Oct. 26, 2007
By Doug Smock
The Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette
Contrary to popular belief, 0-7 Marshall does get a break or two on the schedule.
No, this is not a disrespect to Rice, though the Owls (1-6 overall, 1-2 Conference USA) are underdogs for Saturday's game in Huntington.
With cross-divisional opponents rotating this year, Marshall avoids Tulane's Matt Forté, who suddenly is America's top rusher. Forté ran roughshod over Southern Methodist last weekend, gaining 342 yards on 38 carries with four touchdowns in the Green Wave's 41-34 overtime victory.
It was Forté's second 300-game of the year. A month ago, he rumbled for 303 yards against Southeastern Louisiana. On both occasions, he was named Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week.
For the season, he has rushed for 1,261 yards, averaging 180.1 per game. And he's doing it despite seeing eight or nine defenders "in the box."
"We're seeing a lot of eight- or nine-man fronts right now as a matter of fact," said Bob Toledo, coach of Tulane. "One of the things we try and do is scheme up some formations and runs to be able to block the eighth or ninth defender in the box. It's not easy, and sometimes, Matt has to be the guy that blocks. We say BYOB -- be your own blocker."
A few times on short yardage, Forté lined up at quarterback, with the real quarterback split outside to draw a defender away. "You can go out there with handcuffs on and somebody is going to cover you," Toledo said.
But Marshall (0-3 C-USA) and its young defensive line can't avoid everybody. It just yielded 152 yards to Southern Mississippi's Damion Fletcher, and faces the nation's No. 2 rusher in Kevin Smith of Central Florida 1,085 yards). Smith has enjoyed plenty of success against the Herd, rushing for 166 yards last year in Huntington.
The Herd also must face the league's No. 3 rusher, Anthony Alridge of Houston (859 yards), and No. 7 Chris Johnson of East Carolina.
Tulane (2-5, 1-2) broke an eight-game conference road losing streak and will try to knock off East Division contender Memphis (3-4, 2-1) on Saturday at the Louisiana Superdome.
Both divisions have marquee battles this weekend. In a late game Saturday night, Houston (4-3, 3-1) travels to Texas-El Paso (4-3, 2-1) for the West lead, and Southern Miss (4-3, 3-1) plays host to UCF (4-3, 2-1) in a pivotal East battle Sunday night. The loser of the latter game stands to sink to fourth place.
UCF recovered from its embarrassing 64-12 loss to South Florida by pasting Tulsa 44-23. The Knights pulled away in the second half, limiting Tulsa to 379 total yards and getting four touchdowns from Smith.
"I thought it was a game, probably the first game this season, where we played a complete game as far as offense and defense complementing each other and the kicking game," said UCF coach George O'Leary. "That was my speech to the players after the game."
Kyle Israel retained all the quarterback duties, completing 21-of-29 for 224 yards and a touchdown. The Knights intercepted Tulsa quarterback Paul Smith four times and held big-play receiver Brennan Marion to 25 yards on three catches.
Defending C-USA champ Houston is clicking offensively after rallying past Rice 56-48 and dusting UAB 49-10. But the Cougars will have to overcome a festive Sun Bowl Stadium atmosphere, plus the Miners' resurgent running game.
UTEP rusher Marcus Thomas leads the country in scoring, averaging 13 points per game. He is fourth in league rushing with 708 yards over six games.
Around the league:
UCF defensive end Bruce Miller was one of two defensive players of the week. The freshman had a career-high nine tackles and two sacks, plus he forced a fumble. The other top defender was safety Rocky Schwartz of Houston, who had two interceptions.
Memphis kicker Matt Reagan (three field goals) was the special teams honoree. Forte, needless to say, won offensive honors.
Memphis' Joseph Doss set a career high with 175 rushing yards against Rice. The Tigers had 538 total yards, the most since the 2005 Motor City Bowl against Akron -- the farewell of star runner DeAngelo Williams.
UAB safety Will Dunbar has stayed plenty busy in the Blazers' struggling season. He had his second 17-tackle game of the season against Houston.
Remember when East Carolina couldn't stop the run with a bazooka? The Pirates lost to North Carolina State 34-20 last weekend but held the Wolfpack to 49 rushing yards. They have played three Atlantic Coast foes and held all under 100 rushing yards -- Virginia Tech had 33 and North Carolina 79.
The East leads 5-4 in cross-divisional games.