A Conference USA championship berth is up for grabs Saturday, as UAB (7-3) faces off against undefeated, 15th-ranked UTSA in San Antonio.
This is a major contest for the Blazers. A win over UTSA would provide the Blazers with their first win against a ranked opponent since 2011.
If UTSA wins this matchup, they will claim their first C-USA West Division crown and head to the conference championship game. However, if UAB can pull off the upset and defeat UTEP (6-4) next week, then the Blazers would advance to the C-USA championship.
“This game has always been on our radar and now it is finally here,” said UAB safety Grayson Cash. “They are undefeated, unbeaten and we know what we have ahead of us, and we are ready for it.”
Heading into Saturday, the two teams are evenly matched on both sides of the ball. The Blazers are first in the conference in total defense and scoring defense and are second in passing and rushing defense.
The Roadrunners also have an elite defense against the run, ranking sixth nationally in that category. However, they are ranked sixth in the C-USA in pass defense, which is a weak point that UAB will try to exploit during the matchup.
Three UAB defenders lead the team with two interceptions each: Keondre Swoopes, Starling Thomas V and Grayson Cash. These six interceptions account for nearly half of UAB’s 15 created turnovers.
Despite forcing 15 turnovers, the Blazers have also turned it over 13 times in just ten games. Meanwhile, UTSA has a +10 turnover margin, as they have created 19 turnovers and only lost nine.
UAB has the third best rushing attack in the conference, and they lead the league in rushing touchdowns with 17 on the year. If the Blazers are going to win, they will have to find a way to feed their running backs DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr.
McBride is averaging 6.6 yards per carry over the course of 127 rushing attempts and has 854 rushing yards for the season. He has 10 rushing touchdowns coming into Saturday’s matchup and is looking to reach the 1,000-yard mark to put an exclamation point on a fantastic sophomore campaign.
Brown is averaging over five yards per carry and has 81 rushes for 432 yards with three touchdowns. Brown also assists in the passing attack, with the third most catches on the team with 19 for 169 yards.
Although the Blazers have a great running back duo in their backfield, UTSA have a slightly higher ranked rushing attack than the Blazers.
UTSA’s star running back, Sincere McCormick, has over 1,100 rushing yards on the season on 231 carries. The 2020 Conference USA offensive play of the year has rushed for more than 100 yards in seven out of their ten games.
UTSA quarterback Frank Harris has heavily contributed to the running game alongside McCormick. Harris has rushed for 400 yards, while also throwing for 2,305 yards and 20 touchdowns.
The UAB secondary will have to deal with Zakhari Franklin and Joshua Cephus, who are the leading receivers for the Roadrunners. Franklin and Cephus have combined for nearly 120 receptions for 750 and 682 yards, respectively.
The UAB pass offense has struggled this season, ranking fourth worst in the conference. However, UAB quarterback Dylan Hopkins has performed well at away games this season, throwing for nearly 1,000 yards eight touchdowns during road matchups.
Hopkins will be looking toward his leading receivers Trea Shropshire and Gerrit Prince this week, each of whom have over 500 receiving yards on the year.
UAB head coach Bill Clark said it will be a tough atmosphere to play in, and the Blazers will have to be ready to properly execute despite the noise. Clark noted UTSA is having an unbelievable season, but he believes the Blazers are peaking at the right time.
“Last week was top to bottom the best game we have played.” said Clark.
UAB will kickoff against UTSA at 2:30 p.m. on Nov. 20 from the Alamodome in San Antonio. The game will be streamed on ESPN+ and available to listen to on WJOX 94.5 in Birmingham.