Mississippi State scored 21 unanswered second half points to put away the feisty UAB Blazers, 21-3, in front of roughly 28,000 fans at Legion Field on Saturday. UAB falls to 0-5 on the season.
Sportingham knows there are always questions in the wake of a loss and for what it’s worth, here’s our take:
1. Why did UAB lose?
UAB lost today for the same reasons they lost last week at Troy. First, they committed comically ill-timed mistakes (turnovers) that swung momentum away from them and over to the opposite sideline. Second, they failed once again to establish some sort of offensive identity.
Last week, the combination of quarterback Jonathan Perry’s pick and a poorly-timed defensive penalty handed Troy the go-ahead touchdown and, eventually, the win. This week, Pat Shed’s fumble early in the third quarter ended a crucial drive for the Blazers deep in Bulldog territory, as they were marching down the field to answer MSU’s first touchdown of the game. State took over possession and immediately scored on a 57-yard touchdown pass from Tyler Russell to Chad Bumphis. UAB’s final chance to establish themselves in the game was ended on the subsequent drive, when Perry was intercepted by State’s Jonathan Banks.
Today, the Blazer defense played well enough to win, as they did last week. The problem is the UAB offense, which hasn’t really decided what it’s good at yet. With much of their offense returning from last season, you’d think the Blazers would follow the trend they set in 2010 and put the ball in the air frequently. They certainly can’t do that now, what with starting quarterback Bryan Ellis on the sidelines and the uneven play of back-up Perry. But even when Ellis was healthy, the Blazers’ pass offense was anything but.
In his first two-and-a-half games (before his injury at East Carolina), Ellis averaged roughly 150 yards passing per game and had a 3-0 interception-to-touchdown ratio. Perry’s numbers are similar through five games. So…UAB isn’t a passing team.
That leaves the door open for Pat Shed, Greg Franklin and the rest of the running backs, right? Wrong. Shed had 16 carries for 73 yards against State in what was really the first game he was healthy for this season. In his place though four games, Perry did most of the running from the quarterback spot, while primary back-up Greg Franklin averaged just over three carries a game. Franklin, it should be noted, rolled up a 6.7 yard-per-carry average through those first four games, but again, touched the ball only three times a game…leading Sportingham to conceive a question so obvious that I won’t even bring it up. But you know what it is.
So, to recap, the Blazers can’t really throw the ball, regardless of who’s under center. They have the ability to run the ball, but have struggled to get their backs healthy this season and, for some reason, they don’t want to give the ball to Greg Franklin. Until UAB figures out what they want to do on offense (zone read, anyone) they won’t be able to keep up, despite improved defensive play.
2. What’s next?
Well, next week, the Blazers travel to Tulsa…a team that is 2-3 overall, but still capable of scoring points in bunches, as always. You think your team has played a tough schedule? You haven’t played one as tough as the Golden Hurricane. Tulsa began the season with Oklahoma and Tulane on the road, home against Oklahoma State (the game didn’t kick off until after midnight), then at Boise State and finally, home against North Texas. They face UAB off a bye week; a richly deserved bye week, to be sure.
3. Can Neil Callaway’s job be saved at this point?
Probably not, unless he finishes the season 7-0 or 6-1. Look, this was the year for UAB football to capitalize on some legitimate fan exuberance and palpable momentum. The on-campus stadium looks like a go, commitments from Shelby County football stars were rolling in and Tommy West was on-board to fix the defense (which was, at the time, the only piece missing from UAB being a complete team, aside from the new kicker). Fans expected bowl or bust. This season, to this point at least, has been bust. Big-time bust.
If indeed a stadium is imminent, then UAB has to do something drastic to stop the bleeding and prime fans (not to mention, donors) for the next phase of Blazer football. The most drastic thing they can do is hand the reigns of the program over to another guy.
4. If Callaway is not retained, who gets the job?
Well, that’s the $64,000 question. You can make a splashy hire (anyone with the last name Bowden, a Nick Saban castaway, Larry Coker, etc.), you can make a solid hire (an under-the-radar coordinator from a BCS school with great credentials but an anonymous name), or a solid and splashy hire (your guess is as good as mine for the salary he’s probably going to get.) One thing we know is that Callaway will likely be safe through the end of the season, as athletic director Brian Mackin indicated earlier in the week.