UAB Blazers (6-3, 3-2) at UTSA Roadrunners (5-3, 3-2)
Location: Alamodome, San Antonio, TX
Time: 6:00 PM CT, Saturday, November 11th
Line: UTSA -8, O/U 51
History: UTSA won only previous meeting in 2013
If you had told me in September that when UAB’s road trip to face off against UTSA rolled around, that one team would be bowl eligible and the other would be nearly there, I would have been ready to congratulate the Roadrunners and eager to see if the Blazers could pull off the upset.
Instead, we’re approaching Veteran’s Day and the Blazers already have their bowl opportunity secured, while UTSA is on the outside looking in for now. What a time to be alive.
Coach Bill Clark has talked repeatedly this season about how the team has been growing every single week, both on and off the field. He also talked about how last week that process finally bore fruit in what he considered their first complete game of the season. The offense was clicking, the defense was swarming, and the team as a whole managed to get out to a big lead and stay there all game.
I think this last week was the first time the Blazers duplicated a checklist item in their first year back – winning comfortably at home against a bad team – and now this week they’ll look for another repeat, beating a good team on the road. They are definitely getting this matchup at the right time, as UAB and UTSA rank 56th and 41st in overall S&P+, respectively, but are 32nd and 66th in the last four weeks.
The Blazers have no established themselves as a very versatile team. The offense doesn’t do anything poorly other than producing big plays (especially in the passing game) and preventing sacks (especially on passing downs. Huh, I bet those go together). The offense has done a great job of working as the season goes along to improve their offensive line play and game plan around the things that aren’t improving, and it’s beginning to show in the overall results.
It’s been a real joy watching Spencer Brown develop into a feature back who gets stronger as the game goes along, a Jerome Bettis type with 1,000+ rushing yards and 10 touchdowns as a freshman who appreciates the players around him and busts his butt to get better every week. AJ Erdely continues to surprise teams with his mobility, as his own 10 rushing touchdowns will attest.
The defense needs to continue to work on turning all the pressure they are generating into sacks, because the secondary can only defend for so long, but they’ve acquitted themselves well overall. That poor sack rate produces some struggles in preventing big plays in the passing game, as well as a little too much difficulty getting off the field on third downs, but they just showed a couple weeks ago that they are capable of hitting the road and winning against an on-paper favorite.
The Roadrunners are not wildly different from the Blazers in that their offense relies on the run to set up the pass, and tries to do just enough passing the ball to keep the defense on its heels when the runs come and to produce points off the defense’s turnovers. They’ve needed those opportunities, too, because they’ve only played one turnover-free game all season and only managed one win in the three games where they’ve posted a negative turnover margin.
The only issue for the Roadrunners is that as the season has gone on, the injuries have continued to pile up, and gradually the replacements have shown themselves to be not incapable, but decidedly less capable than the players they replaced. The offensive line is relatively young and inexperienced (again compared to the lineup at the opening snap of the season) and the offense has truncated itself as a result. They have run more and passed less, and this came to a head last week on the road at FIU, where even with an excellent defensive performance (their sixth of the season), the offense couldn’t even muster a second scoring drive to get to overtime.
The defense has been excellent, but you have to pay close attention to see a team that, quite literally, “ain’t played nobody.” UTSA’s defense has played phenomenal ball six times and poorly twice, despite facing only one offense ranked higher than 80th in offensive S&P+. The offense has struggled more for the reasons I just mentioned, and as such has only had one game where they played well against a good defense (Southern Miss).
It’s hard to say how much of this underperformance from a team who was a favorite to win CUSA in preseason is a result of the injuries, but they’re playing with the hand they’ve been dealt now. The offense has been doing either “just enough” or “not quite enough” for weeks now, and I don’t expect that trend to change.
I don’t know if the Blazers will win this game, but I do know that having UTSA as an eight-point favorite is absolutely absurd. Week one, uninjured UTSA and week one unknown UAB might have produced a line similar to that, but especially considering their performances in the past month, I’m almost surprised UAB isn’t a slight favorite.
UTSA is in a bind, because their passing game is hamstrung by both offensive line injuries and the fact that the WR who has been targeted the most – Josh Stewart’s 51 targets are more than double everyone but Greg Campbell Jr. (35) – has the worst catch rate of any Roadrunner with at least 10 targets.
It’s hard to succeed in the pass game when you don’t always get the time you need, and your receivers aren’t holding onto the ball on the occasions when you do have time to get it to them. This means that you need to lean hard on the run game, which UTSA can more than capably do between Sturm at QB, plus Jalen Rhodes and Tyrell Clay in the backfield.
Unfortunately for UTSA, that’s basically the offense that UAB just faced last week in Rice; struggle to pass the ball, partly due to a weak o-line and partly due unsuccessful passes (though Rice is more about erratic QB play), so they lean hard on the run game. UTSA isn’t going to get blown out because their defense is much better, but they struggle mightily in preventing big plays in the pass game, so this might be UAB’s chance to hit home over the top just enough that UTSA never gets a rhythm stopping the run game.
UTSA does not do big plays or catch-up football, so if they’re trailing by the end of the first quarter, they might be in trouble. I anticipate the Blazers to get stuck in another one-possession game, but I have faith that Spencer Brown and company can do just enough to get the lead and then control the clock in order to pull off a win.
UAB Blazers 30, UTSA 24