Very little has come easy this season for Marshall, but it’s been even more difficult to pin an L on the Thundering Herd. That is why this week’s game between Marshall (4-0) and host North Carolina State (3-2) is so intriguing.
Marshall already has a Power Five win under its belt, having defeated Virginia Tech 24-17 at home. While Virginia Tech is far from a world-beater, the 2-3 Hokies just defeated Pitt 38-21. Pitt is just 1-4 but has been semi-competitive in its losses to Virginia Tech, North Carolina, West Virginia, and Cincinnati.
Anyway, Marshall isn’t giving back the win over Virginia Tech and any victory for a G5 school over an ACC opponent shouldn’t be taken for granted.
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And speaking of ACC opponents, now the Thundering Herd visits North Carolina State at 2 p.m. ET on Saturday. That’s an NC State team that is coming off a 13-10 home loss to No. 25 Louisville.
NC State’s other loss was 45-24 at home to No. 10 Notre Dame. By the way, that is the same Notre Dame team that Marshall beat 26-21 last year in South Bend.
We get it that Notre Dame is a different and likely a better team this season, but the Fighting Irish did go 9-4 last year and that was a significant win for Marshall.
Now the Thundering Herd has a chance for two P5 wins over AAC foes.
One thing about Marshall this season that has become readily apparent – the Thundering Herd is usually involved in competitive games, regardless of the opponent. Take for instance this season’s opener, a 21-17 home win over FCS UAlbany.
Marshall trailed 17-7 late in the third quarter before receiving touchdown runs of 13 and 30 yards by Rasheen Ali. UAlbany (3-2) is no pushover, having just knocked Villanova out of the national rankings with a 31-10 home win.
Still, Marshall wouldn’t have scheduled an FCS opponent if the Thundering Herd didn’t think they would win kind of convincingly.
Even Marshall’s second game, a 31-13 win at East Carolina, was closer than the final score indicated. Marshall trailed 13-10 entering the fourth quarter before outscoring the Pirates 21-0 in the final period.
Then came the aforementioned win over Virginia Tech, where the Hokies cut the deficit to 24-17 on a TD with 7:14 left. There were late-game heroics as Virginia Tech faced a 4th-and-1 from the Marshall 31. The Hokies were then called for a false start and on a 4th-and-6 from the 36, threw an incomplete pass.
Then came last week’s wild 41-35 win over visiting Old Dominion in Marshall’s Sun Belt opener. The Thundering Herd trailed 21-3 early in the second quarter before storming back.
Adding to the intrigue of Saturday’s game will be the fact that NC State has never lost to Marshall. The Wolfpack are 5-0. Ironically, the last two scores have been 37-20, with the most recent win coming in 2018 at Marshall.
NC State has actually had more impressive losses than wins this year. The Wolfpack have beaten FCS VMI, along with UConn and Virginia, three teams with a combined 2-12 record, with both wins earned by VMI.
Still, this will be the toughest test to date for Marshall.
While NC State is fifth in the ACC in scoring defense, allowing 20 points per game, the Wolfpack is just 11th in scoring offense, averaging 25.4 points. NC State quarterback Brennan Armstrong, a graduate transfer from Virginia, has gotten off to a not-so-great start and has been benched. He has completed 58.8% of his passes for 971 yards, five touchdowns, and six interceptions. Against Louisville, he was 13 for 25 for 112 yards, no touchdowns, and two interceptions.
The quarterback spot is where this game will likely be won. Marshall redshirt sophomore Cam Fancher has completed 70.4% of his passes for 890 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions.
Fancher is coming off his best game in the win over ODU. He completed 29 of 35 (82.9%) for 278 yards, two touchdowns and one INT. Fancher also rushed for 102 yards on 15 carries.
The other key will be Ali, the junior running back, who has scored multiple touchdowns in each of Marshall’s four games. He has rushed for 475 yards (5.2 avg.) and nine touchdowns.
NC State is a 6-point favorite, according to BetMGM’s college football odds, but Marshall, under coach Charles Huff, has reveled being in the underdog role.
NC State’s next three games are against No. 17 Duke, Clemson, and No. 19 Miami, so there will be urgency to earn a W before facing this difficult trio.
Marshall would like to play spoiler and earn momentum before finishing up its unforgiving Sun Belt schedule.