BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – The doldrums and errors of the first half made the furious rally of the second half ultimately meaningless for the Marshall University football team in its 38-31 loss Saturday night to the University of Alabama at Birmingham at Legion Field.
The Thundering Herd erupted for 24 second-half points versus UAB, as Marshall's passing game finally emerged from its funk. Yet Marshall (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) couldn't recover from the first two quarters of malaise on offense and botched special teams.
That leaves the Herd with two regular season games – at home next week versus Houston (noon/CSS) and at East Carolina the day after Thanksgiving – to get two wins for bowl eligibility. And consecutive wins are something Marshall has not yet seen this season.
"We had way too many mistakes in that first half," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "We dug way too deep of a hole to get back. I thought our kids came out in the second half and did some good things."
Those good things included cutting the Blazers' (3-7, 4-2 C-USA) lead to seven points twice. The first time came when Brandon Sparrow blocked a 52-yard Ty Long field goal, which Dominick LeGrande scooped up and returned to UAB's 29. Five plays later, Justin Haig hit a 38-yard field goal to make the score 31-24 with 7:16 remaining.
But the Blazers, on the back on running back Darrin Reaves, responded on the next drive with an 11-play, 80-yard march that culminated in a 17-yard Reaves touchdown and milked 4 minutes, 26 seconds off the clock. Marshall came back with a 70-second drive of 75 yards on eight plays, ending in quarterback Rakeem Cato's three-yard touchdown pass to tight end Gator Hoskins. Marshall, though, couldn't recover the onside kick, and UAB ran out the clock.
That second half was a polar shift from the first half, where the Herd could muster just seven points and 121 yards of total offense. Holliday said UAB's defense dropped eight players into coverage, essentially daring the Herd to run. Marshall accepted the challenge, but gained just 68 yards on 28 first-half carries. Meanwhile, Cato threw just 13 times, completing nine, throwing one interception and getting sacked three times.
"Our defensive plan was to play eight people in the coverage and play these exotic-looking coverages," UAB Coach Garrick McGee said. "We wanted to drop everybody in coverage, play different coverages, cut down certain passing lanes for (Cato)."
The Herd punted five times in the first half. One was returned 79 yards for a touchdown by UAB's Jackie Williams to tie the game at 7. Another was blocked and that ensuing drive culminated in Austin Brown's 33-yard touchdown pass to Patrick Hearn to make it 21-7. UAB went into the locker room up 24-7, and won despite the defense's ability to attack Brown.