Marshall has plenty on the line against UCF

The cure to what ails Marshall is probably not going against the top defense in Conference USA.

But the Herd have no choice at this point, and are hoping a home crowd and national television stage can provide them some momentum when they play UCF tonight at 8 p.m. on ESPN.

Marshall has plenty to play for in a season that has not exactly gone to plan under first-year coach Doc Holliday. At 1-4, this is a make-or-break game. A loss means the team would have to go 5-1 down the stretch to even be bowl eligible. But a win over one of the best teams in the East would go a long way toward restoring confidence that took a severe beating in a last-minute loss to West Virginia earlier this year.

The Herd have not appeared to be the same since that game. Their lone win came against Ohio, when the Bobcats failed to make a two-point conversion with no time left. In its two losses since the West Virginia game, Marshall has been outscored 85-44. That includes an embarrassing 41-16 loss to Southern Miss in which the Herd had more penalties (12) than first downs (11) and gained just 170 total yards.

Quarterback Brian Anderson was pulled after going 4-of-13 for 16 yards in the first half. Though A.J. Graham was better, he hurt his ankle and Anderson will start against the Knights.

Perhaps fans can take some measure of solace in knowing Anderson plays better at home. In two home games this season, he is 41-of-59 for 524 yards and six touchdowns with no interceptions.

But the bottom line is the Marshall offense has been mediocre, and the Herd have struggled to establish a running game. They rank No. 106 in the nation in total yards, averaging just 300 yards a game, and are 105 in rushing offense. A shaky quarterback and shaky run game have kept point production down, too, as Marshall ranks No. 100 in scoring offense, averaging 19.2 points a game.

“We spend a lot of time in that meeting room to find ways for our offense to be successful,” Holliday said. “We all know being one-dimensional is not one of those ways. Believe me, we are working extremely hard and spending a lot of time trying to find the best way to run the football. It comes down to blocking and we’ve got to do a better job of doing that.”

About the only highlight has been the play of Vinny Curry and Mario Harvey on defense. Curry leads the nation with eight sacks, 11.5 tackles for loss and two forced fumbles. Harvey leads the nation with an average of 13 tackles a game, and also has four sacks. Putting pressure on quarterbacks Jeffrey Godfrey and Rob Calabrese is going to be a huge goal.

Marshall has yet to beat UCF in Conference USA play, dating to 2005, and is still smarting from a 21-20 loss last season in which the Knights came back to win with 23 seconds left. The Herd has plenty to get them motivated.

“This game concerns me,” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “It’s a big game up there. There’s not a lot of love there, more so on Marshall’s part than our part. It will be an interesting game. I don’t think there will be a lot of handshakes. As I told our team, just take out the West Virginia film. That’s the kind of capabilities they have and I think that’s the effort that we’ll get.”