BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Marshall University football players admitted they didn't come out with the proper energy to face the University of Alabama at Birmingham.
And for the rest of the season, they have no choice.
That lack of fire put the Thundering Herd in a 17-point halftime hole against the Blazers. And even though the Herd rekindled that flame in a furious second-half rally, it still fell to UAB 38-31 at Legion Field.
With that loss, the Herd's margin of error has shriveled to nothing. Marshall (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA) must win its last two games - at home Saturday versus Houston (noon, CSS) and at East Carolina the day after Thanksgiving - to reach a second consecutive bowl. The thing is, the Herd hasn't won consecutive games this season.
"Just hold their head up," defensive end Jeremiah Taylor said of his message to the rest of the team. "The season's not over. It's our job to send these seniors out the right way and get us to a bowl game. We've got two games left, two tough games. We have to just keep moving forward and get better."
Marshall Coach Doc Holliday thought his team looked pretty good at the outset of Saturday's game. On UAB's first drive of the game, Taylor sacked Blazers quarterback Austin Brown and forced a fumble. The ball bounced all the way to UAB's 2-yard line before Derrick Thomas pounced on in. Marshall running back Remi Watson barreled in for a touchdown on the next play for a 7-0 Herd lead. Then corner Keith Baxter, Jr., came up big, intercepting Brown at Marshall's 19 on the ensuing drive.
But that was the end of the Herd's happy times.
Marshall had to punt following that interception, and when Tyler Williams booted it to Jackie Williams, the UAB returner weaved through defenders and shook Marshall's Williams to gallop 79 yards for a touchdown.
After that, the Blazers (3-7, 4-2 C-USA) extended the lead to 24-7 at halftime.
"I thought we came out ready," Holliday said. "We had the turnover right away and stuck it right in (for a touchdown). We just weren't blocking and making the plays we need to make."
Those plays were non-existent on offense in the first half. UAB dared the Herd to run, dropping eight defenders back into coverage. Marshall obliged, but gained only 68 yards on 28 first-half carries. With Marshall doubling down on the run, quarterback Rakeem Cato had few chances to showcase his high-powered arm.