No. 19 Marshall looks to keep rolling at winless FIU

Fresh off a fifth consecutive double-digit victory, No. 19 Marshall hits the road for the third time in four games when it takes on winless Florida International in Miami on Friday night.

The Thundering Herd (5-0, 3-0 Conference USA) got by Florida Atlantic 20-9 last weekend, holding an FBS foe to single digits for the second time this season. The Herd won 17-7 over visiting Appalachian State on Sept. 19.

“When a defense can hold a team to nine points, you’ve got a shot at winning,” coach Doc Holliday said. “We got to keep getting better. At the end of the day it’s a ‘W’. We’re happy where we are. We’re still right on track. The leadership on this team is as good as any team I’ve been a part of at Marshall or anywhere.”

Even with No. 1 receiver Broc Thompson sidelined with a foot injury, quarterback Grant Wells passed for 251 yards and two touchdowns and Brenden Knox posted his fourth consecutive triple-digit rushing game with 101 yards on 25 carries. Knox also had a 58-yard touchdown reception, taking a short pass in the flat to the house in the first quarter against FAU.

Holliday called it a “grind-it-out” victory.

“Defense played lights out again,” he said. “Just so pleased with our team to get that victory and go 5-and-0. We weren’t sure exactly what we were getting into. It was like a first game for us.”

FIU will be making its second consecutive Friday night appearance after losing 19-10 to an FCS team, Jacksonville State, at home last week. The Panthers (0-3, 0-1 C-USA) have been dealing with COVID-19 issues throughout the season after their opener was delayed to Sept. 26.

FIU lost that game 36-34 at Liberty and then lost 31-28 to visiting Middle Tennessee on Oct. 10 before their scheduled conference opener against Charlotte on Oct 17 was postponed.

Among sick or injured FIU players for the loss to Jacksonville State were left tackle D’Antne Demery, starting center Shane McGough, and running back Shaun Peterson. Peterson rushed for 117 yards in the loss to Middle Tennessee.

Veteran wide receivers Shemar Thornton and JJ Holloman and freshman Teddy Richardson also have missed time.

“Between injuries and coronavirus, we are down 24 players, and we probably lost more tonight,” coach Butch Davis said after last week’s setback. “It’s not like it’s just a sprained ankle. When you have guys having knee and shoulder surgeries, they’re not coming back.”

Davis also has been dealing with quarterback issues with a different starter for each game. Redshirt freshman Steve Norton, who started against Jacksonville State, has completed 17 of 32 passes for 207 yards and three touchdowns for the season, and junior Kaylan Wiggins, the starter against Middle Tennessee, has completed only six of 19 attempts for 42 yards with an interception in two appearances.

Maryland transfer Max Bortenschlager, the opening game starter, has only three completions in nine attempts for 29 yards.

Combined, FIU’s quarterbacks are 26 of 60 for the season for 278 yards with three touchdowns against one interception.