UAB takes on No. 13 BYU in Saturday’s Independence Bowl

UAB takes on No. 13 BYU in Saturday’s Independence Bowl
UAB running back Dewayne McBride scores a touchdown vs. Louisiana Tech. McBride led the Blazers with 12 TDs and 1,188 yards rushing this year. (UAB Athletics)

Bill Clark and his UAB football team weren’t the focus when Brigham Young coach Kalani Sitake watched them on film the past two seasons.

But the Blazers stole the show.

“With last year’s schedule, we had a lot of crossover games so we saw a lot of film on UAB,” Sitake said. “When we were looking at film and saw their brand of football and even looked up some years before … we just noticed their team, their athleticism, their speed and the way they are physical at the line of scrimmage.”

UAB quarterback Dylan Hopkins scores a touchdown vs. Louisiana Tech. Hopkins also passed for 2,085 yards this season. (UAB Athletics)

At 2:30 p.m. Saturday, Sitake and BYU will get a much better look at the Blazers as they share the stage with them at Independence Stadium in the Radiance Technologies Independence Bowl on ABC.

The Blazers (8-4) are playing in the program’s fifth bowl game and their fourth since returning to action in 2017. UAB has been bowl eligible all six seasons under Clark (2014, 2017-2021).

UAB beat Northern Illinois 37-13 in the 2018 Cheribundi Boca Raton Bowl. Its scheduled 2020 meeting with South Carolina in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl was canceled by COVID.

The Cougars are the stiffest challenge the Blazers have had in a bowl game. BYU is 10-2 and ranked No. 13 in the College Football Playoff rankings at the end of the regular season.

A win Saturday would likely lift Sitake’s team into the Top 10 of season-ending polls. BYU also brings a championship reputation, having won the 1984 national championship.

In 1990, the Cougars notched their first and only Heisman Trophy winner in quarterback Ty Detmer. The Blazers (8-4) know what they’re facing on Saturday.

“From what I’m hearing from the weight room, I think they know it’s a really good opponent, a quality opponent,” Clark said. “They’re excited about the challenge. I would be worried about them if they weren’t. But I think they know, and know what the name BYU means and what BYU’s done.”

Likewise, Sitake thinks highly of his opponents from the Deep South.

“It’s a great matchup for us and we’re looking forward to this game,” he said. “We have respect for what they’ve done. Last year watching their film, it was no wonder that they ended up winning the conference championship. They’ve won a lot of games in the last few years that Coach Clark has been there.”

Clark said his team is disappointed it fell short of playing for its conference championship this season, as it has the past three seasons. But a win in the Independence Bowl would help solidify the Blazers’ standing as a winning program.

“I think that’s what we want to be known for, as a team (where) we’re winning every year and we’re going to bowl games and we’re fighting for championships,” the UAB coach said. “We talk about championships; that’s our ultimate goal. But every college program wants to get to a bowl, doing it with a winning record and then obviously playing a quality opponent.

“This is really what you look for,” Clark continued. “That’s what you work for. I think that’s how we want our program to be known.”

Geographically, UAB could be considered the home team as Birmingham is much closer to Shreveport, Louisiana, than the Brigham Young campus in Provo, Utah. But Cougar fans have a reputation of not letting 1,000-plus miles keep them away.

“(I’ve heard) from some folks where the BYU fans kind of make it their home,” Clark said of the Cougar faithful. “It might not be a neutral site. It may be more of a BYU fan base. But I think that says a lot about who they are. And it says (you have) a national program.

“That’s what you want, that you’ve got fans all over and they’re going to come support you,” he continued. “It’ll make for a good atmosphere, no doubt.”

BYU’s success this season includes a win over Pac-12 champion Utah. The Cougars rank 17th nationally in total offense with an average of 457.1 yards per game.

Running back Tyler Allgeier headlines BYU’s offense with 1,409 rushing yards. He is tied for the national lead with 20 rushing touchdowns.

Sophomore running back DeWayne McBride led the Blazers with 12 TDs and 1,188 yards rushing. Quarterback Dylan Hopkins replaced Tyler Johnston III and passed for 2,085, sending Johnston to the transfer portal.

Redshirt seniors Colby Ragland and Tyree Turner were honored as first-team All-Conference USA selections to headline 23 Blazers who earned postseason recognition.

Ragland has garnered first-team All-Conference USA accolades in back-to-back seasons. He has anchored UAB’s offensive line the last three seasons, starting all 12 games this year – four at left guard, eight at right tackle – and paved the way for an offense that averaged 176.6 rushing yards per game and 384.3 yards of total offense. Turner was a force at nose tackle and led a dominant rush defense that ranks 12th nationally by allowing just 104.2 rushing yards per game. Turner finished the year with 20 tackles, five tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles for the nation’s 15th-ranked defense.

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