UAB Blazers (8-4) vs Ohio Bobcats (8-4)
Location: Thomas Robinson Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
Time: 12:30 AM ET, Friday, December 23rd
Line: Ohio -7.4, O/U 58.5
History: First ever meeting
Not much history to go on in this matchup. UAB’s game this year against Ball State was their first ever against a MAC team, and Ohio is 3-2 all-time against all current CUSA teams not named Marshall.
That said, this is UAB we’re talking about, so every single second of this season is historical, and the opportunity for a bowl win just keeps adding to the list.
Brief aside; I challenge all of you who are butt-hurt and complaining about the fact that the Blazers went to a bowl game that you couldn’t attend. Why don’t you go on social media and tell Shaq Jones, Tevin Crews, and Darious Williams about how they should have passed on possibly the only chance they’ll ever get in life to visit the Bahamas; pass on swimming with dolphins; and pass on playing in a bowl game on a tropical island.
Tell them how they should pass on getting rewarded with a resort vacation for all of the hard work they did the past four years because you couldn’t afford to join them.
Yes, it is unfortunate that you (who may or may not be a part of the group of people that worked so hard behind the scenes to bring the team back, but doing some basic math, odd are you’re not) were unable to join this team for this bowl game. However, this team busted their asses for four years and only gets to go to one bowl game. You’re going to have plenty of chances to see the Blazers in a bowl game. Get over yourself and let them have their moment.
Talk about the damn game, please
Alright, got that out of my system. So this bowl game is another instance of the country underestimating the Blazers because they aren’t looking closely enough, at least at their upcoming opponent.
Granted, it’s a bit unfair for me, someone who has watched this team all year, to judge someone else’s ability to make assessments about the Blazers off little more than a stat sheet. But that’s what I’m doing, so whatever.
Most folks will look at Ohio’s strong numbers on both offense and defense when it comes to running the ball, note that UAB is a team that leans heavily on Spencer Brown, and pick the Blazers to lose this one. Most folks will say that Ohio is statistically superior in both of those categories, and see a wash in the passing game, and predict a close win for Ohio.
But here’s the thing – Ohio just isn’t all that great. Yes, they allowed the 10th fewest rushing yards in the country, but that can’t have been insanely hard when the Toledo Rockets, who finished the season 102nd in Rushing Offense S&P+, were the third-best rushing offense the Bobcats faced all season. It’s not that hard to shut down a bad run game as long as you’re halfway competent.
The Bobcats are truly a paper tiger, because the Toledo game was the only game all season where their defense played well against an above average offense, and they followed it up with an absolute stink-bomb against the Akron Zips, who just managed a whopping 145 yards and three points against FAU Tuesday.
As a matter of fact, the Bobcat defense had four above-average performances as measured by defensive percentile, and they all came at home against offenses rated 84th or worse in Offensive S&P+. The loose stats say that the Bobcats gave up 200+ rushing yards to Purdue and Bowling Green and shut down everyone else, but those were also – by far – the two best rushing offenses they faced.
Furthermore, part of the reason Ohio shut down most rush offenses is that they were too busy getting beat through the air. Outside of the offensively atrocious Kent State and FCS Hampton, the Bobcats only held Toledo, Bowling Green, and Central Michigan to less than 295 passing yards despite facing only five teams who ranked 60th or better in Passing Offense S&P+.
We already talked about BGSU’s rushing success, and CMU went +3 on turnover margin. And again, they completely dominated Toledo, and then a week later became the first team since Arkansas-Pine Bluff to let Akron throw for more than 300 yards.
The true form of Ohio is that they are a run-first offense (2500 yards and 35 TDs from their top three rushers) who is a bit careless with the ball (19 turnovers) and needs to chew up the clock with their run game as a counterbalance to their poor pass defense. They don’t do anything poorly, but they also haven’t won a game since they showed out against Toledo six weeks ago.
The Bobcats recorded 23.5 sacks on the season, but again there’s more to the picture. They were great at producing pressure (57th in sack rate) and preventing big plays (5th in IsoPPP) on passing downs, but that’s limited by the fact that they were so bad in those same categories (98th and 114th, respectively) on standard downs that the opportunities were rarely there. The Ohio defense was excellent in third-and-long situations but struggled a good bit in actually getting opponents into that situation unless the opposing offense was a generally mediocre or worse, to begin with.
Enough time in the weeds, what’s it all mean?
Ohio and UAB are very similar in that their passing game is not completely inept, but it’s definitely not as good as their run game and certainly not capable of playing catch-up if the score gets away from them. The one exception is that Ohio’s pass defense is lax enough and UAB has enough weapons that if Ohio’s pass rush doesn’t hit home they can make some hay.
On paper, this looks like the Blazers facing a better version of themselves, but that’s just not so. The Bobcats made their hay this season against a Mid-American Conference riddled with weak offenses (and Kansas), and they suffer the same issue as Toledo in being one of the best teams from one of the worst conferences.
The Blazers are just as good at running the ball, and are a more efficient passing offense. They also can’t be judged accurately by their full-season statistics because just like any other young/inexperienced team, they grew a lot over the course of the season. The team that beat UTEP is very different from the one that beat Alabama A&M, and the one that plays in this game won’t even necessarily be the same one that beat UTEP.
Ohio is coming off back-to-back close and ugly losses against Akron and Buffalo, only went 1-1 against teams with winning records this season, and hasn’t won a bowl game since 2012 despite attending three. They struggle with turnovers and face a defense that is good at generating them, and they go up against a Blazer offense that isn’t known for beating you with the passing game, but can make you pay if you key on their run game too much, and can eventually wear you down with Spencer Brown even with eight in the box.
UAB Blazers 31, Ohio Bobcats 21