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Pirates look to knock Marshall out of Top 25

Sports Editor

New terrain for Marshall. Old terrain for East Carolina.

The No. 25 Thundering Herd (10-2 overall, 8-1 MAC) are making their fifth bowl appearance in as many seasons, but the previous four were spent in Detroit, Mich., home of the Motor City Bowl.

This season marks Marshall’s first appearance in the GMAC Bowl, formerly the Mobile Alabama Bowl. For ECU (6-5, 5-2 Conference USA), this is the second time in three years that the Pirates have played in Mobile, losing two years ago to Texas Christian, 28-14.

The game will be televised live by ESPN2 at 7 p.m. tonight.

East Carolina kicker Kevin Miller was in Ladd-Peebles Stadium the night his No. 20 Pirates fell to TCU. He missed a 42-yard field goal just before halftime and thinks it may have been because of the the field’s sandy surface.

"They had a lot of sand and I just don’t think that the grass was real mature, so it was beat up a little bit," Miller told the Daily Reflector of Greenville, N.C. "I don’t think there has been a field goal there yet. I know TCU and Southern Miss had a bad time last year. Every year, I watch the Senior Bowl. They’ve got the best kickers in the country and they have a hard time down there."

Heavy rain fell across much of south Alabama earlier this week, but Marshall coach Bob Pruett told the Mobile Register his players were feeling comfortable with the gulf coast weather.

"I was real excited," Pruett said on Monday. "Our guys have bounced around. They have a little life in their step. You’d think that wouldn’t be the case since we’ve been going since August, but they’ve been really enthusiastic and I’m really pleased with it. Up there, we’d be wearing a topcoat. I think this is wonderful weather compared to what we usually get in Huntingdon this time of year."

Pruett’s main task tonight will be figuring out a way to stop East Carolina’s 1-2 combination of quarterback David Garrard and tailback Leonard Henry. Garrard has passed for over 9,000 yards as a four year starter for the Pirates, while Henry is ninth in the nation in rushing yards per game (130.2). He’s rushed for 1,432 yards this season and scored 16 touchdowns.

East Carolina faced six bowl eligible teams on this year’s schedule, falling to non-conference opponents Syracuse, Wake Forest and North Carolina. Conference USA champ Louisville came back to beat the Pirates 39-34 for the league title. Southern Miss also beat ECU in the Pirates last game of the year.

Marshall won 10 straight following a 49-14 loss to Florida, but fell in the MAC title game to Toledo. The Thundering Herd’s Byron Leftwich has thrown for 4,132 yards this year.

Marshall doesn’t have a 1,000 yard rusher like the Pirates’ Henry, but does have one of the best receivers in the nation in Darius Watts (1,417 yards, 18 TDs).

The game could come down to the defense, something which Marshall is lacking in. The Thundering Herd are allowing 416 yards per game.

East Carolina, meanwhile, is ranked No. 9 in the nation in total defense (249 ypg), No. 13 in rushing (90.0), and No. 20 in passing (159.1).

The Pirates do surrender points, though, giving up an average of 28 points during games this season.