Marshall (4-5, 3-2) at Alabama-Birmingham (2-7, 1-4)4:30 p.m. EST, Legion Field (71,594, Sure Turf), Birmingham, Ala.TV: WCHS, Channel 8 locally; Comcast/Charter Sports SoutheastCrew: Mark Steward play-by-play, John Whitcomb analyst, Rachel Baribeau sidelines
Line: Marshall by 3Series: Marshall leads 6-1Last meeting: Marshall 59, UAB 14, Oct. 29, 2011 at HuntingtonTickets: Entire sections available, $20-30Weather: Sunny, then clear, high 71 at kickoff
On the spotMarshall kickoff units, coverage and return: Don't invoke the "pick your poison" phrase here, because both units have been poisonous. The coverage situation got so bad against Memphis, Justin Haig was ordered to squib kick - and the Herd got a break and a recovery on the first attempt. Strange stat: Marshall has received the ball to start all nine games, which means it kicked off to start all nine second halves - and foes are averaging 38.4 yards on eight such kickoff returns, with a ninth kick going out of bounds. Return-wise, MU got a break when Memphis opted for three touchbacks in four kickoffs. Andre Snipes-Booker returned the opening kickoff 12 yards to the Marshall 13, which is pretty much the tale of the season in that discipline.Monterius Lovett and Derrick Thomas, Marshall cornerbacks: Let there be no doubt - the shots are coming. UAB's Austin Brown can throw it, and he has at least one 40-plus-yard completion in the last six games. Thomas has made some nice plays recently - he and safety Okechukwu Okoroha belted Memphis receiver Keiwone Malone on a critical play in that game, and Thomas had a spectacular interception to begin the Central Florida game. If Keith Baxter can rejoin the fray, that's a plus, but he didn't look close to returning last Saturday.
Stats 'n' suchIn the stat rankings: MU remains 2nd nationally in passing offense (374.33) and is 6th in total offense (530.67) and 4th in net punting (41.58). In Conference USA, the Herd leads in those categories plus scoring offense (39.67) and is 2nd in pass efficiency (146.22). At the other end, the Herd remains last in scoring defense (117th in FBS, 41.44) and sacks (105, 1.22), and is 11th in rushing defense (113th, 223.00). ... Individually, Tommy Shuler is 3rd nationally in receptions (9.11) and Rakeem Cato is 3rd in total offense (365.78). Tyler Williams again has too few punts to qualify. ...Milestones: Cato is up to 6th on MU's career list in completions (500), with Carl Fodor (521) and even Todd Donnan (542) in his sights. He is 7th in TD passes (42), just behind Tony Petersen's 43, and he is 10th in passing yards (5,349), just behind Brian Anderson (5,403) and Bernard Morris (5,616). ... The Aaron Dobson/Antavious Wilson watch: With Dobson limited to one catch last week by injury, Wilson made the biggest jump, climbing to No. 8 in MU career receptions (170). Next is the 176 of "Little" Ricky Carter. Wilson has 2,130 receiving yards, 27 from No. 10 Carter in that category. With 161, Dobson needs seven more catches to tie Randy Moss and Fuzzy Filliez for 9th. He is still looking for his 24th TD reception, which would tie Troy Brown for 4th.
Completely useless triviaFor any Thundering Herd fans following their team to Legion Field for the first time, beware: The Waffle Houses will be overrun with Alabama fans, and you won't see UAB memorabilia anywhere in sight. The top-ranked Crimson Tide plays Texas A&M down the interstates in Tuscaloosa, which presents the toughest SEC game yet for the Aggies of coach Kevin Sumlin ... and his defensive coordinator, Mark Snyder. With 56 miles separating the games, this may be the closest, geographically, that Snyder has coached to his former team since being forced out of the MU coaching post in 2009.NextMarshall returns for its final home game of the season next week, a pivotal contest against Houston. That will kick off at noon Saturday, with Comcast/Charter Sport Southeast televising. UAB wraps up its home schedule at 2 p.m. Saturday with the "Battle of the Bones" barbecue battle against Memphis. Plenty of good seats available.