UAB at Marshall: What to watch for

— By Bill Cornwell

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Marshall hopes to make it five wins in a row Saturday afternoon as the Thundering Herd hosts UAB at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

The game kicks off at 3:30 p.m. and is being shown nationally on CBS Sports Network.

The matchup is a rematch of last year’s Conference USA Championship Game in Huntington which was won by the Blazers, 22-13.

Both teams have identical 6-3 records and are 4-1 in C-USA.

Bill Clark is 46-25 as the Blazers’ head coach and he’s led UAB to C-USA titles in 2018 and 2020 as well as a 2019 West Division Championship.

Marshall leads the all-time series 8-3. The Herd has won five of six games played against UAB in Huntington, while taking three of five games in Birmingham.

Here are three things to watch for in the game:

Two talented tailbacks

Marshall’s productive freshman Rasheen Ali and UAB’s strong sophomore DeWayne McBride have both enjoyed successful seasons.

Both players are coming off of strong performances as Ali had a combined 160 yards (90 rushing and 70 receiving) and two rushing touchdowns in Marshall’s win at FAU.

McBride was just as effective in the Blazers’ win over Louisiana Tech with 210 rushing yards and four touchdowns, which earned him Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week.

Ali’s speed and balance will be contrasted to the size and speed of McBride, who is tough to corral in space.

Both defenses will face a tough test stopping the run.

“Offensively, as a running back coach, you’ve got to have respect for how they run the ball, how their running backs run, how physical they are,” Marshall coach Charles Huff said. “Unbelievable body and balance control breaking tackles and as a team you can see they thrive on being able to run the ball efficiently throughout the game.

“It’s going to be a challenge for our defense. Obviously we pride ourselves, most defenses in the country, you’ve got to be able to stop the run. Being able to stop the run is going to be huge.”

Can Wells maintain strong play and find success vs. Blazers?

The last time Marshall and UAB faced off, Herd redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells struggled.

With a C-USA title on the line last December in Huntington, Wells was unable to complete a first-half pass against the Blazers.

He did throw two touchdowns, including a 70-yard pass to Xavier Gaines.

Wells has had his share of struggles at times this season, although he’s picked up his play as Marshall has rattled off four straight wins.

Last week, Wells threw for 351 yards and a touchdown and got the ball in the hands of nine receivers, led by Willie Johnson’s five catches for 140 yards and a touchdown.

How Wells begins Saturday’s game could determine if Marshall can extend its winning streak to five.

“Their quarterback is playing really well. I thought a lot about him last year as a freshman,” Clark said. “I think you see him mature and doing more things. He’s making more throws. They are diversified on offense. They do a lot of different things and have a lot of formations, a lot of shifts, a lot of motions. They run the ball really well. Their running back leads the nation in rushing touchdowns — he reminds you a lot of our guy (DeWayne McBride).”

Strong on special teams

Marshall and UAB put a strong empahsis on the third phase of the game.

Both teams’ special teams units have stepped up in recent games.

Marshall started off last week’s FAU win with a 99-yard kickoff return for a score by redshirt sophomore Jayden Harrison.

Herd punter Robert LeFevre had seven punts last week at slightly more than 39 yards per boot, but he had three punts downed inside the 20-yard line, including one inside the 1. Johnson chipped in with a 27-yard punt return.

Andrew Sanders’ kickoffs are routinely ending up in the end zone and Shane Ciucci’s kicks have been splitting the uprights.

UAB counters with junior punter Kyle Greenwell, who is averaging 43.7 yards per punt.

Sophomore kicker Matt Quinn has scored 52 points this season and is 9-for-14 on field goals, including a 52-yarder in a win over Southern Miss.

“I think the last couple weeks the one consistent thing that we’ve done, although there are things to clean up, is we’re playing really good complimentary football right now,” Huff said. “Offense, defense, special teams, no side is perfect, but we’re all making plays when we need to make plays, or at some point we’re all able to make plays.”

Notes

This week’s game is special on the Marshall schedule each year, as it’s the game played closest to the November 14 anniversary of the Marshall football plane crash. That crash in 1970 took the lives of 75 Marshall football players, coaches, staff members and fans. The Thundering Herd will wear all black uniforms and special helmet decals Saturday to honor the crash victims. Fans are also being asked to wear black clothing to the game. The annual Crash Memorial Service is planned for Sunday at 2 p.m. on the Memorial Student Center Plaza, featuring remarks by Mark Miller, who was a freshman on the 1970 MU team.





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