– By Bill Cornwell
HUNTINGTON, W.Virginia — Football coaches often remind their teams that a win in November is a sign of progress throughout the season.
Marshall has passed that test so far this month as the herd stringed together road wins in Old Dominion and Georgia Southern, with a home win over Appalachian State in between.
The Herd (7-4, 4-3) looks set to stay hot on Saturday as they wrap up the regular season by hosting a new Sun Belt Conference opponent in Georgia State (4-7, 3-4).
The game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium begins at 12pm and will be broadcast on ESPN+.
While Marshall won 23-10 at Georgia Southern last Saturday, the Panthers lost 42-40 to James Madison. The Dukes came from behind to take the win and keep Georgia State from a shot at bowl eligibility.
As in most games, Marshall’s strong defense has a statistical advantage over the opponent. MU’s defense is seventh in the nation in points allowed per game, 10th in total defense, sixth in rushing defense despite giving up 143 yards to Georgia Southern’s Jalen White last Saturday, and the 26th in the pass defense.
Georgia State is 102 points behind the herd in scoring defense and 72 points behind in overall defense.
Marshall head coach Charles Huff is hoping those numbers hold up so his team can play well enough to honor about 20 players on Senior Day.
“This is in recognition of a fine group that has done much for the program and community,” Huff said.
Huff is also pleased to see energetic running back Rasheen Ali’s return against the Panthers continue. Ali saw his first action of the year at Georgia Southern last week after suffering an injury in preseason training. He rushed for 79 yards with 16 carries. Ali led the nation with 25 in rushing touchdowns last season and amassed 1,401 yards on the ground as a redshirt freshman.
Ali’s team with senior Khalan Laborn, already a 1,300+ yard rusher this season, gives the Herd a strong rushing group, especially when factoring in quarterback Cam Fancher.
Huff says Ali’s return will be carefully managed.
“Rep splitting was our plan for this season from the start before he got injured,” Huff said. “Sharing the carries keeps them both fresh and also opens up the passing game.”
Shawn Elliott is in his sixth year as the Panthers head coach and has a 34-37 record at Atlanta. Elliott is familiar with the Marshall program, having played at Appalachian State against the Thundering Herd from 1991-1995, when both schools were members of the Southern Conference.
Marshall is gearing up for a high-profile offensive from the Panthers, led by redshirt senior quarterback Darren Grainger, who poses a threat arm and foot. Grainger had several big plays this season, including 343 yards and four touchdowns against Charlotte in September. In a recent loss to Louisiana-Monroe, Grainger threw for a season-high 349 yards.
As a double threat, he rushed for a career-high 143 yards in a conference win at Southern Miss earlier this month. Grainger is the team’s top rusher with 718 yards and six rushing scores. He has passed 17 touchdowns and 2,140 yards and seven interceptions.
Senior Tucker Gregg is the Panthers’ best running back. The program’s all-time leader in rushing yards and touchdowns has 684 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Redshirt junior Jaman Thrash is Georgia state’s number one pass catcher threat. He has 51 passes for 955 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Marshall awaits his bowl fate after this weekend, but Georgia State will miss a bowl this year for the first time since 2018. Still, Elliott says the frustration will motivate his team when they get to Huntington.
“We’re depressed,” Elliott said. “It’s really frustrating that we’re not playing in the postseason because we’re in the healthiest we’ve been in a few weeks.”