UAB comes rolling into town to face one of the hotter teams in college football, the Mississippi State Bulldogs, winners of their last four games, two against perennial SEC powers Georgia and Florida.
KICKOFF: Saturday, 7 ET
GAME DATE: 10/23/10
SITE: Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, Starkville, Miss.
SERIES: Mississippi State leads 2-1 (last meeting, 2007, Mississippi State 30-13)
RECORDS: UAB 2-4, 1-2 Conference USA; Mississippi State 5-2, 2-2 SEC
POLLS: Mississippi State (24 AP, 24 USA Today)
PREDICTION: Mississippi State 27-10
KEYS TO THE GAME:
UAB was dominated two weeks ago by a UCF team that spent plenty of time in the Blazers backfield creating pressure. If you don't give QB Bryan Ellis a little bit of time, the offense crumbles.
Mississippi State wants to jump out early to eliminate the confidence of the upset-minded Blazers. Don't get too cute: Run, run, run, especially with QB Chris Relf. Don't have a defensive letdown, especially at linebacker.
SCOUTING THE TEAMS:
With the exception of the loss at UCF, UAB has looked like one of the best offenses in C-USA, if not the nation, in the past month. The Blazers gained 500 yards or more against UTEP (500), Troy (535) and Tennessee (544). Last week, the pleasant surprise came from getting more than 200 rushing yards from the running back position for the first time since 2006.
The Blazers have been pleased with the pressure their defensive line has been able to apply to opposing teams' quarterbacks. The team has 15 sacks this season, tied for third in the Conference USA, and has had nine players register at least one sack. Of course the sack-master on the Blazers is DT Bryant Turner, who has 5.0 sacks this season, tied for third in the conference. UAB has been hit-and-miss against the run this season, but holding the Miners to just 60 yards on the ground last week helped move them up to No. 6 in C-USA in rush defense (243.7 ypg rushing).
Much has been made about how Mississippi State, under the offensive pedigree of coach Dan Mullen, isn't much of a passing threat. But does it need to be? The Bulldogs rarely passed in the second half of Saturday's win at Florida -- and it was a win. On the ground, these Bulldogs have gained 280 yards per game in the past three outings.
At some point, the credit will heap on defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, even if he wants to deflect it. But Mullen hired Diaz away from Middle Tennessee State last year because of his reputation as an attacking coordinator. He hasn't disappointed, engineering remarkable turnarounds on defense in almost every category.
Blazers: UAB's 228 rushing yards vs. UTEP last week, 226 of which came from running backs, marked the first time since a 2006 game vs. Memphis that the Blazers had more than 200 yards from their running backs. ... Three of UAB's six games this season have been decided on the final play of the game -- a blocked field goal attempt in a one-point loss to Florida Atlantic, a Hail-Mary touchdown pass in one-point win over Troy, and a touchdown in a three-point loss to Tennessee in overtime. ... Junior QB Bryan Ellis has passed for 1,154 yards and eight touchdowns in the last four games. ... Going back to the school's initial season in 1991, UAB has had a quarterback throw for more than 350 yards in a game 12 times. Ellis has done it twice with 360 against Troy and 363 against Tennessee. ... UAB is 7-of-13 on fourth downs this season after failing to convert 10 fourth-down opportunities in 2009.
Bulldogs: Mississippi State's win at Florida gave the Bulldogs their first four-game winning streak since the opened the 1999 season at 8-0. ... If the Bulldogs beat UAB, they will have won all the non-conference games on their schedule for the first time since 2000. ... Mississippi State's appearance in both the AP and USA Today polls is the first ranking for the Bulldogs since Sept. 21, 2001. ... Mississippi State's defense has really stepped it up in the red zone. The Bulldogs have surrendered only eight touchdowns on 23 opponent's trips inside the 20-yard line. ... The offense is producing 392.3 ypg, which trails on the 422 ypg set by the 1982 State team. ... State has outscored opponents 68-17 in the first quarter. ... Three of sophomore CB Johnthan Banks' five career interceptions have come against Florida, including two last year against Tim Tebow. ... Mississippi State's punt coverage has allowed foes only 15 return yards on P Heath Hutchins' 27 punts. He has pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard 12 times already, one more time than a year ago.
PLAYERS TO WATCH:
QB Bryan Ellis -- The junior has been great for the most part this season and will be put to the test Saturday against Mississippi State. If he can handle the physical abuse he's sure to take, he'd like to think he can have the Blazers in the game late like he had them last month against Tennessee.
RB Justin Brooks -- The senior had a breakout performance against C-USA foe UTEP last week with 13 carries for 81 yards, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He had more carries than any Blazers running back, including usual starting RB Pat Shed.
LB Marvin Burdette -- The sophomore has a team-high 41 tackles and will need to continue his excellent play against a physical Mississippi State team this weekend. The Bulldogs' offensive linemen do a good job of getting to the second level and blocking the linebackers, so Burdette will have his work cut out for him breaking free to make tackles.
LB Chris White -- He's gotten plenty of praise for his play last week at Florida -- 4.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks, will do that. He was named the SEC's Defensive Player of the Week and the Bronko Nagurski National Defensive Player of the Week in the days that followed. Can he keep it up for a special ending to his senior season?
QB Chris Relf -- It's becoming evident that in State's two-quarterback system, Relf is the go-to guy. He was the only one to attempt a pass at Florida, but his value is more as a runner than anything else.
WR Chad Bumphis -- He showed some playmaking ability against Alcorn State and Houston but wasn't called on much for the Bulldogs in their win over Florida. Will he be back? The Bulldogs will need him to do special things if they want to do special things in the remainder of the season.