HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - The situation surrounding the Marshall football team's game Saturday against the University of Alabama at Birmingham is strikingly similar to the one the Thundering Herd and Blazers played last season. Then, the Herd came to Birmingham hoping to remain in bowl contention. It tried moving closer to that goal against a UAB team that knew it was home for the holidays.
What the Herd is really hoping for this Saturday is a different result.
The Blazers, after jumping to a 24-point lead early in the third quarter, grinded out a 38-31 win last season. When this Saturday's noon kickoff, on both Comcast Sports South and WCHS, rolls around, the Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) has a chance at bowl eligibility against the struggling Blazers (2-6, 1-3 C-USA).
History tells the Herd, though, that nothing can be taken for granted.
"They physically beat us last year," Marshall Coach Doc Holliday said. "Our kids understand that. Hopefully, in the backs of their minds, when they walk out that practice field, they remember how they physically got beat up last year."
After UAB staked a 31-7 lead in the third quarter last season, the vaunted Herd offense finally got to work and Justin Haig's fourth-quarter field goal cut UAB's lead to 31-24. The Blazers' response was an 11-play, 80-yard drive that milked 4 minutes, 26 seconds off the clock, and ended with a 17-yard Darrin Reaves touchdown on his sixth straight run of the drive.
UAB held the ball for 13 minutes, 2 seconds of the fourth quarter, and ran 16 times against nine pass attempts. Reaves finished the game with 184 yards and two touchdowns on 32 carries.
Blazers Coach Garrick McGee said this week that his calling card as UAB's coach and Arkansas' offensive coordinator has been airing out the ball. He went against that philosophy last week in a 24-21 loss to Middle Tennessee, running the ball 26 times before attempting his first pass and running 56 times in the game against just nine pass attempts.
Marshall's defensive players know first-hand how good the Blazers can be on the ground, and aren't ready to believe UAB will stay pass-happy.
"It's a 'fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me' type of thing," Herd defensive end Alex Bazzie said. "We don't want to be fooled twice. We're preparing ourselves well for Reaves. We have a lot of respect for that guy and all the backs they have. They're downhill power runners."