Prior to their September 10 matchup against the Miami Hurricanes, the UAB Blazers opened their season Thursday in a 45-35 victory over the Central Arkansas Bears.
Although the win means the same no matter how close it was, the Blazers’ FCS opponent surely lit up the scoreboard more than expected.
Here are my five takeaways from UAB’s performance:
1 — Quarterback woes continue.
After throwing 15 interceptions and ranking first among C-USA quarterbacks in turnover-worthy plays as a redshirt sophomore, Tyler Johnston III looks to flip the script in 2020.
But after completing 11 of his first 14 passes for 99 yards and a touchdown, Johnston threw into traffic and gave up an interception right before the end of the first quarter.
The Bears would put six on the board just two plays after off a Cameron Myers four-yard rush.
UAB went three-and-out on the ensuing possession and began to flip between Johnston and redshirt freshman Bryson Lucero throughout the rest of the game.
In his first collegiate drive, Lucero led a five-play, 55-yard drive which ended with an 18-yard touchdown strike to Myron Mitchell.
The Blazers went back to Johnston again after recovering a fumble and he found tight end Gerrit Prince for his second touchdown of the game. Overall, he completed 17-of-25 passes for 143 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
Lucero would get on the field some more in the second half, recording 83 yards and a touchdown on 7-of-9 passing.
Neither quarterback displayed mobility, totaling just three rushing yards. And when facing off against Miami’s elite pass rush, either QB will have to get their passes off quickly or use their legs.
Although Johnston doesn’t scramble, he tends to roll out to his right when looking for reads, which helped him dime Prince in the endzone.
2 — Run game is phenomenal.
UAB’s offense was sparked by a trio of running backs — Spencer Brown, Jermaine Brown Jr. and Lucious Stanley — which accounted for 223 total rushing yards in the game.
Brown, who enters his senior campaign with over 3,100 career rushing yards, was the best player on the field Thursday. He rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. The 6-foot, 220-pounder is a bulldozer and is hard to bring down.
Brown Jr. added 75 yards rushing and a touchdown on 17 carries for the Blazers. Stanley reached the end zone on one of his five rushes which totaled for 21 yards.
The Hurricanes’ rush defense ranked No. 17 in the country last season, allowing 114.6 yards per game. UM’s defense shouldn’t struggle to contain the three running backs.
3 — Offensive line is legit.
Johnston and Lucero had no trouble getting a pass off on Thursday, as UAB’s veteran offensive line dominated and allowed zero sacks.
The o-line returned five senior starters to the o-line: left tackle Colby Ragland (6-foot-5, 310-pounds), left guard Jakoby Jones (6-foot-1, 310-pounds), center Andrew Smith Jr. (6-foot-1, 310-pounds), right guard Greg Fecanin (6-foot-3, 335-pounds) and right tackle Sidney Wells (6-foot-4, 325-pounds).
The Blazers’ starting offensive line has an average of 6-foot-3, 319-pounds, with all five lineman being at least 310 pounds.
The offensive line will need to step up to the plate next Thursday or Miami’s defensive ends Jaelan Phillips and Quincy Roche will wreak havoc on the Blazers’ offense.
4 — Run defense is very exploitable.
FCS offenses tend to struggle against FBS opponents, especially in the run game. However, Central Arkansas, which averaged 88.8 rushing yards per game last season, notched 100 yards on Thursday.
On the third play of the game, UAB gave up a 34-yard rush by running back Kierre Crossley. The 5-foot-8, 178-pound Crossley garnered 59 yards on 10 carries (5.7 YPC) in the match. Cameron Meyers rushed for 32 yards and a touchdown on five carries (6.4 YPC.)
What does this tell us?
When looking at Miami’s deep running back position group, they’re destined to have a field day against UAB.
Whether it’s Cam’Ron Harris running it up the gut and catching passes in the backfield or Jaylan Knighton flying past his defenders, UM’s rush offense should dominate the Blazers’ defense.
5 — Turnovers could cost them a lot versus a better opponent.
The Blazers had three turnovers, two of them coming on fumbles. And Central Arkansas had no trouble taking advantage, cashing in a touchdown off every turnover.
Luckily for UAB, the Bears also had a hard time holding onto the ball, turning it over three times. They also converted each turnover into a touchdown.
This more than likely won’t be the case for the Hurricanes, who averaged 1.3 turnovers per game last season and have since replaced their quarterback and offensive coordinator.
This will be the major turning point in next Thursday’s match. If the Blazers can prevent turning the ball over, they can keep it competitive.
But one careless UAB interception or fumble could serve as a momentum boost for Miami, especially in front of fans at Hard Rock Stadium,