UAB (2-2) at Western Kentucky (2-2) (ET)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium (22,113) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: None. Home Record: UAB 2-1, WKU 1-0. Away Record: UAB 0-1, WKU 1-2. Neutral Record: UAB 0-0, WKU 0-0. Conference Record: UAB 0-1, WKU 0-1. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 3-2.
GAME NOTES: Both the UAB Blazers and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers take aim at their first Conference USA victory on Saturday night when they collide at Houchens Undustries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
UAB has already matched its win total from a year ago, sitting at 2-2 entering this game. However, the Blazers failed to earn a victory last weekend in its C-USA opener, falling to FIU in a 34-20 final.
Unlike UAB, Western Kentucky is in its first season as a member of C-USA. It got its first chance to earn a league win two weeks ago, but a 50-47 loss in triple-overtime to Middle Tennessee kept the Hilltoppers from accomplishing that goal. They rebounded nicely last weekend, knocking off Navy on the road, 36-27.
The last meeting between these teams was back in 1997 when UAB won, 20-16. Despite that setback, the Hilltoppers have a narrow edge in the all-time series, 3-2.
UAB is one of the more productive offensive teams in the league, as the Blazers rank third in total offense (475.3 ypg) and fifth in scoring (35.8 ppg).
In their loss to FIU, the Blazers only managed 380 yards, but they had a 21-9 edge in first downs. What hurt them most were turnovers, as they coughed up the ball six times. That has been a bad habit for the team, which is last in the league in turnover margin (minus-5).
Quarterback Cody Clements has been one of the guiltiest parties when it comes to mistakes, with four interceptions, including two against FIU. When he has managed to avoid defenders, Clements has been efficient, completing 64 percent of his pass attempts, although he has tallied more than 200 yards in just one game.
Jamarcus Nelson and Kennard Backman are a solid duo for Clements to work with on the outside. Nelson is the bigger playmaker, tallying 296 yards and a score on 13 receptions. He is just one of two players on the roster to record a 100- yard receiving game. Backman (17 receptions, 169 yards, two TDs) leads the way in both receptions and touchdown grabs.
Jordan Howard and D.J. Vinson have been equal partners in the backfield, with Howard logging 69 carries and Vinson right behind at 68. Howard has been more productive in terms of yards (381), but Vinson, who has rushed for 270, has seven rushing touchdowns compared to three for Howard. Vinson is actually tied for the league-lead in rushing scores.
Just like its offensive counterpart, the UAB defense is one of the better units in C-USA. The Blazers rank fourth in both yards allowed (359.3 ypg) and scoring defense (26.3 ppg).
The player to watch on that side of the ball is Diaheem Watkins, as he leads the team in total tackles (20), tackles for loss (4.0) and sacks (3.0).
While UAB may have some firepower on offense, it pales in comparison to that of Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers are tied for fourth in the nation in total offense (594.3 ppg), while posting 44 points per game.
The scoring took a dip against Navy, but not by much, especially since the Hilltoppers won the game and finished with 551 total yards.
Leading the offensive charge is quarterback Brandon Doughty, who has piled up yards and touchdowns seemingly at will. Doughty leads C-USA in both passing yards (1,846) and he is tied for the league lead in touchdown passes (14). He also has excelled in avoiding mistakes, with only three interceptions while completing 69.2 percent of his attempts.
There are eight different receivers that have already recorded 100 yards for the Hilltoppers. Leading the way is Jared Dangerfield (27 receptions, 304 yards, four TDs), who is the top player in terms of catches, yards and touchdowns. Taywan Taylor (23 receptions, 283 yards, TD), Antwane Grant (19 receptions, 244 yards, two TDs) and tight end Mitchell Henry (14 receptions, 244 yards, two TDs) are all key components of the pass attack as well.
Although they prefer to throw the ball, the Hilltoppers can run effectively thanks to multi-talented running back Leon Allen. He has rushed for 100 yards in each of the last three games, after tallying 99 in the season opener. On top of his ability to run the ball, Allen is a solid receiver, having secured 22 receptions for 175 yards.
What has held Western Kentucky back is its defensive production. Opposing squads have been able to cut down the field rather easily, averaging nearly 500 yards of total offense per game. In fact, the Hilltoppers are next-to-last in the league in total defense (498.3 ypg).
With teams moving the ball with relative ease, there have been plenty of opportunities for defenders to make stops. Nick Holt (40 tackles) has been the most advantageous, leading the squad in total stops, as well as tackles for loss (4.5). Bryan Shorter and Tanner Reeves each have three sacks.
Of the two, UAB is the more balanced in this matchup, with an effective offense and a solid defense. However, despite their defensive shortcomings, the Hilltoppers are a very difficult team to beat because of how potent their offense is, especially when Doughty finds his rhythm.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 39, UAB 32Game Date and Time
Saturday, October 4, 7 p.m. (ET)