2-7 Blazers have all guns firing
HUNTINGTON - As much as Marshall coach Doc Holliday enjoys watching his team's offense, he doesn't relish the possibility of another 100-point shootout this Saturday.
"I hope not, but it [could be]," the third-year coach said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "It seems both offenses have been able to score some points this season."
Yes, the ingredients for a scorefest will be in place when the Thundering Herd pays its biennial visit to Legion Field to take on Conference USA East Division rival Alabama-Birmingham. Kickoff is at 4:30 p.m. EST, with the game airing on WVAH, channel 11 in Charleston-Huntington.
The home Blazers (2-7, 1-4 Conference USA) don't have a lot to lose under first-year coach Garrick McGee, and they have a lot of young talent to develop, starting with freshman quarterback Austin Brown.
Brown, a 6-foot-1, 208-pound native of Flowery Branch, Ga., is fourth in the league in passing yardage (2,086, 231.8 per game) and pass efficiency (137.6), and has put up some big numbers since he received his first significant snaps.
That outing came in the Blazers' third game at Ohio State. Replacing starter Jonathan Perry, Brown went 21-of-35 for 196 yards, though he failed to get his team into the end zone.
He has been able to do that much more often since, allowing the Blazers to be entertaining in defeat if nothing else. Among UAB's losses is a 49-42 setback against probable West Division winner Tulsa, a 42-35 loss against East Carolina and a 55-45 defeat at Tulane. In the latter effort, he threw for 409 yards and three touchdowns, but also three interceptions.
Brown has the full attention of the oft-struggling defense of the Herd (4-5, 3-2). Sacks seem likely this weekend - Brown has netted a minus-168 yards rushing - but he can make up lost yardage in a hurry.
In all six of his starts, Brown has at least one completion of 40-plus yards. The long play is 75 yards, which came shortly after the coin toss against Tulsa.
"He's young, so he's learning," said Herd defensive end Alex Bazzie. "He seemed to have a good arm, so we've got to respect that."
"They're going to take shots," Holliday said. "The quarterback has done a nice job at throwing it, and they have some receivers that can go and get it."
Last week, the Blazers broke through for their first victory in C-USA play, rallying from a 16-0 halftime deficit at Southern Mississippi to win 27-19. While Brown was a respectable 17 of 29 for 228 yards and a touchdown, that effort was more about running, and the efforts of Darrin Reaves.
Reaves, a 5-10, 210-pound sophomore who scored a mop-up touchdown in UAB's 59-14 wipeout at Marshall a year ago, sliced up Southern Miss for 223 yards on 35 carries, sparking the rally with a 14-yard TD run and finishing it with an 8-yard score.
McGee has an offensive pedigree, playing quarterback at Oklahoma in 1994 and 1995. He was named the Big Eight's newcomer of the year in '94, and ended his career fourth on OU's passing list with 2,449 yards.
Most recently, he served as Bobby Petrino's offensive coordinator at Arkansas, where his players rolled up 4,338 passing yards and 36 passing TDs in 2010. And for the first time in school history, the Razorbacks had a 3,000-yard passer (Ryan Mallett) and a 1,000-yard rusher (Knile Davis). Mallett, tight end D.J. Williams and tackle DeMarcus Love all were drafted the next spring.
Among other positions, McGee served two years as offensive coordinator at Northwestern (2006-07). He was receivers coach at Toledo in 2002, the year the Rockets lost 49-45 to Marshall in the Mid-American Conference championship game.
McGee's offensive coordinator is Jeff Brohm, quarterback of Howard Schnellenberger's noted Louisville teams of 1992-93. Brohm was offensive coordinator at Louisville in 2008, and more recently tutored quarterbacks at Illinois for two seasons.
They have had issues with a young offensive line, which has yielded a league-worst 31 sacks. Production at other areas isn't necessarily a problem - with 744 yards, Reaves could hit 1,000 yards rushing and Jackie Williams has 674 yards receiving. Jamarcus Nelson leads the team in receiving touchdowns (four) and averages 20.2 yards per catch.
"I felt when we played UAB last year that their skill people were as good as anyone in the league," Holliday said. "Jamarcus Nelson is probably the fastest guy in the league."
Holliday called receiver Aaron Dobson questionable for Saturday. Dobson suffered an unspecified knee injury on the first play from scrimmage in the Memphis game, knocking him out of the game.
In his stead, Demetrius Evans and Davonte Allen combined for 11 catches and 132 yards, with both scoring a touchdown. Allen's 31-yard with 7:34 left finally halted the Tigers' comeback from a 31-7 deficit.
Holliday expects the three cornerbacks to all practice this week, including Keith Baxter, who missed the Memphis game. The coach also expects the whole offensive line to be near 100 percent, a week after right guard John Bruhin sat out and left guard Josh Lovell missed most of the game.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org.