Historic Legion Field will provide the backdrop for a primetime Friday night matchup between the UAB Blazers and Louisiana Ragin' Cajuns. This should make for an entertaining contest between two of the top Group of 5 programs in the nation, led by two of the most respected head coaches in all of college football in Louisiana's Billy Napier and UAB’s Bill Clark.
Louisiana (3-1, 2-1 Sun Belt) will look to bounce back from last Wednesday night's 30-27 conference loss to Coastal Carolina. The Chanticleers connected on a 40-yard field goal with just four seconds remaining to snap a 27-27 tie, ultimately dealing Louisiana its first defeat of the season. The heartbreaking loss also knocked the Ragin' Cajuns out of the Top 25, where they resided for several weeks after opening the season with a program-defining upset of Iowa State on the road. Now the Ragin' Cajuns will make their way to Birmingham for another big road test on Friday night. Will they be able to take advantage of an extended week of rest and practice to rebound against a potent UAB squad?
UAB (4-1, 2-0 Conference USA) capitalized on four turnovers and five sacks in a dominant performance from its defense to secure a 37-14 home victory over WKU last Saturday. The win helped the Blazers improve to 4-1 on the season, with their only loss coming on the road against Miami. More importantly, UAB was able to extend its home winning streak to an impressive 21 games, a Conference USA record. That streak will be on the line once again on Friday night with a dangerous Louisiana team coming to town. Can the Blazers prevail coming off a short week of preparation?
Friday night will mark the first meeting between the two schools since 2002. UAB leads the series 4-2.
Louisiana at UAB
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 23 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: UAB -1
When Louisiana Has the Ball
Louisiana's best chance for success on Friday night will come on the ground against a UAB defense that is giving up 172 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry. The Ragin' Cajuns feature a potent four-pronged rushing attack comprised of running backs Elijah Mitchell (33 carries, 249 yards, and four touchdowns), Trey Ragas (47, 220, 3), and Chris Smith (26, 141) to go along with quarterback Levi Lewis (20, 103, 1). Louisiana is averaging 186 rushing yards per game at an impressive clip of 5.8 yards per carry.
The Louisiana passing game also has the potential to be dangerous behind Lewis, who was one of the most efficient signal-callers in the nation last season. He completed 64.3 percent of his passes for 3,050 yards with 26 touchdowns and just four interceptions in 2019. Through four games this season, the senior quarterback has thrown for a respectable 900 yards and five touchdowns. However, his completion rate has dipped to a somewhat concerning 57.9 percent, and he's already matched his interception total from all of last season. Sophomore wide receiver Peter LeBlanc leads the team with 13 receptions for 200 yards and a touchdown. But no other Louisiana receiver has recorded more than nine catches on the year, as Lewis has yet to find a consistent go-to target.
That doesn't bode particularly well against a very stingy UAB pass defense on Friday night. The Blazers have allowed just 4.8 yards per pass attempt so far this season, which ranks as best in the FBS. The battle in the trenches should prove interesting, as a stout Louisiana offensive line that has not allowed a single sack in its last two games will be paired against a UAB pass rush that has generated 15 sacks on the season.
When UAB Has the Ball
The Blazers are sure to lean heavily on their run game on Friday night as well. UAB will look to exploit a favorable matchup against a Ragin' Cajun defense that has been vulnerable against the run, surrendering 196 rushing yards per game. Senior running back Spencer Brown (99 carries, 472 yards, six touchdowns) will spearhead a UAB ground attack that is averaging 187 yards per game, while freshman running back DeWayne McBride (18, 226, 2) should see an expanded role after a breakout performance against WKU last week.
Bryson Lucero will direct the UAB passing game. The freshman quarterback has shown flashes, but he's also encountered some growing pains since taking over as the starter for the injured Tyler Johnston III. Lucero has completed just 56.9 percent of his passes for 793 yards with seven touchdowns and four interceptions on the season. But he has been able to rely on a solid offensive line that has only allowed three sacks in five games. And Lucero does have a dangerous group of pass-catchers at his disposal in Austin Watkins Jr. (26 receptions, 356 yards, 3 touchdowns), Myron Mitchell (24, 340, 2), and red-zone favorite Gerrit Prince (7, 85, 4). They will all need to be at their best on Friday night against a Louisiana pass defense that gives up less than 200 yards per game through the air.
The Ragin' Cajuns looked like a force to be reckoned with following their upset victory over Iowa State to open the season. But they have not been able to match that level of success over their last three contests, narrowly escaping defeat against Georgia State and Georgia Southern, before ultimately falling to Coastal Carolina last week. Meanwhile, UAB continues to look better and better as the season progresses. The Blazers have averaged 33.3 points per game over their last three contests while limiting each of their last three opponents to a total of 37 points (12.3 ppg).
Louisiana easily qualifies as the best team that UAB has faced since losing to Miami in early September. The Ragin' Cajuns may also glean an advantage from an extended week of rest and preparation against a UAB team coming off a short week. However, the Blazers have momentum on their side. And if the last few weeks are any indication, UAB appears to be the better football team as well. The Blazers earn a hard-fought victory to extend their home winning streak to 22 games on Friday night.
Prediction: UAB 27, Louisiana 24
Podcast: Week 8 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.
(Top photo courtesy of @UAB_FB)