This rematch of machismo stands to be an interesting test for the Herd. Part of it is the different venue, Edwards Stadium; part of it is the improvement in the Herd's defense. The 308-yard disaster at MTSU dropped the Herd to fourth in C-USA at 138.6 rushing yards per game, but that still beats the 203.1-yard kelly green sieve of a year ago.
More impressive is the Herd's 78-yard average at home. Sure, those four opponents have involved two winless teams, an FCS team and 4-5 Texas-San Antonio, but those teams might have run well on the 2012 Herd defense anyway.
Linebacker Evan McKelvey was rehabilitating his knee injury last year, but has watched the film of that UAB game and he didn't like it any better than those who took part.
"Last year, there were a lot of individual players on that team," McKelvey said. "When you have a lot of individual players, teams start to break down. This year, we have a lot more team players and if you work together, stuff becomes a whole lot easier."
Stuff like "run fitting," which the Herd struggled with in the MTSU game. Tackling wasn't great in that game, either, as Bazzie estimated the missed-tackle count as 13-15.
But most games, that number is less than 10, which is a weekly goal. And this MU team is a whole lot better tackling in the open field - on that count, players give a lot of credit to defensive coordinator Chuck Heater.
"Coach Heater stressed that a lot, that you have to make plays in the open field," Bazzie said. "We stress that - we've got to win our one-on-ones when we're facing an opponent. We just practice a lot with bending our knees and then getting in a football position, bowing your neck and keeping your head up when you make a tackle, and that's allowing our guys to see what they're hitting."
Then again, you don't want to make too many open-field tackles on Reaves and Howard. Getting a good push, filling the right gaps and old-fashioned effort will be the order of the day.
"All we've got to do is keep hitting him and hopefully slow him down from there," said defensive end Ra'Shawde Myers. "At least 10 to 11 heads to the ball."
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, dougsm...@wvgazette.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.