Shannon Stowers, Assistant Sports Editor

The Marshall University Thundering Herd will finally get a crack at the team that defeated it in the 2013 Conference USA championship.

The Rice University Owls won 41-24 that day, and ever since then, Herd fans and players alike have had this weekend’s game circled on the calender.

The 2014 version of the Owls got off to a rough start this season, losing its first three games. Those three games though, were against then No.17 University of Notre Dame, No.7 Texas A&M University and Old Dominion University.

Since that point, Rice has won six straight games while averaging 33.1 points and 402.8 yards while holding its opponents to 17.2 points and 276.5 yards per game.

Head coach Doc Holliday said Rice is a well-rounded team that has talented players.

“You take a look at that team, they play extremely hard, they’re extremely well-coached, they’re extremely physical and they’ve got playmakers that can make plays,” Holliday said. “That one wide receiver, Jordan Taylor, is an NFL guy. Our guys ought to remember him from a year ago.”

In recent games, the Herd has uncharacteristically struggled out of the gate, falling behind in the first quarter of its last two games. Holliday said it’s important the Herd gets back to taking early leads, especially against an Owls team that is fundamentally sound and plays well with the lead.

“We’ve got to try to get back to getting that done, because you go up against Rice, you better start fast and end fast and play all the way through the game,” Holliday said.

On offense, Rice is led by quarterback Driphus Jackson and wide receiver Jordan Taylor through the air. On the ground, the Owls are powered by a two-headed running game consisting of running backs Jowan Davis and Darik Dillard. The two backs have rushed for a combined 1,385 yards and 12 touchdowns.

The Owls’ junior quarterback has 1,861 yards and 15 touchdowns passing while adding over 300 yards and a touchdown with his feet. Jackson’s favorite target, the previously mentioned Taylor, leads the team in receptions (28), receiving yards (520) and is tied in receiving touchdowns (four).

On the other side of the ball, the Owls boast a defense that harasses opposing quarterbacks. Led by linebacker Alex Lyons (46 tackles) and safeties Jaylon Finner (45) and Gabe Baker (42), the Owls defense has made a calling off getting to the quarterback.

Through nine games, Rice is averaging 3.5 sacks per game. Defensive ends Brian Nordstrom and Zach Patt have 7.5 sacks each.

The Herd will have to find ways to stop the Owls’ balanced offensive attack. On offense, Marshall will need to protect quarterback Rakeem Cato from Rice’s efficient and effective edge rush.

The Herd will try to improve its series record to 4-2 over the Owls and 10-0 this season at 2:30 p.m. The game will be televised on the Fox Sports Network.

Shannon Stowers can be contacted at stowers44@