Marshall football: Herd hopes for better result against UAB
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."
And those types of backs have been an issue for the Herd this season. Florida Atlantic tried a power running game against Marshall, gained 208 yards on 47 carries and finally fell on a last-second field goal. Middle Tennessee rushed 60 times for 308 yards against Marshall, which helped the Blue Raiders scores a last-second win against the Herd.
Defensive coordinator Chuck Heater said he won't be surprised if UAB tries establishing a physical edge Saturday.
"We haven't necessarily proven we can handle that," Heater said. "We had a tough time against Middle Tennessee. So I would say that, if I were them, that would at least be an opportunity to see if we can handle it."
The Herd has a pretty tasty carrot dangling in front of it for this game. A win puts Marshall at the magical six-win plateau for bowl eligibility. The Herd went into its regular season finale in 2012 with bowl chances still in doubt. Getting eligible at the beginning of November puts one Herd goal - making the postseason after missing last year - to bed. Then it can focus on the rest, namely the C-USA East Division crown that remains a possibility.
"It would be huge," Bazzie said. "It would be exciting for everybody, knowing we've set ourselves in a bowl-eligible position. But right now, we have to take care of this week, get a 'W' on the board and the rest will take care of itself."
And to get that win, the Herd must take care of the Blazers and what could be a sequel to last season's punch in the mouth. Despite what's being said out of Birmingham, Holliday has warned the team to be ready for a slugfest.
"We told them on Sunday to put their big-boy pads on, because it's going to be a physical, get-after-it game," Holliday said.
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.