By Gary Fauber
Assistant Sports Editor
As well as Tulsa’s defense has played this season, one problem was exposed by UAB last Saturday. The Golden Hurricane won the game 49-42, but the Blazers were able to stay close thanks to some big plays.
Right off the bat, UAB scored on the game’s first offensive play — a 75-yard touchdown pass from Austin Brown to Jemarcus Nelson.
Marshall, which hosts Tulsa at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, is among that nation’s leaders in offensive plays of 10 yards or longer. So there is potential for some big moments.
“If you can line up, make the proper read, the proper hot, and if you can protect, then you have a shot,” Marshall coach Doc Holliday said. “Against UAB last week, they gave up some big plays. At times they will go man-to-man. They’re very aggressive in all phases that they do.”
It’s no surprise that Tommy Shuler has emerged as quarterback Rakeem Cato’s top target. The two were teammates at Miami Central High in 2010.
Shuler leads the nation with 51 receptions. He set a Marshall record with 19 catches for 200 yards last Saturday at Purdue. His performances have led to him being added to the Biletnikoff Award watch list.
The award is given annually to the nation’s top college receiver. Randy Moss won it in 1997.
That gives the Herd two players on the list. The other is senior Aaron Dobson.
In assessing Shuler, Tulsa coach Bill Blankenship gave, and then he took away.
“He’s pretty good. He might be a little of the Wes Welker type of guy,” Blankenship said. “An underneath receiver who can shake and bake.
“Purdue got a pretty good lead (42-14 at halftime) and then they probably played it a little safe and made it a little easier for (Marshall) than hopefully we’re going to do.
“Most of those throws are under 10 yards. It’s a chip-away-at-you kind of offense. When you throw 70 percent, you’re dinking it around a little bit and hoping that guys will break tackles.”
While Cato and Shuler have been unstoppable on the underneath stuff, Cato and Dobson haven’t been as fortunate on the deep ball.
Dobson, who has 32 catches for 355 yards and two touchdowns, has a season-long reception of 40 yards — in the season-opener at West Virginia. Several of Cato’s throws to Dobson have been overthrown.
“They just have to do it in practice every day,” Holliday said. “It’s not that we don’t work on it, because we do. I talk to our guys all the time about competitive excellence. If you do it over and over again in practice, then it will happen in games. We have to do a better job when we throw the ball down the field in practice, and we have worked on it. We have to complete it in practice and it will carry over into Saturday.”
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