Running into another good runner
HUNTINGTON - Two days after Marshall backed itself into a bowl-eligibility corner with a 38-31 loss to Alabama-Birmingham, players talked about what went wrong and what they needed to fix.
But in the case of failing to slow down UAB runner Darrin Reaves, they just tipped their hat. Reaves rushed for 184 yards, with 94 of those and his second touchdown coming in the fourth quarter.
On Monday, several defenders called Reaves the toughest back Marshall has faced to this point.
"Kind of reminds me of my running back from Boston College [now at Temple], Montel Harris," said safety Dominick LeGrande. "That's what I thought when I watched him [on video] all week. I've got a lot of respect for that guy; he's going to be a great player."
"He ran extremely hard," said defensive tackle Marques Aiken. "Thick-legged guy, huge lower body. He didn't tip at all. When he sees it, he hits it and he hits it hard. He runs with a low center of gravity.
"I give him credit, regardless of whether we had 'fit' issues or not. He did a great job of carrying his team on his back."
Now, Marshall must turn its attention to another talented running back, Houston's Charles Sims, if indeed he plays. Sims missed the Cougars' 41-7 loss to Tulsa last week with an ankle injury, and failed to finish the previous two games.
Sims leads C-USA in rushing yardage per game, 106.1. But in playing just eight games, he ranks behind three runners in total rushing yardage - Southern Methodist's Zach Line (1,032), Reaves (928) and East Carolina's Vintavius Cooper (891).
With or without Sims, Houston (4-6, 3-3) takes on Marshall (4-6, 3-3) at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, with a noon kickoff Saturday. The loser falls out of bowl contention.
Quarterback Rakeem Cato has a suggestion for his teammates as the Herd tries to win its last two: Just have fun.
"That's one thing I've felt we've lacked all this year, just going out there and having fun," Cato said. "Everybody's playing uptight, everyone's listening to what's going on around us, not focusing on anything. Once we do that, go out there and have fun, we're going to be good."
Along those lines, he shared part of the formula on how the Herd's passing game finally clicked. He threw for 158 of his season-low 214 yards in the final 20 minutes.
He told his receivers this: I'll scramble a bit, you get open and I'll hit you.
"That's what they did, and the coaches called a couple of screen passes," Cato said. "After that, it was just all sandlot football."
In other words, he and his receivers had some fun.
After five punts at UAB (the block didn't count against him), Tyler Williams once more qualifies for inclusion in the NCAA rankings. At 45.51 yards per attempt, he ranks eighth.
The Ray Guy Award doesn't require 3.6 punts per game to be eligible, and Williams was named last Friday as one of 10 semifinalists. He signed a document Monday agreeing to go to the Dec. 6 ceremony if he becomes one of three finalists.
Now if he only could get his tackling technique down. He remains six tackles behind place-kicker Justin Haig (6-0) after failing to bring down UAB's Jackie Williams on that game-turning 79-yard TD return.
"That was my fault," Williams said. "I dove at his leg, hit him in the knee and thought, 'Oh, he'll fall down, I'm not going to have to crush him.' I guess I hit him just enough that I bumped over to the side and he just shrugged it off like nothing."
Right guard John Bruhin attended player interviews Monday and stood for those interviews, so that's a good sign for the sixth-year senior. His balky ankle cost him the Memphis and UAB games.
He said he rolled the ankle in the Herd's loss to Central Florida on Oct. 27, and then rolled it again the next Tuesday. He feels confident that he'll be ready to reclaim his starting spot for his last game at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Bruhin points out that his ankle problems are a byproduct of his longstanding back issues.
"I actually have a 'drop foot,' from where I hurt my back," he said. "The ankle's been really weak since I've been here. If I step on anything wrong, it swells back up."
And finally, it was Aiken who blocked the 52-yard field goal try by UAB's Ty Law with just over 9 minutes left. LeGrande picked up the ball and returned it 35 yards before tiring out at the UAB 29.
Marshall settled for a field goal to cut the Blazers' lead to 31-24, but the Blazers responded with a long drive to all but put the game away.
It took some slow-motion replays to see who blocked the ball, but Aiken had no doubt.
"When the ball snapped, [Brandon Sparrow and I] pushed [a blocker] back, a great push," Aiken said. "And I put my left hand up and the ball tore my hand apart, pretty much."