The last time that these two schools took the field as opponents in 2004, MySpace was just one year old and Facebook had just been founded. Britney Spears and Green Day were topping the charts and gas was just $2 a gallon. Case in point: it's been awhile since the Zips and Thundering Herd have seen each other.
The last meeting wasn't the most memorable meeting of the former MAC rivals. That would be the one that happened on November 2nd, 2002, where Marshall QB Byron Leftwich spirited a 17-point comeback against the Zips (who ultimately won 34-20) and gave us this iconic college football moment:
Marshall comes into Akron ten years later with the same powerful offense they featured in the early 2000s. Quarterback Rakeem Cato is following in the footsteps of those famous Marshall quarterbacks that everyone knows: Leftwich, Pennington, etc. Cato has been lighting up the competition this season, throwing for 950 yards and nine touchdowns. His 10.6 yards/attempt ranks seventh in the nation and his quarterback rating of 177.5 is twelfth.
Cato is the catalyst in what has shown to be one of the toughest offenses in the country to stop. The Herd have hung more than forty points on each opponent this year. The competition hasn't been great though, as the three schools they have beaten only have one Division 1 win (Ohio over Kent State). Marshall has yet to face a decent defense so the stats are definitely inflated.
The Marshall defense has been impressive as well, but then again the competition aspect comes into play. The Herd defense is only giving up sixteen points per game, nineteenth-best in the nation. They have caused seven turnovers in those three games and will force Akron quarterback Kyle Pohl to be as near perfect as possible.
Currently the line has Akron as a ten-point underdog, which is about right. The Zips do have a really good shot to win this game, however, and the main focus is stopping Cato. Forcing the offense into three-and-outs will be of utmost importance. Only five of Marshall's 22 scoring drives this season have lasted longer than three minutes. That's a really outrageous statistic and just shows how important getting quick stops is for the Akron defense.
The good news for Akron is that they were able to have an extra week to prepare for Marshall. The Zips are coming off a pretty good showing at Penn State and will try to build some momentum. On the quest to gain bowl eligibility, a win would go a long way to getting Akron to that magical six-win mark. Keeping Cato from putting up video game numbers is easier said than done but will be the key as to whether the Zips can steal a win.