Marshall football: Blazers offense remains a week-to-week mystery
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Just when opposing teams thought they had the University of Alabama at Birmingham football team's offense pegged, the Blazers ran away from that pigeonhole.
UAB has been one of the more prolific passing teams in Conference USA. The Blazers (2-7, 1-4) are one of just three C-USA teams averaging at least 300 passing yards a game. Their 312.4-yard average is third behind notorious bomb squad Houston at No. 2 and Rakeem Cato-led Marshall (4-5, 3-2) as the runaway No. 1.
Yet in the Blazers' last two games, their ground attack has taken over, punctuated last week by sophomore running back Darrin Reaves' 223-yard, two-touchdown performance in a 27-19 comeback win over Southern Mississippi. So the team that had thrown for at least 300 yards in each of the five previous games has a running back who rolls for the largest single-game rushing total of the season in C-USA.
Despite redshirt freshman Austin Brown's emergence as a solid young playmaker under center, UAB Coach Garrick McGee said the strategy all along was to be a big ground-gainer.
"The philosophy of our offense is to run the ball," McGee said. "Earlier in the season, we were disappointed because we couldn't run the ball as much as we anticipated, and we resorted to having to pass the ball over and over for 300 yards a game to stay in games. The way you win games is by playing good defense and by running the ball."
Reaves is the main reason the Blazers have started chewing up turf. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound back has vaulted to fourth in the conference with 744 rushing yards, mainly on the strength of his last two games. The week before his breakout versus Southern Miss, he rushed for 166 yards and three touchdowns at Tulane.
That means more than half his season total has come in the last two games, and when Marshall visits UAB this Saturday for a 4:30 p.m. kickoff (CSS/WVAH), the Thundering Herd must be worried about a balanced attack.
The sophomore's big games don't surprise Marshall defensive coordinator Chris Rippon. He said Reaves' tenacity as a runner would eventually lead to some huge yardage.
"It was a matter of time," Rippon said. "He has not given up. He's a really hard runner. Teams had ability to put some pressure on him and fill gaps. Their line was still developing. He was still banging away and banging away. But you saw in the last three games that he just kept on going and the team started to rally around what he was doing."
Marshall players also mention Reaves' toughness, how he can both find holes and make holes when they might not be there. Plus, his frame and strength make him tough to bring down.
Ask Reaves how he describes himself as a running back, and he says it's a tough question to answer.
"I got asked this question in high school and I really don't know how to answer it," he said. "I like to feel like I'm balanced. I like to think I run with a great bit of power, but I also have the ability to make a defender miss."
What Reaves does know is that UAB's newfound running ability should make the Blazers even more dangerous, especially against a Marshall defense that is next to last in the conference, allowing 223 yards per game. The Blazers' ground gains, he said, offer a psychological boost as well.
"It gives us great confidence and trust in each other," he said. "It reassures the trust we already have in each other. I trust them to open up the holes and they trust me to see the cuts and see the holes."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.