Fearless Prediction: Tennessee vs. UAB
The Fearless Prediction is on a cold streak, losing 2 of its past 3. But there’s no time like the present to turn this thing around when Tennessee hosts UAB on Saturday night.
The fact that this game is even being played is a testimony to Blazers coach Bill Clark. In December 2014, UAB president Roy Watts shut down the football program, citing financial constraints. After about 6 months of awful PR, Watts announced that the program would return in 2017. For 2 years Clark was a coach without any games to coach. He could have left for other opportunities, but he kept the power on in the football complex and has turned UAB into a consistent contender in Conference USA.
UAB won 8 games in its return to college football in 2017, including the Bahamas Bowl. Last year the Blazers won 11 games, as well as the conference championship and the Boca Raton Bowl. This season? More success as the Blazers sit at 6-1 and in second place in Conference USA’s Western Division. Clark is a really good college football coach. One day Power 5 schools will come calling, but it’ll take a special opportunity for him to leave Birmingham.
Taking a look at UAB on offense … this season UAB quarterback Tyler Johnston is throwing for over 250 yards per game. The Blazers split carries in the backfield, but they still gain over 150 yards per game on the ground. Defensively? They rank 5th in the nation, allowing less than 250 yards per contest. That said, the Blazers haven’t exactly been facing the 2001 Miami Hurricanes every week. Their 7 opponents are a combined 13-41 this season.
Despite those positives, UAB (at last check) is a 12-point underdog to Tennessee. The Vols have found something over the past 3 weeks. Improvement that was difficult to see on defense is now on full display. Offensively they’ve been able to move the football despite uncertainty at quarterback. And special teams have come up with multiple big plays, including a punt return for a score (Marquez Callaway) as well as a blocked punt that resulted in a touchdown (Daniel Bituli) last week against South Carolina.
Speaking of Bituli, he was spectacular against the Gamecocks and the best player on the field not named Jauan Jennings. Bituli had game-high 15 tackles to go with the blocked punt and recovery in the end zone. He and his fellow defenders will have to contend with a Blazers offense averaging nearly 30 points per game. However, Johnston has thrown 10 interceptions this season, which could be music to the ears of the Vols’ ball hawks.
I don’t know if it’ll be Brian Maurer (concussions) or Jarrett Guarantano (broken bone in non-throwing hand) or J.T. Shrout (he’s healthy!) at quarterback against UAB. Maybe all 3. Heck, if Jennings takes snaps again it could be 4. I don’t think it matters.
The Vols are playing a complete team game, and for the first time in a while it looks like they are heading in the right direction. If all else fails just get the ball to Jennings. Against South Carolina, he had 7 catches for 174 yards and 2 scores, while running over Gamecocks defensive backs for most of the day.
One other note from that Tennessee/South Carolina affair. The atmosphere at Neyland Stadium was terrific. More than 87,000 showed up to watch the 2-5 Vols play the 3-4 Gamecocks … not exactly the game of the week. But Vols fans were loud throughout and helped UT finally beat a Will Muschamp coached squad (they were previously 0-7 all-time against his teams). There are few places in the country like Knoxville. Fans just want a reason to believe that brighter days are ahead. The past few weeks gave us a hint that blue skies might be on the horizon.
The Vols are 3-5 but could be 5-3. Despite an unacceptable season opening loss to Georgia State and an epic collapse against BYU, Tennessee is still in position to earn a bowl berth with 3 wins in the final 4 games. Each of those games is winnable. The push to earn a trip to Birmingham/Memphis/Shreveport/etc., will pick up more steam on Saturday night.
Fearless Prediction time …
Tennessee 27, UAB 17