UAB head coach Bill Clark won his second league title after clinching his third straight West division championship. His Blazers are at the top of the league again, and have shown they are one of the best, well-run programs of the fourteen members. That this season had an asterisk on it does not mean that UAB are not worthy champs. They beat a good Marshall team on the road (the second time the Blazers have won a title game on the road) and did it using the identity that was established when the program did its #Return: defense, and the run game. Oh, sure they mixed in some clutch passing and catching but that’s how you build a winner.
This game was between two teams that played good defense and ran the ball well. In a battle, there can only be one winner and the Blazer brand of defense and run game were superior to the Herd version. Whereas young Marshall QB Grant Wells struggled in the moment, going 0/10 to start the game, the Blazers got enough points to put them in the advantageous position. They ran the ball right through the tough Herd defense to the tune of around 200 yards for the game.
If you have watched this Blazers team since 2016 you know that in a close game they are tough to stop when they want to grind out the clock. The question has always been if they can get enough of a pass game to allow the run game to be effective. The answer tonight, as it was last week in the clutch win over Rice with a large number of walk-ons playing a big part, was in the positive. Tyler Johnston III floated a duck that Trae Shropshire found after a twirl and took it 71-yards for the all-but-clinching-score.
The UAB effort in the cold was enough and the coaches and players have plenty to look at in the offseason when they think about next steps. Right now the formula means winning and that is to be commended.
For Marshall, there is much to regret. The run game was abandoned for stretches, and that was partly because Grant Wells could not keep the Blazer defense honest with throws. Full credit to the Blazer defense for not making it easy, but there were throws to make and they were not made. Wells did not complete his first pass until the second half, when he went 2/2 for all of his 16 yards and the score that made things 9-7. If you are looking for a weakness in UAB it is that they do not have enough power on offense to blow teams away when they are struggling. Eventually, like vs Tech, that tendency will cost them games. At least, that is the thinking. In this one, timely offense — big catches from Shropshire — made the difference.
Even when the Blazers offense was committing some self-harm, getting a personal foul penalty that moved the offense out of field goal range — or so it seemed — they managed to rally for a big time field goal. The kick put things at eight points instead of the five and it mattered the rest of the fourth quarter. Marshall’s Wells hit Xavier Gaines for a 1-play score but failed to convert the 2-point conversion. The two-point difference was essential as Tyler Johnston III was hit on his throw on 3rd-and-5, competing the pass to Shropshire for the score that put UAB up by 9. There was just three or so minutes left and Marshall was in desperation mode. Field goals, defense, and the run game. Those ingredients have won scores of games and that is true in Birmingham as well.
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