By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Last year, Darrin Reaves ran all over Marshall’s struggling defense and led UAB to a 38-31 win in a game that ultimately crushed the Thundering Herd’s chances of becoming bowl eligible.
Reaves is back for the Blazers, but he isn’t alone. True freshman Jordan Howard has emerged as a weapon in a UAB offense that relies heavily — almost totally — on the run.
The Herd (5-3, 3-1 Conference USA) will have to stop both when the Blazers visit Joan C. Edwards Stadium at noon Saturday.
Reaves, now a 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior, ran for 184 yards and two touchdowns in last season’s meeting. He is currently sixth in C-USA, averaging 84.8 yards per game, and has a league-leading seven touchdowns.
“He is a physical guy that will run through you,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “You’re not going to arm tackle this guy. He’s going to run through arm tackles, and Howard is the same way. Howard is actually a little bigger than and just as physical as Reeves. It will be important that we wrap up and tackle these guys. We’ve done a pretty good job of that all year and it’s going to be critical that we continue that on Saturday.”
Howard (6-1, 228) has been a pleasant surprise for second-year UAB coach Garrick McGee and his staff. Howard has scored only twice, but is third in the conference at 92.9 yards per game.
“He’s a big, physical guy,” Holliday said. “If you watch him on film, he’s not only an in-between-the-tackles runner, but he can break it off and get it on the perimeter. He’s good there, too. They have two tailbacks that they feed the ball to a lot, and they are very talented players.”
UAB (2-6, 1-3) is fifth in the league in rushing at 177.8. Against Middle Tennessee State last week, the Blazers ran 56 plays on the ground against a defense that is next-to-last in C-USA against the run. The strategy almost worked — it took an 18-yard field goal with three seconds remaining for MTSU to win 24-21.
The Blazers’ rely on the blocking of tight ends Tristan Hendeson, Kennard Blackman and Bud Pruitt to contribute to their running attack.
“They do a good of performing and doing what we ask them to do,” tight ends coach Joseph Henry said. “That's why we call them super backs. The array of techniques and different skills they have to learn is pretty different, depending on the game plan, but they always do a good job of doing what is asked of them.”
“It’s like any game you play,” Holliday said. “If you can’t stop the run, then you will have major problems. It’s going to be one of those games that if we can’t stop the run then it’s going to be a long afternoon. Our guys will work hard all week at getting that done.”
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