East Carolina was beaten soundly in its four losses (South Carolina, North Carolina, Central Florida, Navy), but has performed nicely in its seven wins. In the closer games - 42-35 over UAB and 28-23 last week over Tulane, ECU ran out the clock after yielding late scores.
The latter seems more realistic. Or better stated, less unrealistic.
Marshall's offense regained its bearings last week in the 44-41 win over Houston, though interceptions squelched two scoring drives. Quarterback Rakeem Cato is braced for ECU to drop eight into coverage with disguises and variations, similar to what UAB did.
"Playing us, you never know what you're going to get," Cato said. "What I did notice is every passing team they play, they drop eight. Every team that throws the ball a lot, they're going to drop eight and try to disguise, make it difficult for the quarterback."
Defensively, the Herd has enjoyed a good half here and there, but those are often balanced by halves that are anywhere from shaky to wretched. In the Houston game, Marshall yielded 31 points and 282 total yards - that with the Cougars missing their starting quarterback and running back.
Special teams, particularly the kick coverage units, have sent shivers down the spines of Herd fans. The kickoff unit has given up a return of at least 42 yards in each of the last four games, including those two touchdowns to UCF's Quincy McDuffie.
Marshall must fix and/or fine-tune those phases, and do so despite an assortment of injuries. For instance, receiver Aaron Dobson may or may not face the team he victimized with his play-of-the-year catch last November, Steward Butler was trying to rejoin Kevin Grooms in the "baby back" rotation, and the offensive line may mix and match some more.
It's all a test of the Herd's character and its coaching. One could argue this game is the linchpin of coach Doc Holliday's Marshall tenure.
Will the Herd play in its second bowl in Holliday's three years, or be left out for the second time in that span? The answer comes today.
"Go hard or go home. It's simple," Cato said. "Go hard or go home."