Let us be clear about how much we do not know about UAB: they could come into Denton and do damage. North Texas is favored by ~10 depending on the time you choose to place your bet and with whom. Four of the five advanced numbers have NT above UAB but they all have NT as a projected winner.
S&P: 127 NT: 105 (LW 103) COW: 76% SRS: 99 NT: 95 (LW 113) FPI: 117 NT: 97 (LW 82) COW: 76.2% Sagarin: 129 NT: 128 (LW 128) FEI: 130 NT: 109 (LW 113) COW: 83.1% Massey: 138 NT: 146 (LW 145) COW: 58% COW = Chance of Winning
The Blazers come to Denton good enough to average 33.0 a game but bad enough to only average 34/per against the FCS opponents they played — yes I know CCU is a first-year FBS school. The danger they present is not in generic offensive production, but in the style of play. They can and will want to run the ball. A.J. Erdley has averaged ~15 rushing attempts a game against 19 throwing. His big 6’4″ 220 lbs frame presents a challenge for the relatively lightly built NT defense. While North Texas did well to slow Iowa, they eventually were worn down by the power run game.
On Saturday UAB will try a very similar strategy but with a very different roster level. It is this talent disparity and the home location that give NT the edge. The Mean Green were tough last week but do not doubt that it is easier to get hyped for Iowa than UAB. That could be all the difference.
The Blazers offensive line is big, strong, and has a nice collection of upperclassman. Normally that means they have experience, but since this is an unusual situation we’ll rate that less highly. They average about 6’3″ and 300 lbs. Combined with Erdley and TE Logan Scott’s 6’5″ 240 lbs and you have a powerful running group. Freshman back Spencer Brown run from the backs, but the depth chart lists three ‘starters’. Brown looks like he’ll be really good for a while, however.
The receivers haven’t had many catches and nothing about the numbers stands out in particular. There is not much size aside from 6’4″ JR WR Ronnie Turner, but he is the 7th leading receiver with only 2 catches for 20 yards. JR Andre Wilson is the leading pass-catcher with 8 catches for 101 yards. This be he:
— UAB Football (@UAB_FB) September 16, 2017
It is possible to become too enamored of their offense and forget that our defense can be stout. The things that make North Texas vulnerable are not under immediate threat by UAB’s system. That is to say, Erdley is not the passing threat that Hicks-to-Sutton or even Nate Stanley was. The question is if UAB can run effectively against a NT defense that has done relatively well against run-first systems.
Andy Flusche played well against Iowa, getting into the backfield as NT was slanting against Iowa’s zone runs. EJ Ejiya, LaDarious Hamilton, and Syd Moore all got in the backfield to create havoc. Nate Brooks, Khairi Muhammad, and Kemon Hall should be able to match up well with UAB’s starting trio. UAB’s power plays also serve as their play-action into max-protection for deep shots. Iowa tried to do something similar but Nate Stanley wasn’t able to find his guys. AJ Erdley is more of a running threat than a passing one.
NT does not need to shutout UAB, but merely slow them. A run-first team is not a high-scoring team and NT thus far has shown they are ready to score.
The Blazers line up in a multiple defense based on the three-down lineman look with a Jack LB as an edge rusher. Nose Tackle Teko Powell is 6’3″ 320 lbs and his backup Anthony Rush is 6’5″ 340 lbs. DE Keeley is 6’7″ and star LB Shaq Jones is 6’3″ 250 lbs. NT has faced stronger and better defensive lines but UAB is not far off. They have the kind of size that can stifle NT’s run game and bat down passes of our short QB. NT may have the better offense but sometimes size and strength are all that is needed.
I expect NT to try to run around UAB’s guys instead of through them. Coastal Carolina was unable to throw much, but did put up 227 yards rushing on 49 carries. UAB’s defense forced three picks and capitalized on the short fields.
While NT has done well attacking soft zones and has taken shots against man coverage, the offense still hasn’t put together a great full game. Littrell has talked about the search for consistency for two years now. NT is closer to that goal, but still far enough away that we can’t predict the circumstances that are likely to produce it.
If NT is able to get Jeff Wilson loose enough on the edges, the team will be able to stay on schedule and get some points. While Jalen Guyton has been a threat to take the top off the defense, Jaelon Darden has looked especially dangerous in the middle ranges. Unfortunately he is questionable, and so that means Smiley and Bussey will have to step up and be playmakers. Mike Lawrence is the possession receiver extraordinaire and that is perfect. Someone needs to do that job.
As we said on the podcast, the real danger is in a team that can execute their game plan. I mean, do not forget that every team at the very least has a game plan it usually involves playing to their strengths. Duh. UAB wants to control the game with defense and the run game. You might remember that was Iowa’s plan. Seth Littrell and the staff will have a chance to right that little wrong. They shouldn’t need the luck they got against the Hawkeyes, but it can’t hurt.
While UAB wants a slug-fest, NT wants a track meet. Forcing UAB into pass-first mode is a win for North Texas, and the game will shift toward Troy Reffet’s strengths.
UAB is playing with house money right now, and a loss will not do much to the feel-good story. It probably will hurt the attendance figures long-term. UAB is going to do their CUSA challenge next year.
For NT, a win here sets up a very similar parallel to last year: 2-2 after the first four with one FCS and one CUSA win, and one morale-boosting Power-5 loss to pair with an SMU blowout. The Blazers will not fill Apogee on their name, but the decent Iowa showing might bring in a few. NT will need a great showing in this one and against Southern Miss in Hattiesburg the following week to renew fan interest, as this is the last home game for three weeks.
MGN Predicts 34-24 win.
MGN hopes for a 73-0 blowout as revenge for the last time they played.