Saturday, 12:00, ESPN2
What they do well
Offensively, Marshall excels at turning drives into points, averaging 3.14 points per possession. They rank 22nd nationally in our effective points per possession metric even after an adjustment for competition. The Herd gets good field position, moves the ball well, and most importantly makes their red zone trips count, averaging 5.74 points per RZ trip (Baylor averages only 5.36).
Defensively, the Thundering Herd does a good job in limiting points per possession, at just 1.38. They do an alright job of getting turnovers, doing so on 14% of defensive drives. Combined with a knack for forcing turnovers on downs in the red zone, Marshall's defense manages decent enough results despite lackluster results on a per-play basis.
The Rice offense may not have much to write home about, but they have been remarkable at capitalizing on scoring opportunities. Of the top 10 college offenses in points per red zone trip, Rice is the only one without a particularly good offense. An otherwise pedestrian offense has been good in the RZ thanks to 6-5 WR Jordan Taylor and his 7 TDs.
Defensively, the Owls get off the field quickly, ranking in the top 25 in fewest plays allowed per drive and TOP allowed.
What they don't do well
Marshall's offense, by design, doesn't really play the clock control game. Despite a very productive offense that moves the ball well, they rank just 112th with 119 seconds per possession. The Herd is also a bit gunshy with kicking field goals, having attempted just 14 this season with only 64% success. They've even missed 3 PATs this season. If the game comes down to a single play, they'd rather it come down to the QB's arm than the kicker's leg. Defensively, they also lose the time of possession battle; their opponents average 148 seconds per possession.
For Rice, everything about the offense outside of the red zone scoring screams mediocrity. Perhaps mediocrity is kind, with meager totals all across the board. Defensively, it's more of the same.
EPA+ MatchupMarshall run O (.06) vs. Rice run D (-.00)
Marshall pass O (.22) vs. Rice pass D (-.05)
Rice run O (.02) vs. Marshall run D (-.02)
Rice pass O (-.09) vs. Marshall pass D (-.06)
The biggest mismatch seems to be when Marshall passes the ball, which is terrible news for Rice, because Marshall is content to throw all day long. Marshall's pass defense could be a liability, but Rice doesn't seem poised to take advantage of that.
To me, this one seems pretty obvious - I'm taking Marshall. Rakeem Cato against the Rice pass defense alone is reason enough for the Herd to cruise to their first Conference USA title. I don't expect a particularly close game. Rice does some things nicely, but Marshall is the better team thanks to a superb offense.
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