Huff sees a strong team in ECU

Navy fullback James Harris II right, is tackled by Marshall linebacker Abraham Beauplan during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Sep. 4, 2021, in Annapolis, Md. (AP Photo/Terrance Williams)

East Carolina has yet to win a game this season, but that doesn’t mean first-year Marshall football coach Charles Huff thinks the Pirates will be a pushover for his Thundering Herd.

ECU visits Huntington on Saturday coming off a narrow 20-17 loss to South Carolina and a less narrow 33-19 loss in its season-opener against Appalachian State. Still, despite the Pirates’ winless record coming into this week’s game in Huntington (6 p.m. CBS Sports Network), Huff said when he looks at the film he sees a very good team.

“They’re really good,” Huff said of East Carolina. “This will be the best team we’ve played thus far in the season — the best overall team.

“When you put on the film, there is nobody hiding. There’s no ‘Oh, here’s a weakness,’ or ‘Oh, here’s a size advantage,’ or ‘Oh, they have a good system but…,’ there’s none of that. This is a real football team.”

Marshall, of course, is off to an impressive start to the 2021 season. The Thundering Herd sits at 2-0 after two weeks and are ranked in the top 15 for scoring offense and scoring defense. The MU secondary ranks among the best in the country when it comes to limiting opposing teams in the passing game, but Huff pointed out that Navy and North Carolina Central didn’t really test the Herd in that regard. This week against East Carolina, Huff said he expects that to change.

“Our secondary has yet to be challenged,” Huff said. “I think this week they will be. Navy didn’t have the scheme to challenge the secondary, and N.C. Central had a different philosophy on how they were going to try to move the ball and eat the clock a bit. So this week is going to be a challenge, and I think those guys are ready.”

The Herd’s offense hasn’t been too shabby either. Marshall’s 414 passing yards per game ranks third in the country behind only Western Kentucky and Arkansas State, while running back Rasheen Ali is among the national scoring leaders with five touchdowns in two games.

ECU coach Mike Houston said he is well aware of how dangerous the Thundering Herd offense can be, and that his team will need to be at its best to slow down Marshall’s offense on Saturday.

“(Marshall has) a lot of explosive athletes,” Houston said. “The quarterback (Grant Wells), he’s a third-year kid. He came mid-year right when I was hired here. He was the newcomer of the year in the league last year and I’ve been really impressed by him.

“Coach Huff retained the OC (Tim Cramsey) and I think they’re playing very, very, very well right now. We’ve got to play good defensively, we’ve got to play well offensively, we’ve got to play well on special teams. We’ve just got to play a very complimentary game in order to get the win on Saturday.”

l l l

A few numbers worth noting from the Herd’s hot start to the season:

l Marshall’s 44-10 win against North Carolina Central and 49-7 win at Navy marked the first time the Thundering Herd has held opponents to 10 or fewer points in consecutive weeks since MU’s 1999 team. The 30-plus point wins in each of the first two games is the first time Marshall has done that since 2013.

l MU had 101 snaps on offense in last week’s win against NCCU. The last time Marshall snapped the ball 100 times without overtime was a 2012 game against former Conference USA rival Houston.

l Ali caught nine passes for 55 yards and a touchdown against NCCU. Only once has a Marshall running back caught more passes in a game — Ahmad Bradshaw had 10 against UCF in 2005.

l Marshall had 16 different players catch passes in last week’s win to set a new school record. The previous high for the Thundering Herd was 12 different pass catchers in 2012 against West Virginia. MU also set a new school record for first downs in a game with 39. The previous high was 37, accomplished three different times.

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