At home, Herd has started strong vs. UAB
HUNTINGTON - The caution expressed by Marshall players and coaches for Saturday's game against Alabama-Birmingham has merit, considering that the Blazers won last year in Legion Field.
But there is a truth not covered in all that coachspeak: In the team's last two games at Joan C. Edwards Stadium, the Herd has jumped on the Blazers from the coin toss.
Before last week's 61-13 bombing of Southern Mississippi, the 2011 win over UAB was Marshall's largest rout in a Conference USA game. The Herd led 38-0 at the half, owned a 284-81 lead in total yardage and eventually won 59-14.
Jonathan Perry, one of two UAB quarterbacks this year, was 5 of 13 for 42 yards and two interceptions in the first quarter, when he was benched the rest of the half.
A.J. Graham threw five touchdowns for the Herd. Remember him?
The 2009 game was not nearly as lopsided, but the Herd scored the first 17 points and won 27-7. Brian Anderson threw for 315 yards and two touchdowns, and the Blazers committed a whopping 15 penalties for 135 yards. That count included two personal fouls, an unsportsmanlike conduct and a roughing the passer penalty.
In the other six Herd-UAB games, the issue was in doubt into the fourth quarter.
Speaking of Perry, UAB coach Garrick McGee is sounding bullish on him this week. Perhaps it's a curveball, but McGee indicated the senior has the edge over sophomore Austin Brown.
Perry went 6 of 9 for 57 yards and a touchdown last week against Middle Tennessee, adding 34 yards in six carries. The Blazers went to a run-oriented game plan, so Perry handed off the other 50 plays.
"We have confidence in Jonathan. He's played a lot of good football for us," McGee said. "He's a very good athlete and a very good quarterback, and he's been playing really well, practicing really well, great attitude.
"So it's good to see a kid - he was the starting quarterback, then he was not the starting quarterback. Instead of pouting and becoming a distraction as a senior, he hung in there with a very positive attitude, and he's going to get to finish his career, if things go right, as the starting quarterback."
Brown started the Blazers' first seven games, throwing for 1,199 yards and nine touchdowns vs. three interceptions. In the 2012 game against MU, he was 20 of 34 for 197 yards and two touchdowns, with three interceptions.
Listed at 6-foot-1, 205 pounds, Evan McKelvey isn't the first Marshall linebacker considered undersized in the era of major-college football. Herd fans my remember D.J. Hunter playing strong-side linebacker last year at 200 pounds on a heavy day.
But really, does McKelvey look that small? Not really, not when he proves to be one of the fastest and most physical players on the field. Apparently, brother Omar Brown, the former Herd safety with a Super Bowl ring, has been swayed.
"Omar called me small all the time," McKelvey said. "That gave me some motive to be stronger. Now that I'm stronger than him in bench and squat, that just blows my mind. So he can't really say anything.
"Only thing he's got is a Super Bowl ring."
Brown played in his first NFL game this year last week, the Baltimore Ravens' 24-18 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Ravens had a bye the week before, a good time for Brown to visit Huntington.
"And the thing is, when he shows up he just pops up," McKelvey said. "He just knocks on my door and, 'Oh, hey, what's up?' I'm just like, 'So you don't give nobody a head's-up?'
"It was good to see him last week."
Marshall does not play North Texas (yet), so there is no head-to-head battle between Conference USA's best punt returners. MU's Devon "Moo Moo" Smith and NT's Brelan Chancellor will match stats from afar.
Bolstered by his 55-yard return against Southern Mississippi, Smith averages 18.5 yards on 19 returns. Chancellor saw that long return, and raised it with a 65-yard touchdown jaunt in the Mean Green's 28-16 win over Rice.
Chancellor now averages 21.1 over 15 returns, leading C-USA and the nation. Smith is fifth nationally, second in C-USA.
"I live the punt return thing. That's something I feel really confident at," Smith said. "Every [return] I get, that's in my mind, break every single one. Be the best in the nation."
North Texas is tied for the West Division lead with Tulane and Rice. Marshall is tied with East Carolina in the loss column in the East.
UAB isn't devoid of a dangerous kick returner, as Jamarcus Nelson has juggled those chores with those of being the team's top receiver.
Nelson owns a 63-yard punt return touchdown and a 97-yard kickoff return score, and averages 18.2 yards on 27 catches, with six receiving TDs.
In part because of his injuries, he doesn't have enough returns to rank among C-USA's best in the return categories. Nagging injuries have been a theme - one Marshall defender noted that Nelson was fighting through a hamstring issue in last year's game, and was limited.
McGee said that is not the case now, so beware.
"Bottom line, in a footrace he's probably the fastest guy I've ever coached," McGee said. "He's finally back healthy and is full speed now, so he provides a lot for a team when he's that fast."
And finally, Kanawha Valley Herd fans (specifically, the ones too lazy/occupied to drive Interstate 64) can indeed see the game on WCHS, Channel 8. That station has picked up games before airing on Comcast/Charter Sports Southeast, which is mainly available to Comcast subscribers in the Huntington area.
Reach Doug Smock at 304-348-5130, firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him at twitter.com/dougsmock.