Marshall football: Herd expects UAB to play with reckless abandon
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall University's football players figure deja vu is a distinct possibility this Saturday.
Last week, the Thundering Herd weathered a 1-7 Memphis team throwing every gimmick and gadget, from onside kicks to fake punts to funky formations, at it in a 38-28 win at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. When the Herd (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) lines up at Legion Field at 4:30 p.m. (CSS/ WVAH) against the University of Alabama at Birmingham, it faces another seven-loss team.
So Marshall won't be surprised if the Blazers (2-7, 1-4 C-USA) play with the same reckless abandon.
"I think they're going to face that game like it's a championship game," MU defensive end Alex Bazzie said. "They're going to try to ruin any chance we have of getting to a bowl game."
It's Bazzie's last statement that makes this game so important for Marshall. The Herd hasn't reached bowl games in consecutive years since making six straight from 1997 to 2002. That goal remains viable, and Marshall needs to win two of its last three games to do it. And with stouter opponents in 4-5 Houston and 6-4 East Carolina on the horizon, the Herd could use a win Saturday.
The players feel it helps in preparing for UAB that they dealt with Memphis' nothing-to-lose attitude. They also feel it helps they've been in their own situation - needing a hot finish to reach a bowl - before. In fact, those finishes have been a Marshall staple since Coach Doc Holliday arrived in Huntington. In 2010, the Herd won four of its last five games to turn a dreadful start into a more respectable 5-7 finish.
Last season, Marshall was 2-4 at the season's midpoint and won four of its last six to qualify for the Beef O' Brady's Bowl.
Center Chris Jasperse said that, since the team knows its finished strong before, it knows it can happen again.
"It gives people confidence," he said of Marshall's history under Holliday. "When you're 2-4, you get down on yourselves. You're like, 'Come on, what are we doing?' When you see you can come out and have that kind of outcome (at the end of the season), that's good for the team."
That prior experience provides another psychological boost, Jasperse said. Needing two wins in three games creates a sense of urgency among the players. But the knowledge that they've accomplished this feat before keeps urgency from devolving into panic.
"You don't want people to panic and try to make a play when its not there," he said, "or try do something you wouldn't do, where you try to make a big play to make something happen and you mess up. You just have to keep your composure and poise and go in there and do what you've been doing."
Both the Herd and the Blazers will line up potent offenses versus struggling defenses. Marshall is 99th in the Football Bowl Subdivision in yards allowed (454.22 per game) while UAB is 93rd (442.67). On the other hand, Marshall gains 530.67 yards and scores 39.67 points per game, while UAB gains 423.44 yards and scores 29.78 points per game.
Holliday admits this game could have the makings of a shootout.
"I hope not, but it (could be)," he said. "It seems both offenses have been able to score some points this season. It's going to be important that we go in there and play defense and be able to get them stopped. We have to be able to get them off the field. Offensively, we have to be able to score some points."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at email@example.com or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall.