Herd can't dig out of early hole, putting bowl hopes in jeopardy
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - After a first half in which it tried to make Alabama-Birmingham look like the school down the road at Tuscaloosa, Marshall's bowl hopes are hanging on for dear life.
The Thundering Herd rallied in the second half, but a 31-7 deficit was too much to overcome. UAB used a Darrin Reaves 17-yard touchdown with 2:50 left to seal a 38-31 victory.
The loss before 11,941 at Legion Field erases all margin for error for Marshall (4-6, 3-3 Conference USA), which must defeat Houston and East Carolina to qualify for a bowl game. The Herd's home game next week against Houston, also 4-6, becomes a knockout game.
The late score was the second touchdown for Reaves, who rushed for 182 yards on 31 carries. Austin Brown threw for two touchdowns, 33- and 32-yard shots to Patrick Hearn and Nick Adams, to overcome three interceptions.
Marshall couldn't overcome a dismal first half, in which its 7-0 lead turned into a 24-7 halftime deficit in a rain of long returns, defensive breakdowns and uncharacteristically stagnant offense. When Brown hit Adams with 5:23 left in the third quarter, the Blazers owned the 31-7 lead.
The Herd fought back quickly, with Rakeem Cato hitting Jazz King on a 10-yard scoring pass two minutes later, and Kevin Grooms scoring on a 7-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to make it 31-21. The Herd blocked a field goal and Dominick LeGrande returned it 35 yards to the UAB 29, but the Herd could only get a Justin Haig 38-yard field goal to make it 31-24
UAB drove the ball 80 yards after for the game-icing win, with Reaves covering the last 17 yards. Marshall made it close again on a 4-yard TD pass from Cato to Gator Hoskins, but the Herd could not recover the onside kick.
The Herd's day started well, despite a three-and-out on its first possession. As UAB faced third-and-5, Jeremiah Taylor overpowered Brown, knocking the ball free. The scramble pushed the ball nearly 20 yards, and Marshall cornerback Derrick Thomas recovered at the UAB 2. Remi Watson scored on the next play.
Keith Baxter intercepted Brown on the next possession, but the Herd offense stalled at its 38. From there, the crumbling began, as Jackie Williams took the low punt, evaded the first wave of tacklers and found a lot of open space to roam. Punter Tyler Williams sized him up at the Marshall 25, but the returner just did break the tackle to complete the 79-yard score.
When the Blazers got the ball back after a short punt (that may have been tipped), they needed just five plays to travel 64 yards. Change-of-pace back Bashr Coles delivered the big play, a 39-yard run to the Marshall 20. Reaves traveled the final 4 for a 14-7 lead.
Tyler Williams' next punt was certainly blocked, though it managed to go forward 20 yards. Still, UAB took over on its 48 and took just 1:23 to make it 21-7, ending with a 33-yard pass from Brown to Patrick Hearn. How well Baxter would have covered the play we'll never know, as he took a tumble on the turf.
That play came on the first play of the second quarter, and the Herd spent the rest of that time treading water. Cato was flushed out of the pocket on fourth-and-4 at the UAB 25, finally taking a low-percentage shot for Davonte Allen in the end zone. Allen couldn't bring it down, but cornerback Cornelius Richards did.
The Herd's last possession of the half was even more agonizing. Three Grooms runs gave the Herd fourth-and-inches from its 44, and Watson took the handoff to pick up the first down. But UAB defensive end Chris Rabb submarined under his blocker and took out Watson's legs early.
With UAB taking over the MU 44, a Ty Long field goal seemed almost automatic. He hit from 27 yards with 9 seconds left to set the 24-7 halftime score. Marshall was outgained at that point 174-121, and finished with a deficit of 406-337.
Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.