College Football Betting Odds & Picks for Marshall vs. Navy: Bet Thundering Herd to Cover Against Navy’s Triple Option (Sept. 4)

College Football Betting Odds & Picks for Marshall vs. Navy: Bet Thundering Herd to Cover Against Navy’s Triple Option (Sept. 4) article feature image

Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Grant Wells.

  • The Marshall Thundering Herd prepare for a triple-option attack on Saturday when they face the Navy Midshipmen.
  • Marshall returns a lot to the field this season, including all-conference quarterback Grant Wells.
  • Check out BJ Cunningham's full betting guide with odds, picks, and predictions for the game.

Marshall vs. Navy Odds

Saturday, Sept. 4
3:30 p.m. ET

Marshall Odds

-110o / -110u

Navy Odds

-110o / +110u
Odds via PointsBet. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

Marshall heads to Annapolis as the one of the favorites to win Conference USA to take on Navy. Will the Thundering Herd pull off a win as short favorites?

Let's break it down.

Marshall Thundering Herd

After losing in the Conference USA Championship game last season to UAB, longtime head coach Doc Holliday's contract was not renewed, ending his 10-year stint in Huntington. Marshall brought in Charles Watts, who was the assistant head coach and running backs coach at Alabama the past two seasons.

Watt inherits a roster that has a lot of new faces, as Marshall only returns 57% on offense and 67% on defense according to TARP.  However, the Thundering Herd return starting quarterback Grant Wells for his sophomore season. If he can take the next step the skies the limit for this offense, with Marshall having one of the best defenses in Conference USA.

Thundering Herd Offense

Last season, Marshall was a run-heavy offense, keeping the ball on the ground 58% of the time and being very effective in doing so, averaging 4.5 yards per carry and ranking 34th in rushing success.

The Thundering Herd do lose their top rusher Brandon Knox but return his backup in Sheldon Evans, who ran the ball at a 4.5 per carry clip last season in 72 attempts.

Evans will get the benefits of running behind the best offensive line in Conference USA because the Thundering Herd return three starters, all of whom have started the past three seasons. Marshall's offensive line completely dominated the line of scrimmage last season, ranking inside the top 15 in offensive line yards, sack rate, and havoc allowed.

Highest-graded FBS offensive lines
1. Buffalo – 98.5
2. BYU – 94.2
3. Marshall – 93.6
4. Notre Dame – 93.2
5. Kentucky – 88.9

— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 15, 2020

The key for Marshall's offense is the development of Wells in his second season under center. He was good but not great in his freshman season, averaging 7.7 yards per attempt en route to a 74.3 passing grade at Pro Football Focus. However, he was terrible in their final three games of the season, throwing for less than 170 yards in each of them and throwing 5 picks.

The good news for Wells is he gets his top two targets back in wide receiver Corey Gammage and tight end Xavier Gaines, both of whom should be able to torch a very weak Navy secondary.

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Thundering Herd Defense

Marshall's defense was one of the best in the country last season, and it will once again be stacked heading into the 2021 season. The Thundering Herd do have a new defensive coordinator in Lance Guidry, who has been around coaching for a long time and was previously the defensive coordinator for Western Kentucky from 2011-12.

Guidry inherits an incredible secondary that won't be tested in their opening game against Navy's triple option, but the unit gets three of its four starters back, all of whom made at least Second Team All-Conference USA. Former four-star cornerback LeAnthony Williams transfers in from Clemson, as well.

Marshall was also graded as the No. 7 coverage team in the country in 2020, so there is no reason why they can't be just as good as last season.

What is key when facing the triple option? It's getting a push on the line of scrimmage and tacking in open space, and Marshall checks both of those boxes.

In 2020, the Thundering Herd ranked in the top 30 in defensive line yards and sack rate, along with being No. 4 in finishing drives. Marshall, along with being stout up front is one of the most fundamentally sound defenses in the country, having ranked second in tackling last season, per PFF.

Navy's triple option is going to have a really tough time against this defense, especially since Marshall had all summer to prepare for it.

Navy Midshipmen

The Midshipmen are projected to be one of the worst teams in the AAC in 2021. Their odds to win the conference title are +8000 and season win total sits at just 3.5.

Ken Niumatalolo enters his 14th year at the helm, and this may be one the worst teams he's had in his long stint in Annapolis. Navy returns just five starters and 47% from a TARP perspective for an offense.

To open the season against one of the best defenses in the country is not going to be a pretty sight.

Midshipmen Offense

There isn't much hope for the triple option this season.

Last season, Navy was graded as the worst offense in 2020 from an EPA perspective at -0.17 per play and was actual the worst offense since PFF started tracking Expected Points Added (EPA). Things aren't going to get better anytime soon because Navy lost its top four rushers outside of the quarterback position.

Xavier Arline will be back at quarterback after starting the final two games of last season. The problem for Navy last season is they didn't get the production on the ground that they are used to out of the quarterback. Since the triple option came to Annapolis in 2002, Navy has never had a quarterback rush for under 900 yards. Last season, the quarter backs combined for only had 312 yards and 1.9 yards per carry.

The Navy rushing attack is also poised to struggle because it has to replace three starters on the offensive line.

Navy does have potentially the best group of receivers it's ever had and threw the ball 21.4% of the time last season, which was one of their highest percentage of the triple-option era.

However, a lot of that had to do with the fact that the Midshipmen trailed in so many games. Arline attempted just 12 passes last season, completing four of them, so it still remains to be seen if they can connect with some of their deep shots down field.

Midshipmen Defense

Navy's defense last season wasn't much better than their offense and had holes all over their defense.

The front seven really struggled to put pressure on the quarterback and getting in the opponent's backfield, as the Midshipmen ranked outside the top 120 in sack rate and havoc. They also were one of the worst defenses in terms of tackling, ranking 95th nationally. Six of their seven starters return in the front seven, so there should be some improvement there.

Navy's secondary got torched last season, allowing 7.9 yards per attempt with a coverage ranking of 112th, per PFF.  It loses a starting safety and cornerback from last season, so I have a hard time seeing how they are going to drastically improve from their 2020 numbers.

Marshall vs. Navy Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Marshall and Navy match up statistically:

Marshall Offense vs. Navy Defense




Rushing Success
Passing Success
Line Yards
Sack Rate
Finishing Drives

Navy Offense vs. Marshall Defense




Rushing Success
Passing Success
Line Yards
Sack Rate
Finishing Drives

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling
Rush Rate
58.% (42)
79.6% (3)
Seconds per Play

Data via College Football Data (CFBD) and FootballOutsiders; SP+ projection per ESPN.

I think this line is way too low for a complete mismatch on both sides of the ball, especially with Navy's triple option going up against a Marshall defense that allowed 4.3 yards per play. Grant Wells and the Marshall should be able to move the ball against a defense that allowed a whopping 5.9 yards per play in 2020.

Marshall vs.  Navy Betting Pick

I have Marshall projected as a -11.54 favorite and the great Collin Wilson has Marshall projected as a -8.1 favorite on the PRO Repor, which you can find on the Action Network app. So, I think there is a ton of value on Marshall -2.5 and would play it up to -5.5.

Pick: Marshall -2.5

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