After an incredible 2017 season that saw UAB win eight games after the program was shut down for two season, the Blazers will play Ohio in the Bahamas Bowl.
Ohio also had an eight-win season playing in the MAC, and just missed out on a shot in the MAC championship game, so both of these teams had similar seasons.
Still, the Bobcats open up this week as a 7.5-point favorite in this game. Some of that probably has to do with the fact that UAB lost by 20 on the road to a Ball State team that went 0-8 in the MAC.
It’s fitting that even after the season Bill Clark and UAB had, we enter a bowl game with little respect. Hopefully the Blazers can use that as motivation as they try to cap off this season with their first ever bowl win.
Let’s take a look at the matchup and see how the Blazers stack up against the Bobcats.
Ohio Offense vs. UAB Defense
The Ohio offense is one of the best in the country averaging 38.9 points per game, and 430.9 total yards per game. The majority of their damage comes on the ground where they average 244.2 rushing yards per game.
They have three players that rushed for 600 yards or more, including quarterback Nathan Rourke. He’s rushed for 882 yards on 134 carries with 21 touchdowns. Rourke has also passed for 2,018 yards and 15 touchdowns to 7 interceptions, and will be one of the best run-pass quarterbacks we’ll have seen this season.
Of course, whenever UAB faces a duel-threat quarterback now, we have to think back to the Charlotte game. But we’ve come a long way since then and should be prepared to stop Rourke.
A.J. Ouellette leads the team with 980 yards rushing on 184 carries with 7 touchdowns. The UAB defense will try and make sure he doesn’t eclipse the 1,000-yard mark on the season.
And senior Dorian Brown picked up 605 yards on 99 carries this year with 7 touchdowns.
However, both Brown and Ouellette missed the season finale in a loss to Buffalo. I have not seen any updates* on their status for the Bahamas Bowl, but their participation will be crucial to Ohio’s success.
*Injury update below. No word on Brown.
In that Buffalo game Julian Ross received 19 carries and rushed for 81 yards. The freshman tailback has 211 yards on 54 carries this year, and if Brown and Ouellette can’t go or are limited, he should receive significant carries.
Their top wideout, Brendan Cope, also missed the Buffalo game, so that’s something to keep an eye on this week.
The UAB defense was straight up dominate at times in the regular season, giving up just 24.3 points per game on the season. They allowed just 169.8 yards per game, and they’ll need to keep Ohio under 200 to win this game.
This will be a final showcase for linebackers Shaq Jones and Tevin Crews, so I expect them to be flying all over the football field, per usual.
Crews finished the regular season with a team-high 95 tackles, while Jones had 55. Both were tied for the team lead with 12 tackles for a loss, as well as 3 sacks.
Same can be said for cornerback Darious Williams who was named to the First Team All-CUSA team after the regular season after picking off five passes and getting 15 pass break-ups.
This will be a big challenge for our defense, maybe the biggest challenge of the season, but I think our guys are up for the task.
UAB Offense vs. Ohio Defense
The UAB offense has had its moments in 2017, but ultimately averaged 29.6 points per game and 364.6 total yards per game.
Obviously, the strength of this offense is the running game with Spencer Brown. The big freshman led the team with 1,292 rushing yards on 237 attempts, while reaching the endzone seven times.
But it’s quarterback A.J. Erdely who has helped compliment the run game with 13 rushing touchdowns to go along with 295 net yards (508 without negative sack yards). He’s been really good at knowing when to pull the football and run this year, catching the defense off guard.
James Noble III has really come on strong as a back-up running back as well with 271 yards on the ground in 49 carries.
The Ohio defense has been really good allowing just 111.4 points per game and 25.8 points per game.
Our offensive line, led by senior All-CUSA lineman Chris Schleuger, will need to be physical up front to open up some holes for our run game.
But the UAB offense isn’t just one-dimensional, Erdely also passed for 2,077 yards and 16 touchdowns to just 4 interceptions.
Wide receiver Andre Wilson really separated himself as the go-to target during the season with 619 yards receiving on 48 catches and 6 touchdowns.
If they can open up the short passing game, as they have done early in games this year, then that will go a long way in opening up this offense.
For Ohio, linebacker Quentin Poling led the team with 102 tackles, 12.5 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks.
Bradd Ellis was the top cover corner on the team with 2 interceptions and 18 pass break-ups.
Kevin Robbins and Tony Porter form a senior-led defensive line with a combined 3 sacks and 8.5 tackles for a loss.
The Ohio defense gave up 37 and 31 points respectively in their last two games of the season. If UAB scores over 30 points, we’ll have a good chance of winning this game.
Game Preview and Prediction
It’s extremely difficult to predict bowl games because you never know where the motivation will come from. Part of me won’t be upset with the guys if they just enjoy their vacation in the Bahamas and don’t show up in the game, but I doubt Coach Clark is going to let that happen.
When you get down to it, I think these teams stack up pretty evenly talent-wise, but Ohio obviously has a lot more experience with a ton of impact seniors.
And when you look at bowl games, a lot of times it’s about the seniors. You have those who will be putting on the pads for the last time, and those who are hoping to catch someone’s eye so they can continue playing at the next level.
They key for UAB in this game will be no different than it’s been all season – find a rhythm on offense running and throwing the football in the short passing game, and allow our defense to stay rested.
When our defense isn’t overworked, they’ve proven they can be a shutdown unit.
Our offense has had good quarters and good halves this season, but I still don’t think we’ve seen them play a complete game. Hopefully we get to see that in the bowl game.
If we can control the clock on offense, and essentially keep their up-tempo offense off the field, I think we will win this game.
I expect to see our senior linebackers really show out in this game and prove they deserve a shot at the next level.
Either way, this game is a culmination of a lot of hard work from the players, the coaches and the fans. So just sit back and enjoy watching your favorite football team play for the last time in 2017, and look forward to big things coming in 2018.
Prediction: UAB – 34 Ohio – 31