BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The downward spiral of Marshall's special teams has not only continued, it has spread like a virus to the previously solid punt team.
Thundering Herd fans have been conditioned to avert their eyes when their team kicks off, and to root for a touchback when the opposition is kicking, but punting disasters have been avoided - until Saturday, when that phase contributed to the Herd's 38-31 loss at Alabama-Birmingham.
There was no warning, certainly when Tyler Williams started the game with a 53-yard bomb and his coverage team held Jackie Williams to a 3-yard return. But the next punt turned the game in a hurry.
Marshall's 7-0 lead was wiped out when Tyler Williams fired a low 41-yard punt to Jackie Williams. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound junior evaded the first wave of tacklers, then accelerated into a large opening.
Tyler Williams was the last defender and made a respectable attempt at a form tackle, but the returner churned out of it and just beat a trailing Herd player to the goal line.
That wasn't the end of Marshall's punting troubles. Tyler Williams' next attempt was nearly blocked and traveled just 31 yards. His next try did get blocked, though it still went 20 yards past the line of scrimmage.
UAB scored touchdowns after both of those kicks. Counting the Jackie Williams TD return, the Blazers turned a 7-0 deficit to a 21-7 lead.
The kickoff woes weren't as deadly, but the Herd allowed UAB to start at midfield and the 40-yard line on two occasions. Justin Haig was ordered to squib-kick again and Marshall had its best results, forcing the Blazers to start at their 28 and 20 on the final two drives.
Herd coach Doc Holliday's evaluation was terse: "Awful. Didn't play well there. And you've got a blocked punt and you've got a punt return for a touchdown; it's hard to win a game when you do that."
Rakeem Cato is now Marshall's single-season leader in completions with 343, passing position coach Tony Petersen's 340 in 1987. Cato, who went 25 of 31 for 216 yards Saturday, has 3,506 yards for the season, No. 6 on that list.
Marshall has thrown a touchdown pass in 14 straight games, dating back to last season.
The Herd received the opening kickoff for the 15th straight game, the longest such streak in the nation. Marshall takes the ball when winning the toss, while some foes have deferred the option when they win the toss. Of course, it doesn't always help when you go three-and-out on your first possession, as the Herd did Saturday.
Ty Long's short field goal at the end of the first half was aided by a personal foul on MU defensive end Ra'Shawde Myers, for a hit that injured UAB receiver Patrick Hearn. Myers was called for delivering a forearm to Hearn's head, though it can be argued Hearn brought on the contact by lowering his head. Hearn was taken off on a cart.
Andre Snipes-Booker was injured on the kickoff late in the first half, possibly with a concussion. He was replaced the rest of the game by Tommy Shuler.
Marshall has not missed an extra point in 30 games. Haig is a perfect 47 for 47 this season, and he and Tyler Warner combined to go 31 of 31 last season.
Marvin Burdette's 17 tackles made him UAB's all-time career leader. Reaves' 12th and 13th rushing TDs established a single-game school mark.
Contact Doug Smock at 304-348-5130 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.