HATTIESBURG, Miss. - Neither Marshall nor Southern Mississippi carry a good turnover margin coming into their Conference USA East Division showdown tonight.
The Thundering Herd is minus-7 for the season, with the Golden Eagles at minus-9, ranking 110th and 113th in the nation, respectively.
Both teams have to hang on to the ball, certainly. Fumbles and interceptions have led directly to four touchdowns against Marshall and one against Southern Miss, to say nothing of short-field drives.
But most of their problems lie in the inability to force turnovers. Marshall is 100th in takeaways in the FBS with just five; Southern Miss is 116th with four. In fact, only Buffalo trails the Eagles with three.
Texas Christian leads the category with 20. A telling number: The top 11 teams have a combined record of 59-11, and the list includes five undefeated teams, including Rutgers and Mississippi State.
Southern Miss coach Ellis Johnson adequately summed up the effects of a takeaway drought, including one often-overlooked aspect - field position for the offense. In other words, the Herd and Eagles have not benefited from short-field drives.
Southern Miss has scored just two offensive touchdowns off drives of less than 50 yards, one off an interception and both in mop-up time at Western Kentucky. Marshall has done a little better, scoring five offensive touchdowns on drives of less than 50 yards.
But only one of those came off a turnover (three came off punts, one after a stoppage on downs). Another telling stat: Thanks in part to its lack of takeaways, Marshall has scored 22 of its 30 touchdowns on drives longer than 70 yards.
Which brings up another reason the Herd is averaging 558 total yards on offense: Necessity. Cato and company are having to go the length of the field to score.
One part of tonight's game that bears watching is the end of the first half. Both teams have been hurt by late scores.
Marshall has had the last score of the first half just once, in its last game against Tulsa. The Herd scored two touchdowns in the final 2:36, erasing a 17-3 deficit and tying the game before the half.
In the other five games, the opponent has scored last in the first half. The most painful was a 4-yard touchdown pass by Ohio with 49 seconds left, giving the Bobcats a 17-14 lead.
Southern Miss has been crushed by late first-half scores. In all six games, the Eagles' opponent has scored the last points of the half, and all have scored in the final 3:13.
In the last two games, Boise State scored with 6 seconds left for a 23-0 lead, and UCF had a TD run with 5 seconds left for a 17-7 lead, a margin Southern Miss spent the rest of the night trying to overcome.
Nebraska's 29-yard pass with 1:03 left stretched the Cornhuskers' lead to 28-17, and Western Kentucky's 36-yard strike with 3:13 left gave the Hilltoppers a 21-3 lead. Both turned into major routs.