After an exciting win over La Tech on homecoming, UAB football now has to quickly turn the page to prepare for a good Middle Tennessee team.
The Blue Raiders are dealing with several injuries, as are most teams this time of year, but still managed to pick up an impressive 37-17 win over FIU this past Saturday.
The week before that they were blown out on the road against FAU, making them 1-1 in conference play.
Middle Tennessee started out the year against three power five schools in Vandy, Syracuse and Minnesota. They were able to come away with a win on the road against Syracuse 30-23, but dropped the other two games by a pretty wide margin.
UAB has played some very close games lately with their last three games being decided by seven points or less. Fortunately, the Blazers have come out on the good side of two of those scores.
They are now 3-2 (1-1) on the year, while MTSU is 3-3 (1-1).
Let’s take a look at the matchups this week.
MTSU’s Offense vs. UAB’s Defense
The biggest question all week will be the status of the Blue Raider quarterback Brent Stockstill. The junior was injured in the win against Syracuse and hasn’t played since. He threw for over 4,000 yards in 2015, and he’s had 30 or more touchdowns passes the past two seasons.
However, not much has changed with sophomore John Urzua taking his place. The MTSU coaching staff has handed him the reigns and continued to air it out in this offense. He’s already thrown the ball 148 times in four games. That’s 28 more times than A.J. Erdely in five games.
Urzua has thrown for 1,034 yards this year and 5 touchdowns. But the one glaring downside of the sophomore are the interceptions. He’s thrown six already, but didn’t give one away this past weekend against FIU.
Hopefully UAB’s secondary will be able to pick him off a couple of times on Saturday.
MTSU is fifth in the conference in passing yards per game with 257.3. No matter who is at quarterback on Saturday, you can bet they’re going to throw the football a ton.
Their rushing attack ranks near the bottom in Conference USA with just 112.8 yards per game on the ground. Brad Anderson leads that group with 286 yards on 46 carries for a 6.2 average, but he’s yet to score a rushing touchdown.
Ty Lee has been the Blue Raiders best wide receiver so far this year with 35 catches for 394 yards and 3 touchdowns.
MTSU’s best wide receiver, Richie James, has missed three straight games with an injury and is questionable for this weekend’s contest. Last year he caught 105 balls for 1,625 yards and 12 touchdowns. If he’s on the field Saturday, it will be a problem.
As for the UAB defense, they’ve given up 29.8 points per game this year, but are giving up just 359.6 total yards per game. They’re giving up under 200 passing yards per game, and I can just about promise you that if MTSU doesn’t have over 200 passing yards on Saturday the Blazers will win.
The defensive line, with a healthy Stacy Keely, did a much better job of pressuring the quarterback as they came up with two sacks against La Tech. It also helped them get off the field on third down as La Tech was just 5-of-12 converting on third down.
Neither quarterback for MTSU is a great runner, so hopefully our defensive line can get after them in this game and force him to get rid of the ball early. If you give either of these quarterbacks time to pass, they’re going to find an open receiver.
My hope is that UAB doesn’t allow many yards after the catch and keeps their wide receivers in front of them.
UAB’s Offense vs. MTSU’s Defense
Despite only scoring 22 points, I thought UAB’s offense looked much better on Saturday. They racked up 366 yards against one of the best defenses in Conference USA. A.J. Erdely threw the ball 32 times, and threw the ball effectively, which opened up the running game.
If defense have to respect the pass, that only opens up our rushing attack even more. And we all know what Spencer Brown can do when given a little space.
He gashed La Tech in the first half last week and finished with 168 yards on 26 carries — the most carries he’s received this year.
I think our coaching staff has finally put some trust in Erdely, and I think they have a better idea of where this offense can be effective.
MTSU is second in Conference USA in stopping the run, giving up just 126 yards per game on the ground, and they’re holding opponents to just 3.1 yards per carry.
We very well could have difficulty running the football against that defense, which means we’ll need Erdely to make some throws.
Unfortunately for UAB, the Blue Raiders are fourth best in the conference against the pass giving up just 215.2 yards per game through the air. Although, I’d be very happy if Erdely threw for over 200 yards in this game.
Sophomore linebacker Khalil Brooks is a beast on that MTSU defense. He’s second on the team with 31.5 tackles, he’s first with 10.5 tackles for a loss and he leads the team in sacks with 5.5. If UAB is going to have any success running the football, somebody will need to put a helmet on him.
This will be another tough challenge for our offense against a very good defense, but I have confidence they can get the job done and put some points on the board.
Game Preview and Prediction
This game is very hard to predict because we probably won’t know the status of their two best offensive players until game time on Saturday. To me, Stockstill is not as big of a deal as James. If James is back at wide receiver he will be a very big threat to our defense.
The key for me in this game is the same as it was against La Tech. Try to find a balance attack on offense to soften up the opposing defense so we can run the football.
Just like everyone else, MTSU is going to load the box and make sure they stop the run first. A.J. will need to have some success through the air early to open up the middle of the field.
MTSU’s offense moves quick, which means they don’t typically win the time-of-possession battle. I think that favors our defense who is really good when rested. They’ll need to create a few turnovers in this game to keep UAB in this one.
Again, just like the La Tech game, I think our defense will have to keep them under 30 points to have a chance. I don’t know that our offense is capable of putting up that many points against their defense.
I didn’t pick UAB last week and they won — I’m hoping they prove me wrong again this Saturday.
Prediction: MTSU – 31 UAB – 24