UAB running backs concern Herd defense

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -Marshall University can’t emphasize enough that UAB’s ground game is what makes the Blazers tick.

During last week’s loss against Middle Tennessee, the Blazers opened with 26 consecutive running plays and finished the game with 56 carries for 299 yards. The storyline was similar last year in Birmingham when the Thundering Herd allowed UAB to rush 42 times for 209 yards.

“If you can’t stop the run, you will have major problems,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “It’s going to be one of those games that if we don’t stop the run then it’s going to be a long afternoon.”

The two schools hook up for a noon kickoff today in Huntington. In eight previous meetings, Marshall has won six -including a perfect 4-0 at home.

“UAB has two great running backs in Darrin Reaves and Jordan Howard, who are as good as we will see this year,” Holliday said. “They also have an outstanding receiver in Jamarcus Nelson who may be the fastest player in our league. He’s number one and you better know where he is because he is dangerous.”

Reaves leads UAB with 678 yards rushing and seven touchdowns. Howard has received nearly the same amount of carries for 650 yards and two touchdowns.

In last year’s 38-31 win over Marshall, Reaves gained 184 yards on 32 rushes and scored two touchdowns. In that game, the Herd fell behind 24-7 at halftime.

“UAB was especially physical in that second half last year,” Holliday said. “We had an opportunity to get them stopped and we didn’t do it. They physically beat us.”

At quarterback, UAB has utilized both Austin Brown (93-of-171, 1,1999 yards and nine TDs) and Jonathan Perry (35-of-66, 512 yards and six TDs).

“UAB went with Perry last week,” Holliday said. “He is a guy that can beat you a little more with his feet. I think they made that choice because he is a senior, but the sophomore Brown played all of last year.

“I’m sure we’ll probably see them both.”

UAB (2-6, 1-3 Conference USA) dropped its second straight game after the 24-21 loss to Middle Tennessee.

Nelson caught a 21-yard touchdown pass with just under two minutes remaining in regulation to tie the game at 21, but Blue Raiders placekicker Cody Clark converted an 18-yard field goal with three seconds left on the clock.

“UAB made a choice in that game last week to be a very physical team and they did that,” Holliday said. “It came down to the wire and they had a shot to win the game against a very good team, but they didn’t quite get it done.

“I’m sure they’ll come in here with the same mindset against us.”

Marshall (5-3, 3-1) is seeking to wrap up its seventh straight win at home. The Thundering Herd are coming off a 61-13 win against Southern Miss in which quarterback Rakeem Cato completed 21-of-28 passes for 262 yards and five touchdowns. A pair of Marshall running backs gained more than 100 yards with Kevin Grooms (8-109) and Essray Taliaferro (8-108).