UAB Blazers vs Alabama A&M Bulldogs: First of Many Victories in 2017 for #TheReturn

UAB Blazers (0-0) vs Alabama A&M Bulldogs (0-0)

Location: Legion Field, Birmingham, AL

Time: 2:30 CST

TV: None, but streaming on @WatchStadium or http://www.WatchStadium.com

Line: There isn’t one, this is an FCS matchup, you delinquent

 

I mean that “first victory” comment both in the sense that I expect the Blazers to win this football game, but also in the broader sense that the mere existence of this game is its own victory, one of several hundred “finally getting back to it” moments in the 2017 football season.

Unfortunately, we still don’t know much about what real live-action UAB football will look like just yet, but we can certainly take a look at their opponent. Shall we?

Alabama A&M Bulldogs

What do we know about Alabama A&M? We know that they’re a below-average SWAC program. They’ve won four games in three of the past four seasons, and the lone outlier was a three-win season. They’ve struggled mightily against FBS opponents as well, with one exception.

Back in week three of the 2014 season, the Bulldogs played UAB at Legion Field and jumped out to a 14-0 lead with 13:40 to play in the first half. The Bulldogs balanced a first quarter that saw them gain 117 yards but punt from the UAB 13-yard line with a defense that held the Blazers to nine yards and no first downs, with a punt return touchdown as the cherry on top. The second Bulldog play from scrimmage in the second quarter resulted in a 57-yard touchdown pass and the universe was imploding.

From that point onward, the Blazers outgained the Bulldogs 510-124 and outscored them 41-0 while never letting AAMU past their 40-yard line, but they were given quite a scare before then.

So, just in case UAB didn’t already have 40,000 other motivations for this game, this is a chance for UAB to avenge their last meeting, where the Blazers were the lone FBS team in the last… ever to let the Bulldogs hang around for any length of time.

The Bulldogs of 2016 can’t be view on cumulative stats, because they suffered a pair of 55-0 beatdowns at the hands of MTSU and Auburn that make their season stats look really wonky. That said, even with those games removed this was not a great offense. Their leading rusher managed only 810 yards in nine SWAC contests, and their starting QB only threw for 1,850 yards and 10 touchdowns in those games. Their defense struggled to stop most teams, even in the SWAC, which led to a lot of lopsided games.

Their defense struggled to stop most teams, even in the SWAC, which led to a lot of lopsided games. The Bulldogs beat 1-10 UAPB and 1-10 MVSU by a combined 75-23 score, but otherwise went 2-5 in the SWAC and were outscored 273-160.

That now gets compounded by some attrition. Leading rusher Jordan Bentley returns, but they’re starting over under center as Damion May – who had eight pass attempts, four rushes and one catch last season – is the most experienced returning signal-caller. The Bulldogs also replace most of their top receiving options, as the top five returning pass catchers combined for 62 receptions 707 yards and three touchdowns last year.

The Bulldogs have less turnover on defense, but I’m not sure how much that will matter for this particular game since all that returning talent could improve a bit and still not be all that great, especially against an FBS program.

UAB Blazers

To the surprise of very few, the top of UAB’s two-deep features the most experienced players. AJ Erdely at QB, James Noble at RB, Collin Lisa at WR. Granted it helps when your offensive two-deep only has six underclassmen, but not having played together can be helped by being a little older and wiser. Of note, freshman Hayden Pittman will get the start at tight end after an impressive 2017 leading up to this.

The defense has a similar setup, where familiar names like Shaq Jones and Tevin Crews are strewn across the top of the depth chart, with the relatively diminutive Fitzgerald Mofor (5’11 245) getting the nod as starting Will linebacker. The secondary might struggle some, especially against taller receivers (the Blazers only have two DBs taller than six foot), so we’ll see how that plays against AAMU. Ledarion Heath is the ony Bulldog pass catcher with both size and experience.

Special teams might get a little interesting, as the Blazers feature zero upperclassmen in the kicking game. I’m sure the offense will do enough to cover over any potential flubs, but this is one area where we’ve got a good chance at seeing some growing pains.

Prediction – I think that the Blazers will win this game, and will do so more handily than they did three years ago. There’s a very high chance they start this game slow because of how insanely lit this entire day will be, but I’m confident they’ll eventually get back in the groove of playing football and end the day with a win on the scoreboard that will be the cherry on top of the day’s other victories.

UAB 55, Alabama A&M 13

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