Marshall football: Herd expects balance from UAB offense
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Marshall University football Coach Doc Holliday has spent 34 years as a college coach, but he's hard pressed to remember the last time he faced a team that threw the ball only nine times in one game.
"I'm not sure I have, to be honest," Holliday said.
That was the University of Alabama at Birmingham's strategy last week versus Middle Tennessee, and it almost worked. The Blue Raiders needed a late field goal to escape with a 27-24 win over the Blazers. In a conference like Conference USA, known for its heavy doses of passing, it's not often a team will go old school in its offensive mentality.
And UAB Coach Garrick McGee isn't sure that strategy will pan out Saturday when the Blazers visit Marshall at Joan C. Edwards Stadium (noon, Comcast Sports South). So the UAB's next game might be a little less run and a little more gun.
"With the points they're going to put up, you're going to have to match the points," he said. "You're going to have to score a bunch of points in order to beat this team. I'm not quite sure we can play as conservative."
UAB (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA) ran the ball 26 times before throwing its first pass and gained 299 rushing yards on 56 carries. Yet that hasn't been the Blazers' modus operandi the entire season. There have been three games this season where UAB has thrown more than it's run. And in the game prior to Middle Tennessee, the Blazers threw 43 passes against the University of Texas at San Antonio.
"We're really known as a passing team," McGee said. "That's kind of what my background has been, to throw the ball over the yard."
McGee was a college quarterback, ending his Oklahoma career fourth on the Sooners' all-time passing list. His 2,449 yards thrown in two seasons sit 11th in Sooners history. As Arkansas' offensive coordinator in 2011, the Razorbacks led the SEC and were 13th nationally in passing offense. The Blazers were 19th in the Football Bowl Subdivision last season with 308.8 passing yards per game.
Those passing numbers are down significantly this season, to 213.9 yards per game, but McGee feels he still has the ingredients to make the passing game work, including at quarterback. Senior Jonathan Perry is slated to make his second start of the year, after Austin Brown started the previous seven games. Perry completed six of nine passes for 57 yards, a touchdown and an interception against Middle Tennessee, but completed 15 of 28 passes for 209 yards, two touchdowns and an interception against UTSA.
Perry also ran for 60 yards against the Roadrunners. That mobility - he has 92 rushing yards on the year, compared to Brown's minus-74 - is an extra dimension the Blazers can use, tight end Kennard Backman said.
"J.P.'s always been a good player. Him bringing his feet and his speed onto the field really is an advantage. Anytime something may break down, he's able to get extra yards," Backman said.
"Having him back there under center definitely is an advantage."
Yet Holliday and the Herd (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) don't imagine the Blazers will completely abandon their running game, not with the 1-2 punch of Darrin Reaves and Jordan Howard in the backfield.
The junior Reaves (5-foot-10, 201 pounds) and freshman Howard (6-1, 228) have combined for 1,328 of UAB's 1,422 rushing yards this season.
The Herd remembers the 184 yards and two touchdowns Reaves gained against it in last season's 38-31 UAB win (McGee said much of that came from draining the clock to preserve what had been a 31-7 lead). They also know that power running games have given the Herd defense some trouble. Marshall allowed 208 rushing yards to Florida Atlantic and 308 rushing yards to Middle Tennessee.
"(Reaves) is a physical guy that will run through you," Holliday said. "You're not going to arm tackle this guy. He's going to run through arm tackles and Howard is the same way. Howard is actually a little bigger than and just as physical as Reeves. It will be important that we wrap up and tackle these guys. We've done a pretty good job of that all year and it's going to be critical that we continue that on Saturday."
Contact sportswriter Derek Redd at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1712. His blog is at blogs.dailymail.com/marshall. Follow him on Twitter @derekredd.