Unlike last season, when the Miami Hurricanes opened the 2019 season with a bang against UF and conference foe UNC, the Canes appear to have a much softer start to the 2020 season. UM opens the season against Temple, then they host FCS Wagner, before taking on the opponent we’ll preview in this piece, the UAB Blazers.
While the Canes certainly cannot afford to take any opponent lightly after last year’s losses to FIU and Louisiana Tech, there’s no doubt Miami has a much lighter schedule to start than they had last year. Miami will get three straight home games to start the 2020 season before the meat of their schedule begins with a game at Michigan State in late September. Before that MSU game though, the Canes will have to take care of the Blazers, in a game that is currently scheduled to be played in Week 3 on Thursday, September 17.
UAB has been a very respectable program since they returned from their two-year hiatus in 2017. Since that year UAB has not had less than eight wins, and last season they finished 9-5, which included an appearance in the Conference USA Championship Game. UAB started last season 6-1 and finished the regular season 9-3, before falling to FAU in the aformentioned C-USA Championship Game and then to Appalachian State in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. This will be the first time in history that Miami and UAB will square off, so let’s go ahead and take a deeper dive into the team that the Canes will be facing off with a couple of months from now.
UAB is coached by Bill Clark, who has done a fantastic job of leading the Blazers through difficult times. Clark led the Blazers to a 6-6 record in 2014, the season before the two-year shutdown. Since the program came back officially in 2017, Clark has led UAB to a combined record of 28-13, as well as two appearances in the C-USA title game in addition to winning the C-USA in 2018. Clark will be looking to replicate the success of the past three seasons in 2020, and the production he gets from his QB will go a long way in determining the fate of UAB this season.
UAB’s presumed starter at QB this year is redshirt junior Tyler Johnston III, who was the Blazers starter for all of last season up until he suffered an injury in early November. Last season, Johnston completed 59% of his passes for 2,250 yards, 17 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions.
In addition to their QB, the Blazers return running backs Spencer Brown and Lucious Stanley. Brown posted 566 yards and five touchdowns in 2019, while Stanley added 414 yards and seven touchdowns. UAB also returns two of their top three receivers from last season. WR Austin Watkins was a focal point for the UAB offense last year, as he compiled 1,092 yards and six touchdowns. Watkins was top-three in both total receiving yards and yards per game in the C-USA in 2019. Along with Watkins, WR Myron Mitchell figures to be an important target for Johnston, as Mitchell recorded 554 yards and four touchdowns last year. UAB had a very solid season in 2019, but their offense didn’t seem to be the driving force behind that record. Their offense was the 11th best total offense in the C-USA and the 9th most efficient offense in the conference.
It appears that UAB’s strength last season was on the defensive side of the football, as they ranked first in the C-USA in defensive efficiency and second in total defense. In fact, the Blazers had the eighth best total defense in the whole FBS last year, ahead of Miami who had the 13th best total defense last year. Leading the way for UAB’s defense is DB Kristopher Moll, who led the team in tackles (102), tackles for loss (15), and sacks (8). For his efforts, Moll earned First Team Defense honors in the Conference USA last season.
Moll is far from the only high-impact player that is returning to UAB’s defense this season. In addition to Moll, LB Noah Wilder and OLB Jordan Smith could make life at least somewhat difficult on Miami when they meet in September. Wilder was second on the team in tackles with 85, and he also chipped in ten tackles for loss. Smith earned Second Team Defense honors in the C-USA after recording 48 tackles, 14.5 tackles for loss, and eight sacks last season. UAB returns a lot of what made them a top ten defense in the country last season.
The Blazers have an offense that is not entirely potent, but it is certainly a solid unit, and overall the Canes certainly can’t overlook this Blazers team in the fall. UAB is well-coached, has been very successful in recent years, and has a very dangerous defense as well. The Canes need to start undefeated out of the gate before making their trip to East Lansing, and they certainly cannot stumble against an opportunistic UAB team.