Start Time: 5:30pm
Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, AL
Records: Middle Tennessee 3-3, UAB 3-2
Series History: Middle Tennessee leads the series 3-2, winning the last two meetings in 2013 and 2014.
Betting line: Middle Tennessee -5, O/U 54
For the first time in four years, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders football team will travel down to Birmingham, Alabama, to play the UAB Blazers. So far, #TheReturn has gone fairly well for the Blazers, coming into this one with a winning record following their shocking upset of Louisiana Tech last week. The Blue Raiders are also coming into this one off of a victory and will look to come home with a victory like they did in 2013.
In their first year back, the Blazers have made it clear that they want wins in their return. So far this season, UAB is undefeated when playing in Birmingham, with one of those wins being against Tech last week. They have proven to Birmingham why this program should have never ceased to exist.
In their return, UAB has brought with it an offense that means business. On the season, this offense has averaged 33 points per game and is built to do it both on the ground in the air. Quarterback A.J. Erdely has thrown for almost 1000 yards and six touchdowns along with scoring seven touchdowns with his legs. If the Middle Tennessee defense isn’t prepared, this is the type of quarterback that could tear it apart, especially if he isn’t pressured.
On top of a strong passing game, UAB will want establish the run with running back Spencer Brown. Brown has rushed for close to 500 yards on the season and five touchdowns behind quality play from his offensive line. If they can establish a strong run game early and often, it could be bad for Middle Tennessee.
On defense, UAB has shown that it can make enough plays to keep it’s team in the games and not let things get out of hand. They are weak against the run, but against a Middle Tennessee team that won’t run much, I’m not sure it is going to matter.
Middle Tennessee Outlook
The story of Middle Tennessee’s season once again revolves around injuries at key roles once again. The loss of quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James has proven to be very difficult for Middle to overcome. But even when they were healthy, this team has not shown the consistency needed to get it done week-in and week-out.
In four starts, backup quarterback John Urzua has shown moments of stark improvement but also shown that he still has a long way to go to be Middle’s starter. Ball security has continued to plague the sophomore, last week was a huge step for Urzua, as it was the first start of the year that he did not turn the ball over once.
Around him on offense, playmakers have stepped up to help relive the pressure on him like freshman running back Brad Anderson and sophomore receiver Ty Lee. In both wins lead by Urzua, Brad Anderson has put up over 100 yards rushing by getting chunks of yards on early down for the Raiders. As for Lee, he has been a consistent force that Urzua has been able to go to in key situations. Also, the use of Tavares Thomas as a wildcat quarterback in short yardage situations has added another wrinkle to this offense that they need to keep defenses on their toes.
Much like everything else with this team, the defense either plays great or plays terrible. One week they shut down the run, the next week they give up 250 yards on the ground. Regardless of that, they have shown improvement over last year and if they can string together a couple of strong performances in a row, they could really help this team turn this season around.
Upperclassmen Javonte Moffatt, Khalil Brooks, and D.J. Sanders have played well consistently all season. The surprise of the year on this defense is freshman safety Reed Blankenship, who has started every game since his strong performance in New York against Syracuse in Week 2. He has provided solid play in the middle of the field, making opposing quarterbacks account for him at all times.
This Blue Raider team still has everything set out in front of it and could turn this season around. More than anything, they need consistent play on both sides of the ball on a weekly basis to make waves in C-USA East, because they have shown they are strong enough to win this league when healthy.
Both teams are coming off of much needed wins last week and have both proven they can put points on the board. I don’t expect much defense in this one as it will most likely turn into a track meet late and will stay close to the very end. Much like the last meeting in Birmingham, I think this one will come down to a late field goal to win it.
UAB 35 MTSU 38