BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- University of Alabama at Birmingham football Coach Garrick McGee decided the best way to slow down Marshall's offense was to head back to the drawing board.
The defensive design he came up with stymied the Thundering Herd in the first half and provided the Blazers enough cushion to come away with a 38-31 win on Saturday at Legion Field.
McGee knew the Herd liked to pass. It's no secret at all, as Marshall entered the game ranked second in the Football Bowl Subdivision averaging 374.33 passing yards per game. So the Blazers dropped eight defenders into coverage and kept just three down linemen.
"We really wanted to make it hard on (Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato) mentally and make him have to figure out what coverages we were in and get him to bounce around," McGee said. "If you give him time to figure out what coverage you're in, he has shown he will tear you apart for 400-plus yards."
UAB's experiment worked for the first two quarters. Cato completed just nine of 13 first-half passes for 53 yards, a total he's attained on single drives this season, and an interception. With the Herd's air attack grounded, the Blazers staked a 24-7 halftime lead. Once Marshall's offense adjusted, however, the game became a different story.
In the second half, Cato finally caught fire. He completed 16 of 21 passes in those two quarters for 163 yards and two touchdowns. In all, he completed 25 of 34 passes for 216 yards. That second half allowed him to break the single-season completions record, previously set by Cato's quarterback coach, Tony Petersen, in 1987. Cato now has 343 to Petersen's 340.
Cato said he wished Marshall would have been more forceful in the passing game earlier in the contest.
"The pass is what got us here, so let's live or die with the pass," he said. "But we fought hard."
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SPECIAL TEAMS haven't been so special in recent weeks, and the Herd kept that dubious streak alive until the second half of Saturday's game.
Jackie Williams' punt return for a touchdown was the first for UAB since the 2007 season, when Kevin Sanders returned a punt against Marshall 58 yards for a score. On UAB's previous drive, an Austin Brown interception spoiled a 42-yard kickoff return by Greg Franklin that started the Blazers out on the 50. Then came the UAB punt block at the end of the first quarter, on which the Blazers capitalized with a 33-yard touchdown pass from Brown to Patrick Hearn on the ensuing drive, giving UAB a 21-7 lead.