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Marshall football: Herd on the edge for Knights

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Snapping a two-game skid? Sure, that was nice. Putting together the best overall performance of the year in a 59-24 thumping of Southern Mississippi? Of course it felt good.

The Marshall football team had every right to be sky high this week as it prepared for Saturday's Conference USA showdown with Central Florida. But that, the players said, wouldn't help them win the game.

They couldn't forget the pain of the season's first half - the struggles, the close losses, the mistakes and the 2-4 record.       

"We've just been telling everyone you have to still stay on edge," sixth-year guard John Bruhin said. "Last week, we were a little bit edgy coming off that loss to Tulsa. We feel like we could have beaten them. We just came to practice every day with a chip on our shoulder and that's what we have to do this week, come to work with kind of a bitter taste in our mouth, and not let this victory get us too hot."

The Thundering Herd (3-4, 2-1) has plenty of reasons to stay bitter as the Knights (5-2, 3-0) visit Joan C. Edwards Stadium for an 8 p.m. matchup (CBS Sports Network). Paramount among those reasons is that Marshall hasn't beaten UCF in seven straight tries, including last season's soggy 16-6 loss in Orlando.

The Herd fought both the Knights and the elements in 2011. Seven inches of rain that October day turned Bright House Networks Stadium into a swamp.

That, and a UCF defense that was ranked No. 1 in C-USA last season, held Marshall's offense to 130 total yards and no offensive touchdowns in a 16-6 UCF win.

"With them doing what they did to us last year, we feel like there's something we have to prove," defensive end Alex Bazzie said.

"We feel like, with everything being so tense right now and with them being undefeated in the conference, we have to prove to them we have talent as well, that we're not just a pushover."

This year, opponents haven't been able to catch Marshall's offense to push it anywhere.

The Herd is ranked No. 1 in C-USA in total offense (568.43 yards per game), passing offense (390 ypg) and scoring (43.14 points per game), which ranks Marshall fourth, second and eighth in those categories, respectively. Marshall seemed to be at the height of its powers against Southern Miss, reaching season highs in points and yards (629).

While the Herd has made a quantum leap in terms of offense, the Knights remain the class of the conference in defense. UCF leads C-USA in total defense (352.9 ypg), passing defense (200.9 ypg), scoring defense (22 points allowed per game) and pass efficiency defense (114.9 rating).

It will be strength versus strength Saturday in a game that, if Marshall wins, it climbs into the heart of the race for the East Division title. If UCF wins, the Knights can all but lock up the division in their final year in the conference.

The Herd would love to spoil UCF's final lap around Conference USA.

The team feels good after dominating the Golden Eagles last week. Yet the players know they can't let joy evolve into complacency. So they remind themselves that the season's picture wasn't always so rosy.

"We know what that sour feeling feels like," safety Okechukwu Okoroha said. "We have to keep it fresh in our heads. That Tulsa loss, that hurt. That Ohio loss ... close games like that we feel we shouldn't lose. That's what keeps that chip on our shoulder."

Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at derek.redd@dailymail.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.


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