UAB Blazers vs. Rice Owls Preview

UAB (5-3, 3-2) vs. Rice (1-7, 1-3)

Where: Legion Field, Birmingham, Ala.

Time: 2 p.m. CT

Watch: CUSA.tv

Line: UAB -10.5, O/U 51.5

It is hard to imagine a team that has had a bigger roller coaster start to the second half of the season than UAB. Two weeks ago, the Blazers strolled into Charlotte fresh off of wins over Louisiana Tech and Middle Tennessee State. The Blazers were charred by a winless Charlotte team in overtime to bring the high-flying Blazers back to earth. The Blazers then headed to Hattiesburg, MS last weekend as double-digit underdogs and came away with an 18-point win over Southern Miss.

Now the Blazers face a 1-7 (1-3 in conference) Rice Owls squad at Legion Field on Saturday. The Blazers have not lost at home yet this season (4-0) and will look to become bowl eligible for the fifth time in school history (only one bowl appearance, 2004 Hawai’i Bowl).

Keys for UAB

If the Blazers want to become bowl eligible, they cannot allow Rice to hang around in the game. Legion Field has seen some nail-biters this season with the last three home games all decided by less than seven points. UAB will need to establish the run game early with the help of freshman phenom running back Spencer Brown (909 yards and seven touchdowns). The passing game improved last week, so a healthy mix of runs by Brown and passes to top receivers Andre Wilson and Collin Lisa can keep Rice guessing.

A.J. Erdely has established himself as a top Conference USA quarterback with 10 rushing touchdowns this season (third most for any player in the conference) and is tied for the least interceptions thrown by a quarterback in the conference. Erdely had his second-best game of the season last week against Southern Miss with 208 passing yards, one passing touchdown, and a rushing touchdown.

Defensively, the Blazers have an emerging star in the secondary. Cornerback Darious Williams leads the league in passes defended with 11, three being interceptions, eight are pass breakups. Williams has a three-game interception streak going including a pick-six that solidified the win over Southern Miss.

UAB has gradually cut down on special team’s mistakes, but there always seems to be one big mistake per game. UAB did have a shanked punt last week and a botched snap on a field goal, but the offense was able to bail out the special team’s errors. The last thing the Blazers need to do is give a 1-7 team any hope of pulling off a giant upset with the help of silly mistakes.

The good news for Blazer fans is that the offense had a pulse in the second half of last week’s game. The Blazers had a combined 13 points in the second half of games against Louisiana Tech, MTSU, and Charlotte. The Blazers outscored Southern Miss 23-0 in the second half last weekend. The Blazers need to keep the foot on the throat of the opponent and extend the lead instead of running out the clock.

Keys for Rice

Rice enters the game on a six-game losing streak that has seen an average margin of defeat of 22 points in that stretch. Rice is also second-to-last offensively in C-USA averaging 13 points per game. Rice also cannot make a bowl now unless they reel off four wins in a row and get the APR 5-7 bowl record. Crazier things have happened! That being said, Rice can be one of the most dangerous teams in the conference simply because the Owls have nothing to lose. Ask UAB fans about Charlotte not having anything to lose (thanks a lot Hasaan Klugh).

Rice needs to come at UAB with everything they have. As a UAB fan, I can tell you that UAB has had a history of not playing well when they are favored. Rice needs to take advantage of the underdog status to come away with a win.

The Owls are led by quarterback Sam Glaesmann who has thrown three touchdowns and five interceptions this season. The passing is not what scares the Blazers, it is his running ability. Glaesmann has 172 yards rushing this season and three touchdowns. UAB has struggled with mobile quarterbacks this season so this could be an interesting matchup.

Glaesmann’s top weapons are running back Emmanuel Esupka (219 rushing yards, one touchdown) and wide receiver Aaron Cephus (400 yards receiving, four touchdowns).

Defensively, the Owls are led by linebacker Emmanuel Ellerbee with 76 tackles (third most in C-USA) and defensive end Brian Womac with eight sacks (league leader). UAB’s offensive line will have one of its most underrated opponents this season against this talented Rice defensive regime.

Prediction

Rice has kept games close with big opponents like UTSA, FIU and played La Tech surprisingly well last week. UAB did a great job of putting the loss to Charlotte behind them with a huge win last week, but losing this Saturday may be even worse.

Rice may keep it close early, but the UAB offense will find its rhythm and incredibly become bowl eligible again.

Final: UAB 38-Rice 17

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