49ers face mirror image in Marshall with a strong runner, rush defense
Saturday’s Charlotte-Marshall football game at the Thundering Herd’s Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va., will match the top two rushing defenses in Conference USA.
It will also feature two of the league’s best running backs in the 49ers’ Benny LeMay and Marshall’s Tyler King.
So it will be a strength vs. strength affair between the 49ers (4- 5, 3-2 C-USA) and Herd (5-3, 3-2), both which still have shots at the league’s East Division title.
“There is no doubt that we are very similar teams at this point,” said Marshall coach Doc Holliday at his weekly news conference. “It’s going to be a battle of defense.”
The 49ers have been stout on rushing defense all season, limiting opponents to 82.0 yards. That ranks No. 1 in the league and sixth nationally. It began with holding Fordham to minus-9 yards in the season opener through Tennessee’s 20 yards last week and mostly everywhere in between. The 49ers haven’t allowed a rushing touchdown in their past three games.
“Something (defensive coordinator Glenn) Spencer tells us is: Don’t drink the poison,” said 49ers junior linebacker Jeff Gemmell, who has 6.5 tackles for loss this season. “What that means is you’ve got people saying, ‘Oh, you guys did this against Tennessee’s offensive line.’ But we’ve got some great offensive lines in Conference USA, as well. We just have to keep on doing what we know how to do and not get too overconfident and just know we still have a lot of work to do.”
The Herd has been nearly as good stopping the run, averaging 103.5 yards in rushing defense (second behind the 49ers in the league and 13th nationally). Marshall hasn’t allowed a run of more than 30 yards this season.
LeMay, who averages 91.8 yards per game and has 826 total, has four runs of 30-plus yards, including a 58-yarder against Fordham and a 57-yarder against Middle Tennessee.
“He is a very physical player,” Holliday said of LeMay. “He is similar to (FAU’s Devin) Singletary (C-USA’s leading rusher).