November 14, 2014

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. (AP) Marshall coach Doc Holliday is aware that Rice's defensive bookends have the potential to ruin the Thundering Herd's perfect season.

Brian Nordstrom and Zach Patt are part of the reason the Owls are on a six-game winning streak and limiting opponents to an average of 135 yards on the ground.

Each has 7.5 sacks this season and will be looking to harass Marshall's Rakeem Cato on Saturday when Rice (6-3, 4-1) plays at No. 21 Marshall (9-0, 5-0 Conference USA).

''Those two ends do a great job pressuring the quarterback,'' Holliday said.

Nordstrom had 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble against Texas-San Antonio last week. A game earlier, Patt had a school-record five sacks and forced three fumbles against Florida International.

Rice is averaging 3.6 sacks and sure to put some heat on Cato, who has thrown a touchdown pass in a Bowl Subdivision-record 41 straight games.

''Rakeem Cato is such a gifted quarterback and a gifted leader,'' Rice coach David Bailiff said. ''There's really no weakness in his game.''

If Cato is held in check, Marshall will be ready to send 243-pound Devon Johnson and Steward Butler at the Owls' defense, which won't have all-conference nose tackle Christian Covington to stop them. Covington underwent season-ending knee surgery this week.

A year ago, Marshall was limited to 106 rushing yards against Rice in the conference championship game, and Johnson was moved from tight end in the preseason to help bulk up the running game.

Johnson has rushed for 1,203 yards this season, including a school-record 272 yards against Florida Atlantic. Butler is coming off a 118-yard performance against Southern Miss as Marshall ran for 335 yards and seven touchdowns without Johnson, who sat out the game with a sore left knee.

Here are some things to consider when the Owls and Thundering Herd meet:

THE NATION'S EYES: Marshall is the only FBS team to score at least 35 points in every game, but that's done little to impress the College Football Playoff committee, which will choose one league champion from the Group of Five conferences for a guaranteed prominent bowl berth. No Group of Five team is currently in the CFP Top 25 rankings. Rice and Middle Tennessee are the only teams on Marshall's schedule with winning records. The nine schools Marshall has played are a combined 29-60.

SLOW STARTS: Marshall has fallen behind early in each of the past three games. Last week it trailed Southern Miss 14-0 before outscoring the Golden Eagles 63-3. ''You always want to start fast,'' Holliday said. ''We go into every game wanting to set the tempo. We've got to try to get back to getting that done.''

1970 REMEMBERED: Marshall will wear No. 75 on its helmets Saturday to honor the victims of the plane crash of Nov. 14, 1970, the worst sports disaster in U.S. history. The team's chartered jet crashed in rain and fog just short of Tri-State Airport near Huntington, killing 36 football players returning from a game at East Carolina. Also killed were 39 coaches, school administrators, community leaders, fans and crew.

SOARING OWLS: Rice won 10 games a year ago but its prospects didn't look good after losing to Notre Dame, Texas A&M and Old Dominion to start the 2014 season. Six straight wins later, the Owls are bowl eligible for a school-record third straight season.

AVENGE FACTOR: Holliday downplayed any potential payback for Rice's 41-24 win in the 2013 league title game on the Owls' home field. ''We have great respect for Rice,'' he said. ''I don't know about circling a game. I hope every game is circled. For nine straight games, our kids have a great job just preparing for that particular team and understanding that the preparation is the key.''

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