Teams aiming to keep pace square off in a cross-divisional Conference USA showdown
When talking about the most important and historically successful head-coaching tenures of the 21st century, certain names immediately spring to mind: Nick Saban. Dabo Swinney. Urban Meyer.
UAB's Bill Clark is another who should come up in that conversation. Clark oversaw the resurrection of Blazers football, and in record time, made the previously moribund program a contender in Conference USA.
The 2020 Blazers embark on the early portion of this unusual schedule looking to keep pace with Louisiana Tech, a program that has routinely been the pace-setter in C-USA West. The Blazers play their second league game of the slate Saturday against cross-divisional counterpart WKU.
While UAB's enjoyed coaching stability, even amid a near-cancellation and two-year hiatus, Western Kentucky has faced some of the most consistent coaching turnover seen anywhere in the nation in the 2010s. Tyson Helton began his career as head Hilltopper in 2019, winning nine games. Helton's Toppers look to avoid digging a hole early into the C-USA season, one week removed from a conference loss to Marshall.
WKU at UAB
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 17 at 1:30 p.m. ET
Spread: UAB -13.5
When WKU Has the Ball
The most noteworthy takeaway from WKU's loss to Marshall on Oct. 10, in which the Hilltoppers dug a 38-0 hole, was the move from Tyrrell Pigrome at quarterback to Kevaris Thomas. While both dual-capable quarterbacks, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Thomas is a much different player for a defense to prepare for than the 5-foot-10, 200-pound Pigrome.
Thomas sparked some life into a Western Kentucky offense that struggled badly for three quarters, capping a pair of late-game drives with a goal-line touchdown run and a 26-yard scoring pass to tight end Dalvin Smith.
Whether the two scores were indicative of WKU perhaps finding a needed boost to what has been an inconsistent offense against FBS competition, or the result of Marshall giving up garbage-time points, will be evident early on Saturday. UAB's linebacker corps with Nikia Eason Jr., Jordan Smith, and Noah Wilder will generate no shortage of pressure to test the WKU quarterbacks.
When UAB Has the Ball
Running back Spencer Brown has emerged as an early-season standout for UAB. Already the holder of multiple program rushing records, Brown has started his senior campaign with a C-USA-leading five touchdowns and a healthy 112.5-yard per game clip.
Brown's the cornerstone for a UAB offense that's turned over quarterbacking duties to redshirt freshman Bryson Lucero. Lucero played in all four games but really stepped into the exclusive role over the Blazers' last two. He's thrown five of his six touchdown passes against South Alabama and UTSA — though he was also picked three times against the Roadrunners.
WKU needs to find a way to create takeaways at a similar pace, but generating turnovers has been a tall order for the Hilltoppers. They have just two on the season, both in their season opener against Louisville.
UAB's emergence as a perennial contender in the C-USA ranks among the very best stories in college football in recent years. In the Blazers' fourth year since returning, the positive momentum shows no sign of slowing down. WKU has the misfortune of drawing teams that might well meet in the C-USA Championship Game over back-to-back weeks.
The Toppers need last week's strong finish against Marshall to carry over into UAB. Otherwise, it could be another long Saturday.
Prediction: UAB 35, WKU 17
Podcast: Week 7 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Kyle Kensing, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a sportswriter in Southern California. Follow him on Twitter @kensing45.
(Spencer Brown photo courtesy of uabsports.com)