Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm figures his team's best chance at ending No. 19 Marshall's perfect season will come from forcing Thundering Herd quarterback Rakeem Cato to throw.
Brohm doesn't want to risk allowing Marshall's running game to get untracked Friday. The Thundering Herd's Devon Johnson has 1,573 rushing yards, including 642 in his last three games, and Brohm said Johnson "really is the strength of the team."
"They're running the football more so we've got to find a way to stop the run," Brohm said. "I think that's the key — force them to throw the ball even though they have a really good quarterback."
That's just fine with Marshall.
Cato will try to extend his NCAA record of consecutive games with a TD pass to 44. The senior needs 103 yards to reach the 3,000-yard mark for the third time and is within 70 yards of Chad Pennington's school record of 13,143 career passing yards.
"I knew he had skills, but for me to think that Cato as a 150-pound freshman would come in and break every record Chad and Byron (Leftwich) had, you would have laughed at me," said Marshall coach Doc Holliday.
Cato will likely need a solid game to keep up with his Western Kentucky counterpart, Brandon Doughty, who needs 147 yards to become the Hilltoppers' first 4,000-yard passer. Doughty leads the Bowl Subdivision with 36 TD passes and will go up against a Marshall defense that hasn't allowed a scoring pass in 14 quarters.
"Without question he has exceeded all expectations," Brohm said. "He's put a lot of hard work into it so I think all the hard work has paid off."
Marshall (11-0, 7-0) will try to become the third Conference USA team to finish the regular season unbeaten when it meets the Hilltoppers (6-5, 3-4). The others were Tulane (1998) and Houston (2011).
Marshall and Florida State are the two remaining unbeaten teams in the FBS. Marshall needed a fourth-quarter defensive score to beat UAB 23-18 last week.
"If winning was easy, there would be a lot more people in this position than us and Florida State," Holliday said. "At some point, you have to grind them out."
Here's some other things to ponder when Western Kentucky and Marshall meet on Black Friday:
MARSHALL'S MOTIVATION: Marshall already has clinched a spot in the conference championship game on Dec. 6 and will try to secure a home-field berth against either Louisiana Tech or Rice, which play each other on Saturday.
TOP RBS: While Johnson has a chance to break the single-season Marshall record of 1,833 yards set by Chris Parker in 1995, Western Kentucky's Leon Allen is also having a season to remember. Allen had a conference-record 345 rushing yards against Army on Nov. 15. He has 1,253 yards and 11 rushing TDs this year.
WONDERFUL RETURNS: Both of Western Kentucky defensive back Wonderful Terry's interceptions this season have been returned for touchdowns.
BIG D: Marshall's defense has been the difference over the past two games. With UAB driving for the go-ahead score with time winding down, Jermaine Holmes tackled Jordan Howard for a loss on fourth-and-1 at the Marshall 10. A week earlier, Marshall limited Rice to 180 total yards.
COMFORTS OF HOME: Marshall will be going after its 14th consecutive win at home. "Playing on their home turf is really what I think gives them a lot of confidence," Brohm said. "We have to find a way to go up there, score some points, take them out of their game early on and see if we can pull off anything."