HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- The University of Tulsa football team's calling card against Marshall the past two seasons -- a pulverizing running game -- hasn't been at the level this season that it has in the past few.
Still, no one on the Thundering Herd defense will overlook the Golden Hurricane's running backs when the two teams face off in Tulsa at 7:30 p.m. Thursday (Fox Sports 1).
No one can afford to, with a pair of all-time top 10 running backs on the roster. TU not only can throw Trey Watts, third on Tulsa's career rushing list, at the Herd, but it can run Ja'Terian Douglas, No. 8 on the same list, at the Herd as well.
Both have had their standout performances against Marshall. In 2011, Douglas rushed for 194 yards on 10 carries. In 2012, Watts rushed for 111 yards and also scored on a 95-yard kickoff return.
So it helped Marshall (6-3, 4-1 Conference USA) last week to face and beat another C-USA opponent focused on establishing the run, The University of Alabama at Birmingham.
"I think it's a good foundation and a good way for us to get a little basis in what we want to do this week," Rouse said. "It's about being as physical as we can, starting out fast. We need to get to a good, fast start like we did against UAB."
The Blazers ran 56 times for 288 yards. That wasn't a superb game, defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said, but it was better than the 308 yard Middle Tennessee gained two games ago.
"We handled it Saturday better than we did at Middle Tennessee, but we're still not quite where we need to be," Heater said. "There were a number of big plays. We're still not where we need to be against a hard-nosed smash football team."
Watts has been the focus of Tulsa's (2-7, 1-4 C-USA) offense and rewarded TU coaches' faith with his performance. He has four games with at least 100 yards and leads the Golden Hurricane with 857 yards and six touchdowns. But it's Watts' versatility that keeps him dangerous, even when Tulsa is just 10th in C-USA in rushing offense (158.1 yards per game).
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday called Watts someone who "may be the best player in the league." Heater said he must be accounted for both as a runner and a receiver who has a team-high 41 catches for 370 yards and a receiving touchdown.
"He's their leading receiver, which is unusual for a running back," Heater said. "They create a lot of opportunities for him to match up in coverage and run the ball as well. He's a good player. They utilize him a little like Reggie Bush. He's not quite that kind of guy in space, but they utilize him some that way."
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REDSHIRT FRESHMAN quarterback Dane Evans will get his third start of the season versus the Herd. His start against East Carolina was a shaky one, completing just 14-of-33 passes for 142 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in a 58-24 loss.