The Blazers begin Conference USA play this weekend on the road against North Texas. We’ll preview the matchup here and give you our early prediction.
UAB got back on track at home last Saturday with a 30-23 win over Coastal Carolina, while North Texas gave all Iowa could handle for a little over a half before the Hawkeyes pulled away.
The Mean Grean enter this weekend’s matchup with a 1-2 record going up against 2-1 UAB. Despite that, North Texas opens up the week as a 10 point favorite at home in this game.
These two teams have only played each other twice, with UAB winning both meetings. The latest was in 2014 when UAB crushed North Texas 56-21 at Legion Field. The only other time they met was in 1995 when Watson Brown led the Blazers to a 19-14 victory in Denton, Texas.
Hopefully UAB can keep their winning streak against North Texas alive this weekend. Let’s get into the matchups and preview.
North Texas Offense vs. UAB Defense
So far this year North Texas is averaging 35 points per game and 488.7 yards per game. A lot of those numbers are inflated from their first game of the season when they scored 59 points and had 668 total yards against Lamar. They followed that up with 32 points and 493 total yards in a loss to SMU.
This past weekend they faced a stout Big Ten defense in Iowa and managed just 14 points and 305 total yards. I think the UAB defense they’ll face this weekend is somewhere between the SMU and Iowa defense.
The Mean Green do return six starters on offense, including running back Jeffrey Wilson and quarterback Mason Fine.
Wilson is second in Conference USA averaging 102.3 yards per game on just 37 attempts. And he’s tied with UAB quarterback A.J. Erdely for the most rushing touchdowns in the conference with five.
Iowa was barely able to hold Wilson under the century mark as he had 95 yards on 12 carries for a 7.9 average.
The UAB defense has yet to allow a 100 yard rusher, despite facing three really good running backs already this year. Ball State’s Caleb Huntley had the most with 89 yards on 10 carries — 52 of those yards coming on one play.
This will be another big test for the UAB front seven to see if they can keep Wilson from reaching the century mark.
But North Texas certainly isn’t one dimensional. Mason Fine has already thrown for 815 yards and six touchdowns this year for an average of 271.7 passing yards per game. He has a 67 percent completion rate, but he has thrown three interceptions.
From watching Fine against Iowa, the one thing I quickly learned about him is that he is very confident in his arm. He wasn’t afraid to throw the deep ball and give his wide receivers the chance to make a play.
The Mean Green’s top receiver this year has been Notre Dame transfer Jalen Guyton. The 6-foot-1 sophomore has caught eight passes for 185 yards and three touchdowns. He’s averaging an amazing 23.1 yards per catch. The UAB secondary will have to make sure he doesn’t get behind them.
Michael Lawrence has caught 13 passes for 179 yards, while Turner Smiley has eight catches for 158 yards.
The offensive line for North Texas is very experienced with three having played significant time together last year, and the other two starters being junior college transfers.
The UAB defense has been great his year, but this may be their biggest task yet facing a North Texas team that currently leads Conference USA in points and total yards per game.
UAB Offense vs. North Texas Defense
The UAB offense currently ranks third in the conference averaging 33 points a game, having scored 30 or more points in every game this year. They’re also fifth in the conference averaging just over 400 yards per game, despite only totaling 274 against Coastal Carolina.
I was pretty harsh on the offense in my recap of the Coastal Carolina game, but it makes sense that their yard totals were low considering the defense kept setting them up with short fields after turnovers. Still, I didn’t care for the play-calling after the first series of the game. Forty-seven rushing attempts to just 15 passing attempts is not a healthy balance, especially when you were facing a team that struggled against the pass against UMASS. A.J. Erdely should have thrown for at least 200 yards against that secondary, but let’s move on.
Despite my grumblings, this is defintely a run first offense led by running back Spencer Brown. He is fifth in the conference averaging 81.3 yards per game on 40 attempts. He’s fourth in the conference with 244 rushing yards, and third with three rushing touchdowns.
Coastal Carolina stacked the box the entire game against UAB and was able to hold Brown to just 51 yards on a team-high 16 carries, but he did manage to get two touchdowns.
The offensive line continues to struggled in pass protection as they’ve given up eight sacks this year — two or three of those can be put on A.J. for hanging onto the football too long.
UAB needs to do a better job of opening up the short passing game like they did early against Coastal Carolina. That will allow A.J. to get rid of the ball quickly. Right now he is looking at his first read and if it’s not there he’s scrambling out of the pocket.
Which brings me to UAB’s wide receiver group. There was a lot of talk about how deep and talented this group looked in fall practice, but I’ve yet to see it in a game this year.
Andrew Wilson leads the team with eight catches for 101 yards, and Colin Lisa is right behind him with six catches for 96 yards.
Sederian Copeland being out against Coastal Carolina was a bigger loss than I thought. Hopefully he’ll be back this weekend.
But these receivers have to do a better job of getting open, especially when A.J. leaves the pocket. They have to do a better job of breaking off their routes and coming back to the quarterback when he scrambles.
As for the North Texas defense, they’re giving up 33 points and 398 yards per game this year. Both of those numbers are middle of the pack in Conference USA.
From what I saw against Iowa, the defensive line is a pretty strong unit; however, they got tired in the second half against that big offensive line for Iowa.
They’ve racked up six sacks in three games, and you know they’ll be pinning their ears back against our offensive line. Roderick Young leads the North Texas defensive line with 13 tackles, as well as one-and-a-half tackles for a loss.
Linebacker E.J. Ejiya has been a beast for North Texas so far this year. He’s second on the team with 18 tackles, and leads the team with three sacks and three-and-a-half tackles for a loss.
Sophomore safety Khairi Muhammad leads the team with 26 tackles to go along with one sack and two tackles for a loss.
Their best cover corner so far this year has been Kemon Hall. He has 16 tackles, 1 interception and three pass break-ups.
They are giving up just 141 rushing yards per game, and UAB will likely need to get over 200 yards rushing to win this game. Iowa was able to rush for 263 yards against them, with a lot of those coming in the second half. On the game, Iowa averaged just four yards per carry as they ran it an amazing 59 times.
The Blazers will have a hard time in this game if they can’t establish the run early.
Game Preview and Prediction
Coming into the season I had marked this game down as a win for UAB, but now I’m not so sure.
I was really impressed with what I saw from North Texas in the first half against Iowa. As you would expect, their depth didn’t allow them to keep up with the Hawkeyes in the second half, but their defense had shut them down for two quarters.
On the flip side, I was not impressed at all with UAB’s offensive performance against Coastal Carolina. I thought it was a great chance for A.J. Erdely to give us some confidence in the passing game, but he wasn’t given that chance.
Now we go into this game looking like a one dimensional team. If the Blazers can’t run the ball effectively and give our defense a break, it is going to be a long day for UAB.
Once again our defense was on the field for over half the game. I would love to see our offense control the clock so that it’s our defense that is fresh in the second half and not theirs. That’s the only way I see UAB winning this game, is if they establish the run game early and control the clock in the first half.
I don’t feel nearly as confident in our ability to do that this week as I did the week before, which is why I’m going with North Texas in this game.
Prediction: North Texas – 34 UAB 27