The grills were fired up, green and gold flags flew, and for the first time since 2014, UAB fans saw Blazer players on the sidelines in Legion Field. The UAB spring game on April 1st added a sense of normalcy to be just like every other college football team again, and for UAB fans that is a good thing. The game was covered on a local news station as well as ESPN 3 coverage to showcase “The Return” of UAB football.
The matchup was the classic Green vs. Gold format. The Green team consisted of both first and second team offense/defense while the Gold was the third and fourth string players. Previous UAB scrimmages have pitted the first team offense/second team defense against the second team offense/first team defense. Saturday’s rosters may have seemed like an odd combination but that will be the normal rotation of players when the Blazers kickoff in September.
One thing Blazers fans have been watching closely is the quarterback battle between A.J. Erdely and Tyler Johnston. Erdely was 7-of-10 with one touchdown. Johnston was 8-of-12 for 161 yards and one touchdown. Possibly the play of the day came on a beautiful 58-yard pass from Johnston to Collin Lisa in the third quarter.
The other question entering Saturday’s spring game was who would be the starter in the backfield with Erdely or Johnston. Several players are still competing to be the starting running back against Alabama A&M.
Kalin Heath led all running backs in yards gained with 79 yards on 13 carries. James Noble started for the Green and had seven carries for 62 yards and a 2-yard score on the first drive. One of the more interesting stories has come from newly positioned Donnie Lee. Lee was moved from the linebacker position to running back about two weeks before the spring game and it seems to be paying off. Lee had 69 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns. Lee adds the physical running that UAB fans were used to seeing in 2014 with Jordan Howard in the backfield.
One other player to note for the Green is wide receiver Collin Lisa. Lisa was on the 2014 UAB squad and transferred to Buffalo after the program was shut down. Lisa transferred back after the announcement of the return of UAB football and has been a major key to the success of the UAB offense in the scrimmages so far. Lisa added 115 yards on five receptions and one touchdown.
On the defensive side, Gold linebacker Craig Kanyangarara led all tackles for both teams with seven total tackles (six solo, one assisted). For the Green, linebackers Tevin Crews and Fitzgerald Mofor both had four tackles, one of Mofor’s being a sack.
The one recurring negative for the Blazers on Saturday was ball control. The Green team fumbled four times, while the Gold fumbled three times. None of the fumbles were lost, but putting the ball on the turf in any way is not good. There is a positive though, the quarterbacks looked strong with zero interceptions and had strong connections with their receivers and tight ends.
The fans broke UAB’s previous spring game attendance record with an announced crowd of 7,822 in the stands. It was hard to imagine a dry eye in “The Old Gray Lady” as fans saw UAB players and cheerleaders running out of those tunnels for the first time since November 22, 2014.
College football is one of the most highly anticipated events all year long for all teams, but for UAB and the city of Birmingham, this 152-day wait cannot end fast enough. Blazer fans, “The Return” is almost complete.