Florida Atlantic Owls (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) vs UAB Blazers (3-2 1-0 Conference USA)
Date/Time: Saturday, October 9, 3:30 PM EDT
TV: Stadium (Play-by-Play: Ari Wolfe/Analyst: Danan Hughes)
Radio: WJOX 94.5 Birmingham (Play-by-Play: David Crane/Analyst: Steve Irvine/Sidelines: Trey Ragland)/Fox Sports 640 South Florida (Play-by-Play: Ken LaVicka/Analyst: Kris Bartels)
Location: Protective Stadium, Birmingham, FL
Betting Line: UAB -4.5 O/U 49
All-Time Series Record: Florida Atlantic leads 5-2 (Florida Atlantic won last matchup 49-6 in 2019)
Florida Atlantic heads to Birmingham coming off arguably their most complete performance of the season from start to finish, thoroughly dominating rival FIU en route to a 58-21 victory in the annual Shula Bowl game. Entering the game, FAU had only scored 24 first-half points through five games. Against the Panthers, Willie Taggart’s club put 34 points in the first half. Postgame, Taggart noted that it was a deliberate effort on the part of he and his staff to start quickly.
“I challenged our offense about coming out and playing fast, that’s something we hadn’t done all year and it was great to see our guys come out and do that from the opening play of the game,” said Taggart. “They executed early and it just shows what we’re capable of as an offense if we stay focus and execute because we believe the opportunities are there.”
Quarterback N’Kosi Perry rebounded from an abysmal performance against Air Force, going 18-of-21 for 329 yards with three touchdowns while adding 16 yards and a score on the ground. Taggart emphasized his quarterback’s preparation before the FIU game and expects the same heading into UAB.
“I’m glad that (N’Kosi) played well (tonight) because the way he worked this week was the way a quarterback is supposed to work,” said Taggart. “We got back from Air Force about 8 AM and at noon he was in the office trying to get better by learning what he did wrong, so this isn’t a surprise what he did.”
Against the Blazers, it will be crucial for the FAU running game to be consistent, led by South Florida transfer Johnny Ford. The 5-5, 175-pound Ford leads the Owls with 291 yards rushing and is coming off a 16-carry, 102-yard outing against FIU. He, along with Malcolm Davidson and Larry McCammon III give the Owls a litany of backs that UAB will be tasked with keeping in check on Saturday.
Defensively, the Owls are led by an attacking front seven who are capable of making plays behind the line of scrimmage. Linebackers Akileis Leroy and Caliph Brice are both on pace for 70-plus tackle seasons, while safety Jordan Helm leads the team in stops with 40. On the FAU defensive line, they’re led by 6-3, 360-pound nose tackle Evan Anderson and defensive end Jaylen Joyner. Anderson is a force in the middle, clogging up running lanes as he did against the Panthers. He, along with fellow nose tackle Latrell Jean helped hold FIU’s D’Vonte Price to under 40 yards rushing. Joyner leads the team in sacks with three, picking up where he left off last season in finishing second on the team with 5.5.
For the UAB program, the previous week was the culmination of a nearly seven-year journey. Last Saturday saw the debut of Protective Stadium, a 175-million dollar stadium that replaced historic Legion Field. On the field, the Blazers weren’t necessarily outclassed as a team as much as they were overwhelmed by Liberty quarterback Mailk Willis. An impending top-10 pick in the upcoming NFL Draft, Willis accounted for over 400 total yards and three touchdowns in the Flames 36-12 victory over UAB.
The Blazers will look to rebound against an FAU team that has been neck-and-neck with UAB for head of the class in Conference USA over the previous four seasons, with UAB winning titles in 2018 and 2020, while Florida Atlantic won in 2017 and 2019. Quarterback Dylan Hopkins is in-line to make his third straight start with Tyler Johnston III sidelined. The 6-2, 215-pound signal-caller struggled last week after throwing six touchdowns and just one interception in the previous two outings. On the season, Hopkins has excelled in getting tight ends Hayden Pittman and Gerritt Prince involved in the pass game, with Prince leading the team in receptions, yards and touchdowns.
After Spencer Brown headed the team’s rushing attack for four seasons, running backs DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr. have picked up the load, combining for 667 yards and four scores through five games. They, along with the UAB offensive line who have been banged up at times this year will be tested by the formidable FAU defensive line.
On the defensive side of the ball, UAB will hope to return All-Conference performer Kris Moll. The senior safety missed last week’s game with a hand injury and should be a game-time decision for Bill Clark’s club. If he can’t go, look for standout linebacker Noah Wilder and junior Deshaun Oliver Jr. to shadow Perry and Owl backs throughout the contest. In the secondary, UAB is has been decimated by injuries to Moll, nickel corner Dy’Jonn Turner and cornerback TD Marshall. How the Blazers are able to fare with Will Boler and Mac McWilliams will play a factor in Saturday’s game.
This game pits two teams who fundamentally will look to do similar things based on their strengths. While FAU’s offense tends to be more up-tempo on average (74 plays per game) as opposed to UAB’s (63 plays per game), both teams will look to push the ball downfield and have depth in their rushing attacks.
Defensively, both FAU and UAB have been among the best in C-USA over the previous four seasons and are littered with talented players. This game will come down to UAB’s ability to have a consistent passing attack against an FAU secondary that boasts two of top defensive backs in the league (Teja Young, Zyon Gilbert), along with their own ability to cover FAU wideouts given their injuries in the secondary.
Final Score: Florida Atlantic 27, UAB 20