Time and Date: Saturday, December 18 2021 - 3:30 PM ET, 2:30 PM CT
Broadcast Network: ABC
Location: Independence Stadium - Shreveport, LA
Spread: BYU -7, per DraftKings*
ESPN FPI: BYU 61.6%
All-Time Series: This will be the first ever meeting between the Blazers and the Cougars
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&Cs apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details.
If you like physical football teams full of veteran leadership, this matchup between the UAB Blazers (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) and the BYU Cougars (10-2, FBS Independent) might just be appointment viewing. Or, at the very least, an appointment you set your DVR for.
This season, the UAB Blazers missed out on the C-USA championship for the first time since 2017. It can be argued they were one play away from their fourth consecutive C-USA West Division title after UAB took a delay of game penalty on fourth and one, causing them to decide to punt with the lead in a huge matchup with UTSA, giving the Roadrunners the chance to win with less than two minutes left. Needless to say, the Roadrunners drove 77-yards for the winning touchdown.
But one play can’t define an entire season. The Blazers also amassed a series of impressive victories, including ones on the road against Marshall, Southern Miss, Tulane, and North Texas. Led by an experienced offensive line consisting of four redshirt seniors and a redshirt sophomore, the place the Blazers’ play particularly stands out is in the trenches. Behind this line, sophomore running back DeWayne McBride ran for 1185 yards on 117 carries junior Jermaine Brown Jr. contributed 584 yards on 115 carries. UAB and Marshall were the only C-USA teams to score a rushing touchdown at least 50% of the time when they entered the red zone in 2021. Largely on account of his fantastic run blocking, lineman Colby Ragland was UAB’s lone selection to C-USA’s first team All-Conference offense.
Something else to keep an eye on: UAB accumulated more penalty yardage than any other team in FBS this season and only Toledo had more total penalties (112) than the Blazers. Given UAB’s experienced roster, this shouldn’t be the case and it has come back to bite them more than once in 2021. BYU had nearly half that with 64 team penalties this year.
The Cougars ended the regular season at #13 in the College Football Playoff rankings. This BYU team, led by recently extended sixth-year head coach and former BYU linebacker Kalani Sitake, beat P5 teams on six separate occasions on the way to their 10-2 record. Were it not for some metaphorical toe stubbing against Boise State and Baylor, the Cougars may have earned their own berth in the CFP. At the very least, we would have seen BYU in a NY6 game.
Part of the reason that BYU had such success this season was scoring on 46 out of 52 trips to the red zone. This means they scored on 88% of their red zone trips with touchdowns coming on 73% of their red zone trips. Part of the credit for that success goes to sophomore quarterback Jaren Hall, who finished the regular season with 20 touchdowns and five interceptions in addition to 2583 yards on 189 completions.
Like UAB, BYU also produced an exciting and effective rushing attack. This phase of their game has been led by sophomore running back and former walk on Tyler Allgeier. Allgeier compiled 1409 yards this season with 20 touchdowns and an average of 5.7 yards per carry. He’s managed to do all of us this behind a younger offensive line, whose oldest component is a redshirt junior.
UAB’s defense, which finished the regular season #16 in the nation in total defense/yards allowed per game, will have their work cut out for them.
You’ll definitely see similarities in how these two teams play. However, one side has made a strong habit of taking advantage of downfield opportunities when opponents least expect it. Because UAB has such a capable run game, this opens up the play-action pass down field. Gerrit Prince and Trea Shropshire have combined for 14 touchdowns and over 1300 yards receiving this season. Prince is averaging 20.5 yards per completion and Tropshire is averaging 27.3 yards per completion.
I’ll leave you with one more data point to ponder that shows how evenly matched these teams are: both teams are near identical in their red zone defense. BYU has allowed 46 opponent red zone trips with 39 resulting in points. UAB has allowed 37 opponent red zone trips with 32 resulting in points. That’s roughly a 2% difference in effectiveness.
This is a battle of two really strong rushing attacks and a lot of guys in the trenches with NFL potential. It’s going to come down to whoever is able to take advantage of downfield opportunities and rack up some bigger chunk plays. I think we’ll see the Cougars prevail in a close game by getting off to a fast start and making fewer mistakes than their opponent. The Blazers may have to wait to claim their first victory over a ranked opponent since 2011.
BYU win 31-21