UAB football is officially back and we can put that great experience of #theRetrun behind us to focus on on our next opponent in Ball State.
This week’s matchup should be a little more difficult as we step back into the Division 1 ranks.
Ball State traveled to take on Big Ten foe Illinois in their first week, and held a lead late in the game before losing 24–21.
The Cardinals actually out-gained Illinois 375 to 216 in the game, but somehow managed to still lose.
As for UAB in week 1, they started out a bit sluggish but pulled away late against Alabama A&M. Much of that was to be expected with the emotions around #theReturn and this being the first time these guys have ever played a real game together.
Let’s take a deeper look into the matchups.
Ball State Offense vs. UAB Defense
As we mentioned, against Illinois in week 1 the Cardinals’ offense put up 375 yards in 85 plays. It was a pretty balanced attack with 204 yards passing on 34 attempts and 171 yards rushing on 51 attempts.
Quarterback Riley Neal returns after throwing for 2,541 yards and 13 touchdowns in 2016. He also rushed for 540 yards and eight touchdowns last year.
Against Illinois he was 21-of-34 for 204 yards with a touchdown and an interception. He rushed 15 times for a net of 41 yards, and he was sacked three times.
This is Neal’s third year starting at quarterback for Ball State, so he certainly has the experience.
Running back James Gilbert has also racked up plenty of experience in his three years with Ball State. Last year he led the team with 1,332 yards and 12 touchdowns with a 5.3 average per carry.
Against Illinois, Gilbert rushed the ball a team-high 19 times for 74 yards (3.9 average) and a touchdown.
Freshman running back Caleb Huntley had 42 yards on eight carries, while sophomore Malik Dunner had just 12 yards on eight carries but did record a touchdown.
Obviously Ball State loves to run the football, which should play into the strength of the UAB defense, which allowed just 45 yards rushing to Alabama A&M.
Ball State is a bit inexperienced at wide receiver. Sophomore Riley Miller led them with seven catches for 86 yards against Illinois. Jordan Hogue and Corey Lacanaria are the most experienced of the group.
Vinnie Palazeti (left guard), Alex Joss (right guard) and Kadin Booker (right tackles) all have starting experience on the offense line, so it should be a solid unit.
The UAB defense was highly impressive in week one — as expected — but we also have to remember that was against Alabama A&M.
They allowed just 183 total yards of offense (45 on the ground and 138 in the air). The defense had just one turnover on an interception, and recorded three sacks. However, they did have a whopping 12 tackles for a loss.
Tevin Crews led the team with 7 total tackles and 3 tackles for a loss. He also had a sack and a pass break-up.
The front seven for UAB was everything we hoped it would be, and they’ll need to repeat that performance on Saturday to slow down Ball State’s rushing attack.
UAB Offense vs. Ball State Defense
The thing that scared me the most for UAB coming into this season came to reality on Saturday as the offensive line struggled to protect A.J. Erdely.
He was sacked three times, and it felt like he was under duress most of the game.
Coach Clark will need to whip that offensive line into shape this week as they get ready to face a Ball State defense that racked up four sacks against Illinois last weekend.
The good news is the offensive line did a much better job run blocking. UAB gashed Alabama A&M for 282 yards on the ground in 58 attempts for a 4.5 average.
I actually thought UAB went away from the run a little too early against Alabama A&M, causing their sluggish start on offense.
Carlos Stephens led UAB with 76 yards on 15 attempts, while James Noble was right behind him with 74 yards on 13 carries. Those two will most likely carry the load against Ball State this weekend.
The Cardinals’ run defense was pretty stout against Illinois giving up just 71 yards on 30 attempts. Last year the Ball State defense gave up 150.6 rushing yards per game.
Defensive end Anthony Winbush was a beast against Illinois with seven total tackles, four tackles for a loss and three sacks. Last year he had 24 tackles, 10.5 tackles for a loss and 8.5 sacks. UAB will need to put a couple of bodies on him.
Kevin Willis returns at defensive tackle for Ball State and was named the team captain for 2017. He had 4.5 tackles for a loss and 2 sacks last year.
Ball State loses their top five tacklers from 2016. Their leading tackler form last year is defensive back Marc Walton who had 63 stops and led the team with 3 interceptions and 11 pass break-ups.
This was not a great defense a year ago giving up over 30 points a game, and they lost a lot, but their week one performance was pretty impressive — unlike the UAB offense.
Erdely was just 11-of-20 passing for 152 yards and two touchdowns. As a whole, the offense racked up just 424 yards on 80 plays. That’s normally a great total, but not against an FCS school.
The offense — in particularly, the offensive line — will need to play much better this weekend to get the win.
Game Preview and Prediction
Looking at the stats, I don’t understand how Ball State lost to Illinois. You know they feel the same way and will be eager to get their first win at home.
UAB can put all the hoopla of #theReturn behind them and just focus on playing football. But this will be their first test on the road; although, it’s not exactly a hostile environment.
I think this will be a slugfest as both teams try to establish the run. I think UAB would love to open up the passing game, but they’ll have to use a running back to double-team Ball State’s pass rushers.
The safeties and linebackers for Ball State are very young. If Erdely is given time our receivers should be able to get loose in the middle of the field.
The one thing that gives me hope in this game is that Ball State’s strength of running the football matches our strength of stopping the run. If we can bottle up their running game and force them to pass, I think we’ll have a lot of success.
However, Neal is a very experienced quarterback and a very efficient passer. Our defensive line will need to force him out of the pocket and to get rid of the ball quickly.
This will definitely be a four quarter game as I don’t see either offense pulling away.
This one could come down to special teams, and which defense comes up with the big turnover.
Prediction: UAB -27 Ball State – 24