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SMU Mustangs (6-4, 5-1 C-USA) at Marshall Thundering Herd (5-5, 3-3 C-USA)



When: Saturday, November 21, 3:30 p.m. (CST)
Where: Huntington, W. Va., Joan C. Edwards Stadium (38,019)
Radio: The Ticket -- 1310 AM
Series: Tied 1-1
Line: Marshall -4/49

After going 1-11 in Coach June Jones’ first season, SMU leads the Conference-USA West with a 5-1 record and has reached its goal of winning six games in 2009. But the “All Grit, No Quit” Mustangs want more. At 6-4, they are bowl-eligible for the fifth time since its last bowl appearance, but the Mustangs want to actually play in a bowl game for the first time in 25 years. The only way to achieve that is to continue winning.

Winning their last two games – at Marshall Saturday and at home against Tulane two days after Thanksgiving – won’t be easy.

Although Marshall is 5-5, it has played very good football. Each of the Thundering Herd’s conferences losses have been by seven points or less and the other two were to highly-ranked Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

Marshall is led by tailback Darius Marshall, whose 117 yards per game rank 11th in the country. Tight end Cody Slate was averaging five receptions per game as a John Mackey Award candidate before suffering a torn ACL last week against Southern Mississippi.

Marshall kicker Craig Ratanamorn is one of 20 semifinalists for the Lou Groza Award and was one of three kickers chosen as last week’s Lou Groza Award Stars of the Week. He kicked a season-long 46-yard field goal and added another from 27 yards to remain perfect this season. Ratanamorn is 13-for-13 in field goal attempts and 24-for-24 on extra points. No other kicker in the nation with 10 or more attempts is still perfect in field goal tries and no other kicker is perfect in both field goals and extra points. In fact, Houston’s Matt Hogan (9-for-9) is the only other kicker in the NCAA FBS statistical rankings without a missed field goal.

Freshman Kyle Padron was magnificent in his third start at quarterback last week against UTEP, completing 17 of 24 passes for 244 yards and a pair of touchdowns while running for two more scores.

Emmanuel Sanders, SMU’s all-everything receiver, was Padron’s favorite target. He caught touchdown passes of 35 and 37 yards in the 35-31 victory over the Miners. Sanders has set school records for receptions (264) and yards (3,429). His 32 touchdown receptions rank No. 1 at SMU and among active NCAA players. Sanders also ranks fourth in the nation in punt returns with a 16.2-yard average.

Shawnbrey McNeal, who became eligible the day before the season started, has rushed for 896 yards this season – 399 more than the entire SMU gained last season. He has a shot at becoming the Mustangs’ first 1,000-yard rusher since Keylon Kincade in 2003.

SMU is tied for seventh in the nation with 16 interceptions and ranks eighth with 26 forced turnovers.

Senior linebacker Chase Kennemer has recorded seven 10-plus-tackle games this season, and ranks 13th in the nation with 10.4 per game. After receiving Conference-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors for recovering three fumbles against Rice, Kennemer recorded 11 tackles in the UTEP victory.

With seven blocked kicks, 6-8 defensive end Margus Hunt has set a new SMU record and is within one of the NCAA single-season record.

Marshall took the series opener with a 16-13 overtime victory in 2005, in Huntington, but SMU avenged the loss a year later when Justin Willis passed for 208 yards and four touchdowns in a 31-21 victory.

      SMU's 'All Grit, No Quit' Mustangs get fired up before taking the field (SMU Athletics)