Date: Saturday, October 6, 2018
Kickoff Time: 6 p.m. CT
Location: Ruston, Louisiana
Stadium: Joe Aillet Stadium
Series Record: La Tech leads 5-1
Last Meeting: UAB won 23-22 in 2017
Betting Line: La Tech -9.5
“We have football.”
At that time, UAB was freshly without football thanks to the shutdown of the program at the end of football season. Tensions were high as the top-seeded Bulldogs were locked in battle with the 4-seed, UAB. The video board in Legacy Arena showed commercials for both schools, and the La Tech ad showed the football team.
Then, the Band of Pride began the infamous chant.
In the years since, a rivalry developed between the two basketball programs. Then in 2017, the Blazers returned to the gridiron. Tech, who was 5-0 against the Blazers in football, traveled to Birmingham. UAB blocked Tech’s would-be game-winning field goal, and Blazer fans remembered the chant.
The Bulldog-Blazer rivalry is still a secondary rivalry for the two schools, but it’s quickly growing. It wasn’t clear at first if it would extend to football, but it seems to be doing just that.
This Saturday, the two teams, both 3-1, will meet in Ruston for the first time since 1998. First place in the west division is on the line, and this should be a huge piece of the conference title race puzzle.
Louisiana Tech Overview
The Bulldogs are getting to play at home for just the second time so far this season. It has been a month since Tech played at home. Since then, they’ve had a bye week and two road games. After a loss at LSU, Tech picked up a huge win at North Texas where the Dawgs blocked the potential game-winning field goal, just like UAB did to them a year ago.
J’Mar Smith continues to get the job done. After throwing three interceptions against USA, he has only thrown one since. That was at LSU, where he attempted 50 total passes. He has thrown nine touchdown passes, including three at LSU and two at UNT.
The trio of Rhashid Bonnette, Adrian Hardy, and Teddy Veal all continue to shine, making it difficult for opposing defenses to stop the passing game. And even when defenders put themselves in position, there’s always the chance that this could happen:
The Bulldogs will yet again be without starting running back Jaqwis Dancy, but Israel Tucker has done a nice job, as well. He had 95 yards against UNT in Dancy’s absence.
The defense had a rough start against the Mean Green, but stepped up big time after the first quarter and held UNT to just six points the rest of the game. Jaylon Ferguson had a career day with four sacks and six total tackles.
What won Louisiana Tech the game in Denton, however, was special teams. Although that has been a struggle for the Dawgs in recent years outside of record-setting kicker Jonathan Barnes, the Dawgs straight outplayed UNT in that category. While UNT muffed a punt and missed a field goal, Amik Robertson blocked a field goal and Bailey Hale went 5/5 on field goals.
The key for Tech in this game will be to keep up the successes they had against UNT, but finish drives. Credit Hale for making all five of his field goal attempts, but blame the Bulldog offense for making him take that many. Tech only converted four of 16 third downs, and that isn’t going to cut it long term. The offense needs to score touchdowns, not field goals, if they want to continue winning.
Just as Tech has only played one home game thus far, UAB has only gone on the road once before now. UAB will be looking for a much better performance than the 47-24 loss suffered at the hands of Coastal Carolina.
Like Tech’s Smith, A.J. Erdely isn’t being asked to air it out and win games with his arm. The Blazers are averaging 239 rushing yards per game while only averaging 201.5 passing yards. When Erdely does throw, he completes about 60% of his passes. Although this is slightly more than Smith, Erdely has the same number of touchdowns as he does interceptions with four apiece. None of those came in his most recent game against Charlotte, so he’ll be hoping to continue that in Ruston.
Erdely is a threat with his legs, however, and is the second-leading rusher for UAB. He and starting running back Spencer Brown have seven rushing scores between them and make up the bulk of the ground game. Behind them, however, are several other capable backs that can score, as well.
UAB’s defense has done well against the pass, but they were gashed on the ground in the loss at Coastal Carolina. They only gave up 69 rushing yards to Charlotte a week ago, but they’ll need to make sure they don’t let Tech get that run game going.
UAB has to show they can play on the road. Erdely has to take care of the ball, and the Blazers need to continue pounding the rock. The crowd should be amped up for just the second Tech home game with the Bulldogs coming off such a huge win, so UAB has to start fast and take the crowd out of the game.
For the second straight week, the biggest game in the west division involves La Tech. If the Bulldogs win this game, they may have the west division all but wrapped up. If the Blazers win, however, UAB’s game against North Texas becomes quite interesting.
UAB will be looking to prove it can win on the road and continue to establish their new place as a quality team in C-USA. Louisiana Tech will be looking for revenge for last year and to prove they are back to being the team to beat in the west division.
Last week, La Tech came in as a team we weren’t sure about, but proved they were a real contender. This week, UAB comes in as a bit of an unknown. Can they make the same kind of statement that Tech did a week ago? It’s possible, but Tech is favored for a reason.
This one could go either way, so let’s just hope this game lives up to the hype and strengthens this young, budding rivalry.