Marshall coach Doc Holliday
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. - Nowhere in Doc Holliday's voice was an acknowledgement that his Marshall team is favored by three-plus touchdowns against Alabama-Birmingham.
That line, and the Herd's mettle, will be tested at noon Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
For one thing, the stinging 38-31 loss at UAB a year ago is firmly lodged in Holliday's mind. So is the Blazers' near-miss last week against Middle Tennessee, a team that has conquered the Thundering Herd.
In both games, an old-school football mentality showed up and Holliday wants his troops to be properly prepared - dressed for the part, in a figurative sense.
"We told them on Sunday they better put their 'big boy pads' on because it's going to be a physical, get-after-it game," Holliday said. "It's going to be them against their O-line. If that offensive line is able to physically get after our defensive line, it's going to be a long afternoon."
With two powerful running backs in Darrin Reaves and Jordan Howard and an offense that ran 26 straight times against MTSU, that defensive line faces a stern challenge. Those men fulfilled their mission last week, throttling Southern Mississippi after almost sleepwalking against MTSU.
"If they weren't disappointed with the way they played at Middle, they've got problems," Holliday said Tuesday at his weekly press conference. "They played a lot better this past week, but it's going to be even more critical, they've probably got a bigger challenge this week."
Maybe as big as that long evening in 2012 when Reaves gained 184 of the Blazers' 209 rushing yards. Now the Blazers have another backfield weapon in Howard.
The two just about split their 29 carries in the first half (vs. a single pass) last week as UAB held a 7-0 lead. They combined for 50 carries and 265 yards as the Blazers' clock-milking strategy nearly worked - MTSU rallied with a 93-yard pass, an interception return and a last-play field goal to win 24-21.
Holliday really likes Howard, the 6-foot-1, 228-pound true freshman from just north of Birmingham in Gardendale, Ala.
"He's a big, physical guy," Holliday said. "And you watch him on film, he's not only between the tackles, he's good on the perimeter, too. They've got two tailbacks they feed the ball to a lot, and they've very talented."
Holliday also took note of Jamarcus Nelson, the 5-foot-11, 160-pound speedy wide receiver/kick returner. Here's how explosive this guy is: All 16 of his career touchdowns (14 receiving, two on returns) have covered 21 yards or more, with 11 topping 40.
"If [Nelson] is on the field, you'd better be aware of where he is, because he ran right by LSU," Holliday said. That he did, catching a 41-yard pass from Austin Brown in UAB's 54-17 loss.
Brown may not be the quarterback, though, come Saturday. UAB used Jonathan Perry last week against MTSU, and he completed six of his nine passes for 57 yards. He rushed six times for 34 yards, which shows his contrast from the pocket-oriented Brown.
Holliday said his team must prepare for both QBs.
"Perry, he's a guy they think can beat you more with his feet," Holliday said. "They called pass, but on the 2-point conversion to tie the game [at 21], he took off and scored. You see where he gets on the perimeter at times. He's older, a senior, but the other guy played all last year."
The depth chart on UAB's game notes, which haven't accounted for the latest injuries, is a little out of whack.
How much? Every defensive end on the two-deep is expected not to play. Granted, there are three - one starter is listed as backup at the other end - but they're all out.
Starters Chris Rabb (concussion) and Diaheem Watkins (shoulder) are expected to be out. Chris Walton, listed as Rabb's backup, has another ankle injury. Rabb is listed as Watkins' backup.
On the other side of the ball, left guard Roscoe Byrd broke his leg last week in the Blazers' 24-21 loss to Middle Tennessee, so he is out indefinitely.
The depth chart has been updated for previous maladies, the story of which is long enough to drape a stretcher. That starts with five defensive backs - safeties Calvin Jones, Jay Davis and Greg Maclin, plus cornerbacks Kelton Brackett and LaMarcus Farmer.
Starting linebacker Destin Challenger and backup Tevin Crews have played just five games because of shoulder injuries. Running back Bashr Coles has long since been out with a spring knee injury.
Among the receivers, McGee said Nyiakki Height may play after missing a week with a concussion, but Jamari Staples is questionable or worst.
And in the worst insult of all, reserved tight end Neal Gray dislocated an elbow before the MTSU game. Before the game, in warm-ups.
Holliday said he's seen a lot of strange injuries, but that's a new one to him. Then again, "I had a guy blow out a knee in the tunnel one time," he said.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, email@example.com or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.