(18) Marshall (10-0) at UAB (5-5) (ET)

GAME NOTES: Only two games remain between the 18th-ranked Marshall Thundering
Herd and an unbeaten regular season. First on the docket is the UAB Blazers
this weekend in a Conference USA clash at Legion Field.

Marshall moved up three spots in the AP Top-25 from No. 21 after the Herd
defeated defending C-USA champion Rice, 41-14, last weekend. Marshall is
certainly bound for the postseason, but first has its eyes set on capturing
the Conference USA title.

UAB has been relatively up and down this season, but is currently down after
last outing’s 40-24 loss to Louisiana Tech. The Blazers have dropped three of
their last games, with a long win against Florida Atlantic separating the

Marshall leads the all-time series against UAB, 7-2. The last time the Blazers
were victorious against the Herd was back in the 2012 season. Marshall won
last season’s matchup by a commanding 56-14 score.

Although the game was in West Virginia, many thought Rice stood somewhat of a
chance against the Thundering Herd. That was proven completely wrong by
Marshall, as the Herd stampeded to a 41-14 victory over last season’s
conference champions.

“It was a really good game for us,” Marshall defensive coordinator Chuck
Heater said. “We have a lot of respect for those guys and they’re capable guys
and tough guys. … What they did to us last year (in the title game), I feel
good about what our guys did because as a team, we have a high level of
respect for them.”

Marshall has been overwhelming teams this season offensively, evidenced by the
Herd’s 47.1 ppg average (ranked second in the FBS) and 567.2 offensive ypg
mark (also second in the FBS – both behind Baylor). At the heart of it all is
quarterback Rakeem Cato, who has been setting passing records all season long.
He’s compiled 2,613 passing yards, 26 touchdowns and has a completion
percentage just shy of 60. His accuracy has improved over the weeks, having
thrown just six interceptions all season long.

Although Cato lost one of his major weapons last season to the NFL (Gator
Hoskins), he’s retained reliable target Tommy Shuler (605 yards, six
touchdowns), and has talented freshman Angelo Jean-Louis (413 yards, four
touchdowns) and tight end Eric Frohnapfel (354 yards, three touchdowns) to
whom he can throw the ball.

The real surprise this season has been the emergence of Devon Johnson at
running back. The tight end convert is up toward the top of the FBS standings
in terms of yards gained (1,402) and touchdowns scored (16). Against Rice, he
rushed for 199 yards and a touchdown one week after sitting out as a
precaution for a leg injury. As a team, Marshall is gaining 294 rushing ypg
this season.

While Marshall’s offense has been steam rolling opponents, one would think the
defense could simply take a game off every now and then. But that hasn’t been
the case, as the Thundering Herd are allowing just 16.3 ppg to opponents this
season, and only 322.2 offensive ypg. Marshall held Rice – one of the hottest
teams in the conference – to 15 first downs and just 180 yards of offense in
the win.

“We have good guys up front,” senior cornerback Darryl Roberts said. “Our
defensive line gets good push up front. We have fast linebackers running
sideline to sideline and we’ve got good guys coming off the edge. We just
cause chaos.”

Indeed they do. Linebacker Neville Hewitt leads the team with 74 tackles, but
has pumped up the stat sheet in all other areas with eight tackles for loss,
four sacks, five quarterback hurries and three pass breakups. Jermaine Holmes
is right behind Hewitt with 70 tackles on the year, and defensive back D.J.
Hunter has recorded nine tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks. Lineman Arnold
Blackmon has notched a team-best 11 tackles for loss and six sacks. He has
been, and will continue to be a huge factor on the Thundering Herd’s defense.

UAB fell behind early to Conference USA’s West Division leader Louisiana Tech,
and could never catch up. Running back Jordan Howard still had a stellar game,
rushing for 148 yards and a touchdown in the defeat. That’s been
characteristic of Howard’s season. The sophomore running back has gained 1,157
yards and scored 10 touchdowns on 232 carries this season, and is averaging
115.7 rushing ypg. He’s one of the offensive leaders on a Blazers squad that
is fighting for bowl eligibility.

Cody Clements got the work under center for UAB against Louisiana Tech in the
team’s last game, but didn’t do too much with the start. In nine games played,
Clements has passed for 1,910 yards and 11 touchdowns against eight
interceptions. Clements runs the UAB offense that averages 33.5 ppg and 428.9
offensive ypg. He averages 212.2 ypg passing for the Blazers.

Six UAB players average double-digit receiving totals per game who have played
in all 10 contests this season. JJ Nelson has hauled in 32 receptions for 625
yards and three touchdowns to lead the team, while Kennard Backman has added
29 catches for 299 yards and another three scores.

Defensively, the Blazers have been relatively inconsistent on the season. In
the team’s last four games, UAB has allowed 34 points, 45 points, 28 points
and 40 points, respectively. Only one of those (the 28-point effort) resulted
in a win. That doesn’t bode well for UAB (31.2 ppg allowed) this weekend going
against the nation’s second-best scoring offense.

Jake Ganus leads the Blazers with 54 tackles and 13 tackles for loss this
season, adding in five sacks and one fumble recovery. He, Shaq Jones (nine
tackles for loss) and Diaheem Watkins (eight tackles for loss, team-best six
sacks) will be the key players on a defense facing Cato, Johnson and the high-
flying Thundering Herd.

With two games left in the regular season, the path seems relatively clear for
Marshall to head into postseason play with an unblemished record. UAB will
present a tough challenge in Birmingham, especially if Howard is his typical
successful self. But it’s just about impossible for an opponent to keep pace
with the Herd’s offense, and the Blazers will find that out very quick.

Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Marshall 43, UAB 20