By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
Garrick McGee came to UAB with impressive credentials and a reputation as an offensive coach. He spent the last two seasons as the offensive coordinator at Arkansas, and was a finalist for the 2011 Broyles Award, given to the top assistant coach in college football.
But things have not happened as quickly for the Blazers as McGee would like. The Blazers are 2-7 on the season, having to battle back from a 16-0 halftime deficit to winless Southern Miss before winning 27-19 last week just to get there.
McGee has, nonetheless, been happy with the progression of his offense.
“The philosophy of our offense is to run the ball,” said McGee, whose Blazers host Marshall (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) at 4:30 p.m. Saturday. “Earlier in the season, we were disappointed because we couldn’t run the ball as much as we anticipated, and we resorted to having to pass the ball over and over for 300 yards a game to stay in games. The way you win games is by playing good defense and by running the ball.”
That running game has shown signs of improvement, led by Darrin Reaves. The 5-foot-10, 190-pound sophomore ran for 223 yards and two touchdowns in the win over the Golden Eagles.
One of the reasons for the recent emergence of the ground game has been the performance of Santonio Jones. The former linebacker has converted to fullback and has done well. He also gives the Blazers more options.
“He gave us another body to upgrade our running game, and he’s just been a really fast learner,” McGee said. “When we decided to move Santonio to offense, it was a play where he was on defense, and we had one of our offensive tackles going in there after him and he stepped up in the hole and knocked the tackle back. We said that this guy might be our fullback.”
“It took a while for me to get used to where I’m supposed to go and who I’m supposed to block,” Jones said. “My coach (tight ends coach Richard Owens) is a good coach and he has been patient with me. He’s showed me the blocking schemes, what gap I’m supposed to hit and who I’m supposed to block. Everything has worked out great.”
The progression of redshirt freshman quarterback Austin Brown also has helped the offense. The native of Flowery Branch, Ga. — the headquarters of Matt Ryan and the Atlanta Falcons — was 17 of 29 for 228 yards and a touchdown against Southern Miss.
The Blazers turned the ball over three times and allowed a safety in the first half. But Brown led UAB on five scoring drives in the second half.
“I think he did a really good job of managing our team in the second half, completing the passes that were there for him,” McGee said. “His technique was better once he settled down. I think he really grew up in the game, and it’s always good when you grow up and you win at the end, because that shows you if you keep trusting in who you are and what we are, then good things will happen.”
Saturday’s game can be seen on WCHS-TV.
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Marshall quarterback Rakeem Cato was named Conference USA Co-Offensive Player of the Week on Monday. He shared the award with Shane Carden of East Carolina.
Cato hit on 34 of 44 passes for 341 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions in Saturday’s 38-28 win over Memphis. With Marshall clinging to a 31-28 lead midway through the fourth quarter, Cato hit wideout Davonte Allen on a 28-yard TD down the sideline on fourth-and-6 to put the game out of reach.
Cato is currently the nation’s leader in completions (318) and passing yards (3,290) and is fourth in total offense (3,292) and fifth in touchdown passes (27).
Cato’s fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Demetrius Evans was the 40th of his career, putting him in seventh place all-time at Marshall. His 500 career completions rank sixth all-time, and his 27 touchdown passes this season are the ninth-best in a single season.
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