Date: Saturday, November 5, 2022
Time: 2:30 PM (CT)
Location: Protective Stadium — Birmingham, Alabama
Radio: WJOX 94.5 FM (UAB); Ticket 760 AM (UTSA)
Betting Line: Even; O/U 52
UNT (4-4, 2-3 C-USA) Last game/week: Loss to FAU 24-17
UTSA (6-2, 4-0 C-USA) Last game/week: Bye
UAB leads series 4-2. Last meeting: UTSA beat UAB 34-31
*Odds/lines subject to change. T&C’s apply. See draftkings.com/sportsbook for details
The UTSA Roadrunners (6-2) travel to Birmingham to face the UAB Blazers (4-4) in a matchup that early season experts predicted could have been a conference championship preview. That possibility is unlikely now with the Blazers’ recent 2-game skid, but the matchup still retains conference title implications. A UAB victory would disrupt the conference standings and keep the Blazers’ championship hopes alive; a UTSA victory all but ensures the Roadrunners will return to the conference championship game and would likely end the Blazers’ chances for a conference title.
But the Blazers have the talent and home field advantage to steal a win from UTSA despite the different records. Moreover, it was this very same matchup last year that decided which team would represent C-USA West in the championship game and UAB no doubt is looking to avenge that loss. The Blazers also have yet to lose at home while UTSA is 3-1 on the road. Perhaps that is why the betting line and prediction for Saturday is even.
Regardless, this game should prove to be entertaining given the talent both teams possess.
The 2022 season hasn’t gone the way that UAB had hoped. The Blazers made three consecutive appearances in the conference title game from 2018-2020, won two of them, and missed out on their fourth trip in as many years when UTSA won last year on a last-second touchdown.
Suffice to say expectations were high that the Blazers could reclaim their spot atop the conference. They still can, but UAB will need some help getting there.
The team has dropped their last two games after starting the season 4-2 and sit between 7th and 5th place in C-USA with only four games remaining. Two of those final games are against UTSA and North Texas, who both sit above UAB in the standings, while one game will be played against No. 10 LSU. It also does not help that the Blazers unexpectedly lost 7-year head coach Bill Clark in the offseason, making it that much more challenging to overcome adversity on the fly.
But the talent is there do so. It starts with junior running back DeWayne McBride. McBride easily leads all running backs in the conference in nearly every statistical category. He already has over 1,143 yards rushing, averages 7 yards per carry and 163 yards per game, and has scored 12 touchdowns. The next-best running back in the conference—FAU’s Larry McCammon—has 732 yards, averages 5.3 yards per carry and 81 yards per game, and has scored 4 touchdowns.
McBride is the clear leading running back and it isn’t close.
That hasn’t exactly translated to wins. Quarterback Dylan Hopkins started the season but missed the last two games with injury and transfer quarterback Jacob Zeno has played in Hopkins’s absence. The result has been a lackluster passing offense, which has put more work on McBride, and without the passing game UAB has struggled to score. It remains a question whether Hopkins or Zeno will start against UTSA.
If Hopkins can play UAB’s passing game likely improves, but regardless the Blazers will have to find more production passing the ball to keep the Roadrunners’ defense from focusing everything on containing McBride. If the passing attack can produce, expect wide receiver Trea Shropshire to be heavily involved. Shropshire averages nearly 25 yards per reception and is a deep threat when he gets past the secondary.
But where the Blazers have excelled all season is defense. UAB has yet to give up 30 points in any game and leads the conference in total defense, giving up a league-best 316 yards per game. The Blazers are also +2 in takeaways and have 9 interceptions in conference play. Senior safety Grayson Cash accounts for 3 of those interceptions alone. UAB’s defense is simply good at either stalling opponent’s drives or forcing a turnover.
It will still be a big task against UTSA’s passing offense but if the Blazers can force multiple turnovers, then UAB will have a great opportunity to take the victory.
The UTSA Roadrunners are in sole possession of first place after an exhilarating game-winning drive against North Texas and come into this matchup decently rested after a bye week.
They likely needed the break to prepare against the UAB Blazers. UTSA has not won in Birmingham and needed a last-second pass to tight end Oscar Cardenas to overcome the Blazers at home last year.
Moreover, the Roadrunners have been dealing with a massive number of injuries all season; they have been down most of their starting offensive line, have had to rotate defensive players to the offensive line, and just lost star safety Rashad Wisdom to a season-ending injury. There is hope that the extra week of rest will help bring depth back or give other players time to recoup in time to play a physical UAB team.
But so far, injuries have not been a concern for UTSA’s star offensive players. Quarterback Frank Harris, wide receivers Zakhari Franklin, Joshua Cephus, and De’Corian “JT” Clark, tight end Oscar Cardenas, and running back Brendan Brady have remained on the field and it is the biggest reason why the Roadrunners lead the conference.
UTSA will need all of that offensive firepower to overcome a stout UAB defense. The Roadrunners average nearly 37 points a game have only been held to under 30 points one time (against the Texas Longhorns) this season. Conversely, UAB hasn’t given up a single 30-point game all season.
Something has to give. UTSA’s passing offense has been held relatively in check compared to its earlier success this season as defenses have adapted, but it is still potent and explosive. Against North Texas, the Roadrunners still amassed 238 yards through the air and engineered a 7-play, 75-yard final drive with no timeouts to claim the win. Five of the plays were passing, including a 33-yard throw to Cardenas followed by a 10-yard touchdown pass to Clark.
The Roadrunners also got solid production in their running game against North Texas. Brady rushed for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns while freshman Kevorian Barnes gained 54 yards on just 10 carries. Both Brady and Barnes will need to step up if UAB is able to adequately contain UTSA’s passing attack.
Defensively the Roadrunners will have their hands full just to contain McBride’s running capabilities. UTSA had exceptional success against North Texas, holding a team that averages 219 yards per game rushing to only 22 yards. The likelihood of duplicating that success against McBride is low, but if the Roadrunners can manage to keep McBride in relative check all game and force UAB to rely on its passing attack then UTSA will have a strong chance of taking their first win in Birmingham.
On paper this matchup comes down to which team’s strength breaks first: UAB’s defense or UTSA’s offense. There is good reason to think UAB can win that contest, especially considering that they are playing at home where the Blazers are 4-0. But the game will likely be close until the final buzzer given UAB’s recent offensive slide and a UTSA offense capable of going off on any drive.
That is where the Roadrunners thrive. UTSA is 16-6 in one possession games under head coach Jeff Traylor and on two occasions this season Frank Harris has orchestrated a game-tying or game-winning drive. UTSA has also beaten two run-heavy offenses this season—Army and North Texas—so the Roadrunners are no strangers to containing the running game. This, plus the fact that UTSA is coming off a bye week with plenty of rest, favors the Roadrunners.
Prediction: UTSA 24, UAB 20.