effort.
Cato's ability also shines through to the run game, where he's posted 152 rushing yards and a pair of scores in three games. Otherwise, the ground attack is headed by Devon Johnson, who has 379 rushing yards and four touchdowns through three games (including 91 for a score against the Bobcats). Steward Butler led the Herd against Ohio with 119 rushing yards. As a unit, Marshall averages 286.7 rushing ypg.
One of the biggest questions for the Herd coming into the season surrounded Cato's targets at receiver, but it appears the questions have been answered thanks to the consistency of Tommy Shuler (11 receptions, 184 yards, 3 TD) and the big-play ability of Davonte Allen (13 receptions, 305 yards, 2 TD). Mostly led by Cato but with an occasional pass from Gunnar Holcombe thrown in, the Herd are averaging 333.7 passing ypg and a spectacular 620.3 offensive ypg.
With an offense that has been far and away better than anything opponents could counter, defense becomes sort of an afterthought. Marshall's strong defense has been cast in a bit of a shadow thanks to the offense, but will continue to dominate with strong play. The Herd are allowing opponents to score just 16 ppg through three contests, and are surrendering a mere 323.3 ypg. The unit has also held the opposition to a 28-percent success rate on third downs.
Defensive backs Tiquan Lang and Darryl Roberts are tied for the team lead with 22 tackles this season, while linebacker D.J. Hunter isn't too far behind with 16 stops and two tackles for loss. Roberts led the Herd against Ohio with 11 tackles, and added two pass breakups to his stat line. Taj Letman recorded Marshall's only interception in last weekend's win. Marshall's secondary will be something Akron may have a very hard time solving.
Akron started the year strong offensively with a 41-point showing against Howard, but the Zips let things slip against a superior Penn State team in the first weekend of September. Still, Akron is managing 395 combined ypg in those two contests, and has gained 41 total first downs. The Zips are led by starting quarterback Kyle Pohl, who has passed for 516 yards and four touchdowns to zero interceptions in two games. Against Penn State, although his team didn't manage a touchdown, Pohl completed 24-of-46 passes for 208 yards.
The running game was a mess against the Nittany Lions two weeks ago. Jawon Chisholm led the squad with 30 yards on the ground for a 4.3-yard average. As a unit, Akron is managing 91 rushing ypg for a 3.4 yards per rush average. Through two games, Pohl actually leads the team with 56 rushing yards.
Two receivers - Mykel Traylor-Bennett and L.T. Smith - have recorded over 100 receiving yards through Akron's first two matchups. Traylor-Bennett leads the team with 111 yards and two touchdown catches on seven receptions, while Smith has gained 101 yards (with a touchdown) on seven receptions as well. Zach D'Orazio leads the team with nine receptions through two games, and was the top target against Penn State.
Defensively, Akron has been relatively sound through two contests. It was the offense that couldn't get anything done against Penn State. The Zips have allowed 320.5 total ypg to two opponents, including a mere 193.5 passing ypg and a 10.5 ppg average. The shutout against Howard wasn't as impressive as it may sound, but allowing a Big Ten program to score 21 points can be considered a positive.
Linebacker C.J. Mizell leads the team with 13 tackles this season, and has a fumble recovery and a pass breakup through two games. Fellow linebacker Jatavious Brown is second on the team with 11 tackles, and has two tackles for loss. Defensive lineman Nordly Capri tops the squad with 2.5 tackles for loss, and as a team the Zips have notched 15 tackles for loss and five sacks through two games played.
Marshall is the complete package, and can suffocate teams on both sides of the ball. The Herd should have no issue going unbeaten in non-conference play this season.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 45, Akron 20Game Date and Time
Saturday, September 20, 2 p.m. (ET)