Herd Back To C-USA, At UAB Saturday

After two tough losses at West Virginia and to Cincinnati of the BCS Big East Conference, Marshall took last week off. No, that's not quite true: the Thundering Herd spent last week working on Marshall mostly, and some on its next opponent, UAB. This week, however, the Blazers are squarely in the Herd's sights, as UAB designated Marshall as its Homecoming opponent Saturday at Legion Field.

"They remind me a little bit of us," said Marshall head coach Mark Snyder. "Their numbers are down, but they have some individual players who are very good. We've got to know where the single digit guys are at all times." Those UAB (1-6, 0-3 C-USA) players would be junior quarterback Joe Webb (No. 5), junior running back Rashaud Slaughter (1) and sophomore wide receiver Frantrell Forrest (7). All three Alabama natives will give Marshall trouble if the defense does not keep track of them in a non-televised game that kicks off at 4 p.m. eastern time on the Thundering Herd/ISP Radio Network from Birmingham's historic Legion Field.

Despite this game being homecoming, there is still a chance the crowd may be well under the 20,000 or so average UAB is reporting, as the University of Alabama-Tuscaloosa's Crimson Tide will be home for a 3:30 p.m. central kickoff with SEC rival Ole Miss. The lack of atmosphere is something Marshall dealt with in 2006, when the Herd beat UAB in front of a crowd reported at over 10,000 but was in reality about half that much.

MU (3-3, 2-0 C-USA) is 3-0 all-time with the Blazers, the only team Marshall has three wins against in league play since joining Conference USA in 2005. The Herd topped UAB in Huntington in 2005, 20-19; in Birmingham in 2006, 31-24; and last season back at the Joan C. Edwards Stadium, 46-39.

"The middle linebacker, the free safety and the corner are very, very good," said Snyder of UAB's leader on defense. Senior Joe Henderson is the player in the middle, while senior Will Dunbar and senior Kevin Sanders are the players Snyder spoke of in the secondary. Henderson leads UAB in tackles with 48 over seven games, including 7.5 tackles for loss. Dunbar is second with 41 total tackles, one interception and four passes defended while has 24 tackles, 14 solo, and two picks on the year. UAB has surrendered 243 points on defense, an average of 34.7 per game. In C-USA games, however, it is 41.0 points per contest.

"When things are not going well, we have to keep fighting and keep scraping to do things to win games," said Neal Callaway of UAB's disappointing season. Callaway is dealing with just 68 scholarship players of 85 allowed, much like Snyder dealt with the first three years at Marshall. Still, Callaway knows the Herd will be a challenge.

"We are playing a much improved Marshall football team. They hired new defensive and offensive coordinators this year. They are a little different scheme-wise from what they were last year. I do think they are much improved.

Callaway, in his second season, is impressed with the Herd's Darius Marshall at running back as well. "Offensively, their running back is one of the top three running backs in this league," said Callaway. "He's a true sophomore who is a physical, hard-running running back. That's where they start with the offense."

Webb is a threat to run or pass with UAB. He is the team's leading rusher with 588 yards (5.1 yards per carry) as well as passer, with 228 attempts, 131 completions (57.5 percent)for 1,509 yards and eight touchdowns. The downside is nine interceptions and four fumbles from the QB. "The one thing I've been disappointed in Joe are the fumbles," Callaway told ai.com Tuesday. "I would say about half of his turnovers are acceptable and half of them are not." Still, he has accounted for 2,097 of the Blazers total offense of 2,671 yards.

Slaughter has 278 yards rushing, an average of only 39.7 yards per game, and has scored twice. He has also caught 16 passes for 82 more yards. Forrest is the leading receiver with 33 catches for 419 yards, an average of nearly 84 yards per game, and has two touchdowns. The biggest weapon of UAB might be the kicker/punter in senior Swayze Waters, last week's C-USA Special Teams player of the week despite fumbling a punt that set up a Houston score. He did hit both of his field goals, including a 50-yard effort against the Cougars, and is 10-of-13 on the season and 41-of-53 in his career. He is tenth in the nation in punting with his 44.9 yard per punt average. His average was 51.8 per punt against UH, and had three returned for minus-nine yards in that loss.

"We need to win a game," said Callaway on Monday. Marshall wants to make sure they don't let a 12-game losing streak to teams in the Division IA classification and nine-straight in C-USA come to a halt, along with plans for the Herd's post-season, in an upset win by the Blazers at Homecoming in Birmingham on Saturday. UAB is 1-16 in C-USA play over the past three seasons, back to the loss to Marshall in 2006.

NOTES: Marshall is 6-4 all-time against teams from Alabama, including 3-0 versus UAB, 3-2 verses Troy and 0-1 against Ole Miss and Mississippi State...The Big Green and Marshall Alumni Association will team up for another road tailgate at UAB. It will be at the northwest corner of Legion Field from 12:30-2:30 p.m. central and admission is $20 per person, $8 for parking in the lot. Call the Big Green at 866-443-7310 to RSVP...UAB is 11-3 all-time in Homecoming games in Birmingham...Last season, Bernard Morris threw for 308 yards and two touchdowns against UAB in the win. In 2006, current New York Giants kick returner Ahmed Bradshaw rushed for 242 yards in the win, and got a helmet sticker from Lou Holtz on ESPN's "College Football Scoreboard Show"...This will be the first MU game of the year not on any television platform. The Herd has appeared on local WOWK-TV, the Big Ten Network, Comcast Sports South (CSS) twice, ESPN Regional and ESPN, and is 3-3 so far. At this time, only Rice and Tulsa games with the Herd are not scheduled for television, but that may change depending on the game's importance to league's title run...Speaking of ESPN, Mark Schlabach picked the Herd to play Troy in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl, but Bruce Feldman picks the Herd to play in the AutoZone Liberty Bowl against the SEC's Vanderbilt. That would mean he expects Marshall to win the Conference USA Championship, as that team gets to go to Memphis.

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