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UCF Breakdown: Key match-ups and comparisons versus Marshall

A look at two key match-ups, one offensive and one defensive, and a statistical comparison for Saturday's game in Huntington

By Paul Tenorio | Orlando Sentinel UCF Writer

5:11 AM PDT, October 25, 2012

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In two days, UCF will travel to Huntington, W.Va., for a crucial C-USA East match-up. It’s a game that might well decide what team is headed to the conference championship game in December.

Every Thursday we will take a look at two key areas – one offense and one defensive – that could play an especially key role in Saturday’s game. Today, we’ll examine the key match-ups against the Thundering Herd.

Knights secondary vs. Marshall QB Rakeem Cato

There is no secret about what the Herd does well. They sling the ball around the field, averaging 390 yards passing per game, second-best in the country. Cato is the key. He is tops in the nation in both passing yards (2,651) and completions (249). This is an offense that likes to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hand quickly, nickel-and-dimeing down the field with efficient, accurate passing. UCF’s corners must press on the receivers at the line of scrimmage and try to force them off of their routes, forcing Cato to hold the ball a bit longer in the pocket and giving the pass rush a chance to get to him. Make no mistake, Cato will get his completions. this offense is designed to ensure that, so another critical area will be how the secondary tackles. They must limit the damage of those completions and not allow big yards after catch. If the secondary can do those two things, they should be able to at least somewhat knock Marshall out of rhythm and slow down an offense that hasn’t so much as hit a speed bump lately. Statistically this is a great match-up nationally: the country’s No. 2 passing offense vs. UCF’s No. 29-ranked passing defense.

UCF RB Latavius Murray vs. Thundering Herd front seven

Murray was sensational in the first quarter last week against Memphis, his first start since the season opener. Knight coach George O’Leary said the senior will be the guy going forward, with the backfield rotation now reduced to spelling Murray. Against Marshall, Murray’s knack for taking what is given to him will be crucial. Yes, breaking off those big touchdown runs is a big bonus, but the offense’s ability to hold the ball and keep Marshall off the field is equally important, if not moreso, than anything else. The Knights must grind the clock down in the run game, moving the chains through Murray’s tough running and by winning the battle up front. Marshall is averaging 91 plays per game. Murray can help drop that number significantly. If UCF can pound the ball and force Marshall to start sending some extra bodies into the box, QB Blake Bortles should have more opportunity to hit the big play.

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A quickie look at how the teams compare, statistically

UCF rushing offense (169.3 yards per game) vs. Marshall rushing defense (227.1 yards per game)

UCF passing offense (231.4 ypg.) vs Marshall passing defense (222.9 ypg.)

UCF scoring offense (33.4 points per game) vs. Marshall scoring defense (41.6 points per game)

UCF third down conversions (45%) vs. Marshall third down defense (46%)

Marshall rushing offense (178.4 ypg.) vs. UCF rushing defense (152.0 ypg.)

Marshall passing offense (390.0 ypg.) vs. UCF passing defense (200.9 ypg.)

Marshall scoring offense (43.1 ppg.) vs. UCF scoring defense (22.0 ppg.)

Marshall third down conversions (56%) vs. UCF third down defense (32%)

UCF turnover ratio (15-9, +6) vs. Marshall turnover ratio (8-13, -5)

E-mail Paul Tenorio at ptenorio@orlandosentinel.com. Follow him on Twitter @OSKnights.