Marshall faces ‘scary’ Alabama-Birmingham Saturday
By JIM WALKER
Tribune Sports Editor
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — Another week, another quarterback to stop.
After facing Houston’s record-setting Case Keenum last week in a 63-28 loss, the Marshall Thundering Herd hosts the Alabama-Birmingham Blazers at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday in a key Conference USA game for the Herd.
Marshall is 3-5 but 2-2 in the East Division of C-USA. The Blazers are just 1-6 overall and 1-3 in the league, but they are coming off a stunning 26-24 win over Central Florida last week.
Marshall lost 16-6 at UCF in a game that saw the defense score the Herd’s only points.
Backup quarterback Jonathan Perry started in last week’s upset of Central Florida. Herd coach Doc Holliday said the Blazers win over UCF was a wake-up call for his team.
“As you know we have a UAB team coming in here that, to be honest with you, is a very scary and dangerous team. They have a lot of talent on their football team as they showed last week in the win over UCF,” said Holliday.
Perry was 31 of 42 for 327 yards and two touchdowns against UCF for a Blazers’ offense that is ranked No. 118 in scoring offense.
“(Perry) gives them a shot to throw the ball vertically down the field. They have taken about 50 shots vertically down the field in the last five games. We have to be able to defend that and it’s going to be a great challenge for us,” Holiday said.
However, Holliday said the win over UCF wasn’t a fluke. He noted the Blazers have shown their potential in the past as well.
“It’s the same team from a year ago that went to Southern Miss and beat Southern Miss. They have extremely skilled athletes,”
The Herd beat Rice 24-20 two weeks ago before losing to the 18th-ranked Cougars.
Marshall’s recent offensive surge is due largely to red-shirt sophomore quarterback A.J. Graham who took over as the starter in the win over Rice. He replaced freshman Rakeem Cato who had a good completion rate but failed to get the Herd into the end zone.
Despite the loss at Houston, the Herd had 506 total yards offense and Graham was 27 of 35 for 257 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran 12 times for 74 yards.
“As long as he plays well, it’s his team,” Holliday said of Graham. “If he continues to play like he is, then it’s his team. I feel he has made great strides between games and he has to continue in game three. I want to see him continue to grow because he did throw the ball a lot better.”
Marshall’s running game has been sparse with the exception of the scrambling of Graham. Tron Martinez had 45 yards on 16 carries and Travon Van ran 12 times for 43 yards.
The Herd could help their inside running game by using the stronger, more powerful runner Martin Ward who was the MVP of their Little Ceaser’s Bowl win two years ago.