Marshall 31, UAB 17
Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, as the Marshall Thundering Herd broke a 17-17 fourth-quarter tie to emerge with a 31-17 victory in Saturday’s Conference USA clash with the UAB Blazers at Legion Field in Birmingham. Coach Doc Holliday’s squad has now won two games in a row after starting the season 1-6.
The homestanding Blazers tied the score at 17 with 13:01 remaining to play when kicker Josh Zahn nailed a 20-yard field goal to cap an 11-play, 78-yard drive that began at the UAB 19. The Thundering Herd responded immediately, as Anderson completed 4-of-6 passes for 49 yards, setting the stage for Troy Evans to burst through the line for a game-winning nine-yard touchdown run that staked Marshall to a 24-17 lead. Anderson extended the Thundering Herd’s lead to 31-17 when he linked up with Lee Smith for an eight-yard touchdown pass with 5:31 remaining in the game.
Neither team was able to run the ball effectively. Marshall rushed for 96 yards on 36 carries while the home side managed just 83 yards on 28 carries. Blazers’ junior quarterback Bryan Ellis completed 20-of-44 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns and one interception.
What does all this mean in the bigger picture? Sure, no division championships or bowl bids were on the line in this contest, a lower-division duel that was far removed from any national television coverage. While Central Florida and Houston dueled on ESPN2 Friday night, this Herd-Blazer battle was out of sight and out of mind for most of America. However, Marshall’s 14-point win in the state of Alabama does say something about the two coaching staffs in this game and where the two programs are headed.
For Marshall, this is a much-needed shot in the arm. After the Herd blew a 21-6 fourth-quarter lead against West Virginia (a West Virginia team that, it should be noted, is not really all that good; we were fooled…), Marshall lost motivation and focus for a number of weeks. Through seven games, it really did seem that Marshall was too mentally wounded by its failure to defeat its in-state rival. Games can sometimes have that much of an effect when they don’t go the right way. Marshall put all its mental eggs in one basket, but finally, the Herd seem to have decided to play hard and make the most of their season. This speaks to Doc Holliday’s ability to rally the troops.
On the other side, it’s a terrible loss for a UAB team that had just won on the road at Southern Miss. The Blazers have played a number of good games this season, but have failed to close the sale and have similarly found it impossible to string together two good wins in back-to-back weeks. Neil Callaway is running out of chances to turn this program around; he can only have so many more occasions to make an impact in Birmingham. If this result doesn’t seal his fate in 2010, it certainly makes 2011 a must-win season for the football lifer and offensive guru.