FACTS & STATS: Site: Legion Field (71,594) — Birmingham, Alabama. Television:
American Sports Net. Home Record: FIU 1-3, UAB 2-0. Away Record: FIU 0-0, UAB
0-1. Neutral Record: FIU 0-0, UAB 0-0. Conference Record: FIU 0-0, UAB 0-0.
Series Record: UAB leads, 1-0.
GAME NOTES: With new coach Bill Clark at the helm, the UAB Blazers are off to
a 2-1 start to the season, and will try to extend that mark when they host the
FIU Panthers in a Conference USA clash at Legion Field in Birmingham.
FIU began the season with back-to-back matchups against FCS opponents – going
1-1 in that span – and then hosted games against national powers Pittsburgh
and Louisville. The Panthers have played all four of their games at home so
far, and will hit the road to Birmingham looking to end a two-game losing
UAB has played exceptionally well in its three games this season, easily
defeating Troy in the team’s opening-week contest (48-10), staying with SEC
power Mississippi State (a 47-34 loss) and taking down FCS opponent Alabama
A&M (41-14). Clark, who was hired after leading Jacksonville State last
season, and his Blazers are about to kick off conference play with last
season’s C-USA basement dweller.
The two teams have only met once on the field prior to this matchup, which
occurred last season. The Blazers took the lone decision, 27-24, in Miami
almost exactly a year ago.
Taking on Pittsburgh and Louisville in back-to-back weeks is a tall order for
most college football programs across the country, so you can’t blame FIU for
trying. The chances of succeeding were slim anyway for the Panthers, who
finished last season with a 1-11 record. FIU’s offense just simply couldn’t
keep pace Saturday, as quarterback E.J. Hilliard and Alex McGough combined to
complete 13-of-25 pass attempts for 117 yards with two interceptions. In
general, the Panthers have struggled to get anything going offensively,
averaging 265.3 ypg and a mere 18.5 ppg through four contests.
The running game proved to be a weakness against the Cardinals last weekend,
as FIU gained 88 combined yards on the ground, with a team-high 38 coming from
Anthon Samuel. In four games, the Panthers have only scored two rushing
touchdowns and average just 84 rushing ypg.
Tight end Jonnu Smith is one of the lone bright stars on the FIU offense. The
sophomore pass catcher caught four balls for 27 yards in the loss to
Louisville, and has a team-best 22 receptions for 236 yards and two touchdowns
this season. It’s clear he’s the most reliable target for Hilliard and
McGough, since the next closest receiver has eight receptions in four games.
It’s a bit hard to judge the team’s defense based on the four opponents the
team has gone up against this season, since the first two challengers and the
last two have been on completely different ends of the spectrum in terms of
talent and ability. That said, the Panthers are allowing 23.3 ppg to
opponents, even taking into account the 42 points and 34 points the team gave
up to Pittsburgh and Louisville, respectively.
Now that non-conference play is over, the Panthers will want to step it up
defensively, especially going against a team with a proven offense. Demarkus
Perkins is the only FIU player to have more than 20 tackles this season,
leading the team with 29. But Denzell Perine has had his own success,
registering 5.5 tackles for loss and four sacks through four games played.
Those numbers are topped by teammate Mike Wakefield, who has 6.5 tackles for
loss and 4.5 sacks.
Clark had a pretty upbeat offense at Jacksonville State last season, and looks
to be employing some of his philosophies at UAB. The emphasis on the running
game is already coming through, since the Blazers have a 215.3 rushing ypg
average through three contests. The team gained 195 yards on the ground
against Alabama A&M two weeks ago when the Blazers last took the field, with
D.J. Vinson rushing for 106 yards and scoring five touchdowns. Jordan Howard
has 279 rushing yards, while Vinson adds 235 this season.
Cody Clements got the majority of reps under center in UAB’s last game, firing
23 pass attempts and completing 18 of them for 228 yards. Clements leads the
team this season with 547 yards and three passing touchdowns. But again, the
run is clearly emphasized, and evidenced by the 149 rushing attempts through
three games compared to the team’s 86 pass attempts.
Defensively, the Blazers have been sound through the first three games,
allowing 23.7 ppg and 380 combined ypg to opponents.UAB has the 11-3 edge in
rushing touchdowns this season, and has given up five touchdown passes and
forced four interceptions in the same span. Three of those interceptions came
against Alabama A&M.
The defensive unit has been disruptive in the backfield, having forced nine
sacks and 21 tackles for loss in the three contests. Bobby Baker leads UAB
with 19 stops, and has a tackle for loss, an interception and a quarterback
hurry to his name. Diaheem Watkins is the only Blazers player to have multiple
sacks (two) and will try to increase that number against a team that has given
up 17 sacks already.
The Blazers appear to be on the right path moving forward, and have built a
steady running game through the first three weeks. FIU just won’t be able to
keep pace offensively, and may be a little worn out after facing two ACC
opponents in the past two weeks. Look for the Blazers to defend their home
turf well this weekend.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: UAB 32, FIU 20