The UAB Blazers will look to keep pace at the top of the Conference USA standings when they visit the Southern Miss Golden Eagles on Saturday afternoon at M.M. Roberts Stadium. UAB is having a strong season so far at 4-2 (2-0 C-USA) after taking down the Florida Atlantic Owls 31-14 as a 3.5-point home favorite last weekend. Southern Miss turned in an ugly performance last Saturday in a 26-13 loss to the UTEP Miners as a one-point home underdog and has struggled overall this year at 1-5 (0-2 C-USA).
These teams last met in 2019, when Southern Miss rolled to a 37-2 victory at home. The Golden Eagles lead the all-time series 11-7, although UAB has won seven of the last nine matchups.
UAB rolls to easy win in key C-USA matchupThe Blazers figured to get a test last Saturday against an FAU team that was projected to join them near the top of the C-USA standings, and now look like one of the conference title favorites after dominating the Owls. Samario Rudolph and Trea Shropshire each scored on touchdown passes within the first seven minutes of the game, and Grayson Cash's 100-yard pick-six with 30 seconds left in the second quarter effectively sealed things as FAU did not score in the second half.
Dylan Hopkins was efficient under center, completing 13 of his 24 pass attempts for 173 yards and two touchdowns while adding seven carries for 32 yards and a score. Jermaine Brown Jr. racked up 52 yards on just seven carries, while nine different UAB receivers caught a pass. The UAB defense turned in a dominant effort to key the victory, holding the Owls to 285 yards of total offense while forcing four turnovers.
“There are some people that say momentum is not a thing but it is, it really is a thing and points go with that,” head coach Bill Clark said to AL.com regarding Cash's crucial pick six just before the halftime whistle. “To get the takeaway right there, keep them from scoring and then score -- I guess it’s probably everything you could think of. What a huge play and momentum changer going into half.”
UAB has a matching 4-2 record against the spread, with the only two losses coming in blowout fashion against the No. 1 Georgia Bulldogs and a good Liberty team. Overs are just 1-5 for the Blazers, with the lone over coming back in the second week of the season in the 56-7 loss to top-ranked Georgia.
The Blazers offense has done just enough for the team to be successful with an average of 24.8 points and 360.5 yards pet game. A UAB defense that has been excellent for several years now is having another strong campaign, with opponents putting up 22.2 points and 356.8 yards per contest.
After not playing at all in 2020, Hopkins is having a great season, going 54/89 passing for 826 yards and nine touchdowns to two interceptions while adding a score on the ground. Brown Jr. has carried the ball 66 times for 379 yards and three touchdowns, while Gerrit Prince is having a huge year with 16 carries for 323 yards and five touchdowns. Keondre Swoopes is a standout for the Blazers defense with 21 tackles, two interceptions including a pick-six and two pass breakups.
Quarterback Tyler Johnston III, who split snaps with Hopkins in the first three games of the season, has been out ever since for an undisclosed reason. Starting safety Damon Miller did not appear in the FAU game and his status is uncertain, along with wide receiver Ryan Davis and linebacker Kristopher Moll.
Southern Miss searching for answers after fourth straight lossThere's plenty of growing pains for rebuilding Southern Miss in the first season under head coach Will Hall, and the Golden Eagles are still searching for their win over an FBS opponent after the offense got shut down by UTEP last weekend. Jason Brownlee scored on a 31-yard touchdown catch at the 5:42 mark of the first quarter, but the Golden Eagles wouldn't score again until Demarcus Jones' short catch with 2:02 left in the fourth, as the Miners were in total control throughout the second half.
Jack Lange, who has been pressed into action due to injuries to the top two quarterbacks on the depth chart, finished 20/31 passing for 239 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Frank Gore Jr. had a productive game all-around with 16 carries for 43 yards in addition to catching four passes for 58 yards. The Golden Eagles struggled to move the ball with 254 yards of total offense for the game, including managing just 15 rushing yards on 32 attempts.
"We'll have to watch the tape. We know we'll go into practice and we'll get better every day, continue to work and continue to progress," Gore Jr. said to Southern Miss' official website regarding the issues running the ball. "As a team, we know we don't like losing. We know we can't get down on ourselves because that's when it's over. We're going to keep rolling and keep going."
Southern Miss has also struggled against the spread at 1-5, with the only win coming in the second week of the season in a 37-0 blowout of FCS Grambling State. Overs are also just 1-5 for the Golden Eagles, as the only over happened in a September 25 matchup against No. 5 Alabama where the Crimson Tide covered the total by themselves in a 63-14 beatdown.
Hall's offense has yet to get going, as the Golden Eagles are bottom five nationally in scoring at 16.5 points per game on an average of 283.2 yards per contest. Southern Miss' defense has been better, with opponents putting up 27.5 points and 346.7 yards per game.
Lange has been better than Southern Miss could have hoped for from a walk-on freshman quarterback, completing 43 of 68 pass attempts for 543 yards, three touchdowns and four interceptions across two games. Gore Jr. is the focal point of the offense with 94 carries for 497 yards and a touchdown while adding 16 receptions for 161 yards. Malik Shorts is a star defensive back for Southern Miss with 45 tackles including two for a loss, two interceptions and six pass breakups.
It's unclear when quarterbacks Trey Lowe or Ty Keyes will be able to return from their injuries, although it seems likely that Lange will be starting at least this weekend. Running back Darius Maberry is out for the season with an undisclosed injury. Starting linebacker Santrell Latham, who ranks fourth on the team in tackles while forcing three fumbles, didn't play against UTEP and his status is unknown. Wide receiver Antoine Robinson was also absent last weekend after recording seven catches for 107 yards in the first four games of the year.
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Full-Game Side Bet
UAB has consistently been among the better mid-major programs over the past four years and looks headed for another great conference season after completely dismantling its first two C-USA opponents. The Golden Eagles have been blown out by four of the five FBS teams they have faced this season, and have too many question marks offensively to compete against a quality opponent in year one of a long rebuild.
An always-effective defense under Clark is having another strong year, as the Blazers rank just outside the top 10 nationally in takeaways and have completely shut down the ground game for opponents. That's going to challenge a Southern Miss offense that relies heavily on Gore Jr. to carry the load, and while Lange has impressed so far after being pressed into action, this is a much tougher assignment for an inexperienced walk-on.
The big difference with this UAB team is that the offense can actually generate some explosive plays, as Hopkins has shown a ton of improvement since his freshman year with 9.3 yards per pass attempt this season. Southern Miss' defense will eventually get worn down as the offense doesn't get much done, and the Blazers will roll to an easy win against an overmatched opponent.
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Even though the Blazers can do some good things in the passing game this season, this is still an offense that runs the ball 40 times a game while operating at one of the slowest tempos in college football. Southern Miss' defense will at least provide some resistance, as it has held opponents to a respectable 3.8 yards per rush attempt this season and will cause UAB to have to complete a lot of long, methodical drives.
The Golden Eagles are a mess offensively with 3.6 yards per play, the second-worst mark in all of college football, with the offensive line also ranking in the bottom five nationally in sack rate allowed, which is not a good sign against UAB's physical front. Southern Miss will be held under 10 points for the third time this season by a good UAB defense, and the Blazers offense won't do enough to make up for it.