By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
One team has the league’s top rushing attack. The other has the No. 1 overall offense, thanks in part to a ground game that is much improved from last year.
Good thing Rice Stadium has FieldTurf. Natural grass on the first weekend of December might not hold up under this kind of wear and tear.
Sans its lapse at Middle Tennessee State in October, Marshall’s defense has also been much improved. But the Thundering Herd will face another challenge from Rice and its vaunted offense at noon Saturday in the Conference USA championship at noon. The game will be aired on ESPN2.
Rice leads C-USA in rushing, averaging 240.3 yards per game. As would be expected, the Owls also have the top rusher in the conference. That would be Charles Ross, who checks in at 114.3 yards and has scored 12 touchdowns, also a league best.
But senior quarterback Taylor McHargue is also a threat in the run game. He has 437 yards on the ground.
"He's a big guy that is extremely physical,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “If we can't stop the run then we have no chance. It’s going to come down to that again.
“Ross and McHargue both have the ability to run the ball. That’s the reason they are leading the conference in rushing is because of the people they have up front and those guys with the ball in their hands are good.”
McHargue can also throw the ball, so defenses have to stay honest. He has completed 153 of 193 passes for 2,070 yards and 16 touchdowns. He also has been picked off eight times.
Last year, Marshall beat the Owls 54-51 in double overtime despite a career day from McHargue, who ran for 153 yards and a touchdown, while also throwing for 314 yards and three scores.
“If you go back to last year, (McHargue) ran through us and around us,” Holliday said. “Of course, we are a different defense than we were a year ago. We couldn't stop anybody a year ago.
“We have great respect for him because he is a very talented individual. When you talk about Rice's offense it starts with McHargue. He makes them go and does a great job at doing it.”
The Herd, meanwhile, is second in the league in rushing at 219.9. Holliday and his staff have made a concentrated effort to be a more balanced offense.
“We’ve been able to do that this year. We're a much better offense than we were a year ago because we’ve been more balanced and been able to run the ball as much as we throw it,” Holliday said. “Hopefully, we can get that done again on Saturday because whenever we've been able to run the football, there’s no doubt that we are a better football team overall.”
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