Sometimes in college-affiliated football, statistical comparison spins a fable for fools. Sometimes, it tells a multicolor, 3-D truth. The latter is the case with FIU and Alabama-Birmingham going into Saturday’s Conference USA opener.
The two other mid-major teams No. 14 Mississippi State faced, the Sun Belt’s South Alabama and C-USA’s Southern Mississippi, managed only three points, combined. No. 17 LSU scored 29 in a wire-to-wire Death Valley loss to Mississippi State. UAB rolled up 34 on the Bulldogs and twice held second-quarter leads before losing.
Louisville’s running game pounded out 164 yards and 4.2 yards per carry against the University of Miami and 3.9 yards per carry against Virginia. FIU (1-3) squashed Cardinals’ rushers: 52 yards, 1.67 yards per carry (all numbers excluding sacks).
FIU’s offense and UAB’s defense get their say in the outcome just as minority shareholders get votes. Still, Saturday’s outcome likely will be dictated by who wins the matchup of FIU’s defense vs. UAB’s offense.
That’s the defense ranked No. 18 nationally, atop C-USA in overall defense (302.2 yards per game) and pass defense (173.5); and the offense ranked No. 23 nationally (507.0), No. 1 in the conference in yards per completion (17.16).
“It’s just like I told our defense – people put our film on, they’ll say ‘Wow. These guys play fast. We better come to play,’ ” FIU coach Ron Turner said. “I say the same thing about these guys. Both on offense and defense.”
After blasting Troy 48-10, UAB (2-1) bombed its way to a measure of national respect against Mississippi State despite losing 47-34. It wasn’t just that the Blazers scored on an SEC defense. It’s that they did it in a way non-SEC teams aren’t supposed to be able to against SEC defenses – touchdown passes of 88, 81 and 75 yards.
“They hit four or five deep balls on them. One was called back,” Turner said. “They hit four posts on them, three for touchdowns. The impressive thing is it was three different receivers (JJ Nelson, Josh Magee, Quincy Perdue) and two different quarterbacks (Jeremi Briscoe, Cody Clements). They’re very explosive, they can score a lot of points and they can score in a hurry.”
UAB, FIU and Southern Miss formed last year’s C-USA Tire Fire Trio. FIU got its only win of the season, 24-23, against Southern Miss. A week later, UAB got its only FBS win against FIU, 27-24. Southern Miss ended the season blasting UAB out of Legion Field 62-27 and UAB coach Garrick McGee all the way to Louisville, where he’s offensive coordinator.
When Bill Clark came from Jacksonville State, UAB seemed to be where FIU and Southern Miss were a year earlier with their then-new coaches. And UAB football has long been treated like Cinderella by the powers that be in Alabama.
“We started with the infrastructure,” Clark said at Conference USA Media Day. “Do you have enough people training your guys in the strength program? Are they good at what they do? What’s your nutrition look like? We needed a new locker room, so we built us a locker room. A video system … just some basics.
“Then, we went about the process of coming together. Were we working hard? Were we training correctly? Trying to make them into a family. Then, we had to go out and find some older guys to mix in with our guys because we were so young. Offensive line, we were down to eight players in spring. Stuff that makes you say, ‘No wonder.’ ”
UAB’s coming off a bye week after needing a comeback to beat FCS team Alabama A&M 41-14.
“We talk about the fact that we can compete against anyone on our schedule,” Clark said this week. “But we feel like anyone on our schedule can beat us. That’s the scary thing about the conference play that we are approaching.”
▪ The Panthers boarded the plane that was supposed to take them to Birmingham early Friday afternoon. The plane lacked air conditioning, prompting some players to take off their shirts. The plane also lacked more than one working engine, prompting FIU to deplane around 2:30. While a new plane was flown in, the team bused to a restaurant for dinner. They boarded the new plane around 9 p.m.