"We still don't make plays," said Coach Sylvester Croom after watching his team burned for 17 points in the decisive half. Certainly State was unable to make the sort of game-changing plays UAB did. The Blazers opened the second half by taking the lead on a 18-yard touchdown toss from Darrell Hackney to Roddy White.
And they put the game away with a 67-yard punt return by Reggie Lindsey at 7:40 of the fourth quarter for the clinching touchdown. Those plays were how UAB easily offset slight Bulldog margins in total snaps and yardage, and a brilliant performance by running back Jerious Norwood, to score their first win over a SEC victim in four years.
The Blazers improved to 4-1, while State lost a fifth-straight game and finished the first half of the schedule 1-5. "It was a close game," said linebacker Clarence McDougal. "They just made a couple of plays we didn't make."
"It's similar to last week," quarterback Kyle York said. "We moved the ball and especially ran the ball well. We also ran into some roadblocks close to the ball game. Good teams overcome those and that's a lesson we're having to learn."
The Bulldogs were definitely not good enough to overcome either roadblocks, missed opportunities, and even frustrating officiating calls and no-calls. Croom had no issues with his team's willing efforts, but once again execution was too weak to win. "We didn't play well at times. We'd get one-on-one situations, whether it's making a throw, making a catch, making a tackle, making a block, making a run…we didn't get it done."
The Blazers did get the job done, particularly the splendid combo of Hackney and White. They combined for 123 of the 150 UAB passing yards and both offensive touchdowns. Hackney was 13-of-19, seven of those catches by White, did not have a pass picked, and shrugged off two sacks and other hits to keep the Dog defense on their heels. "He's a big old quarterback," McDougal said, "he just wouldn't go down a couple of times. The D-line played good, we blitzed a little bit. He just made plays."
York tried play-making, too, and was 10-of-20 for 99 yards with a second-period throw to tight end Eric Butler for State's only touchdown. But he was also sacked twice and took many more shots, and his receivers were unable to make yards after catches. Prosser and Tee Milons each had career-high four grabs, but only 68 and 27 yards.
The undisputed star of the day was Norwood, magnificent in defeat with 201 yards on 24 rushes. He got almost half of that total, 99 yards, in the first quarter alone, and would finish with the fourth-best day by a running Dog ever. "It was a great effort," Croom said. "That's Jerious Norwood."
"I feel I played pretty good," Norwood said. "The line blocked good and I give them the credit for the game I had." Yet Norwood never made the end zone; in fact his best runs usually forced him to take a breather after getting the ball in scoring range, and without him the offense tended to sputter as UAB could defend State straight-up.
Norwood showed he was on his game from the start, with gains of 14, 18, and eight yards on the opening series. He helped get the ball in range for Keith Andrews to convert his first college field goal, a 48-yarder at 12:05. It was the first time State had scored on the first possession this year.
It took the Blazer offense 43 seconds to answer. A first-down sweep of left end produced 23 yards, 15 of that on a late and unidentified sideline hit. On the next snap Hackney rolled left, got time and unloaded the ball deep for White a stride behind Kevin Dockery and Slovakia Griffith. He made the easy catch at the ten and strolled in for a 52-yard touchdown play at 11:16.
In retrospect the Bulldogs lost their best chance to win the game in the opening quarter, much like against Maine. Twice more in the first period Norwood's running carried State into scoring positions. On MSU's second series he was an ankle-grab away from a 80-yard dash; he settled for 19 yards. The drive got as far as the Blazer 30-yard line with a 4th-and-2. Jason Jude was stuffed at the line.
A punt gave the Bulldogs another chance and Norwood started the series with a 33-yard squirt-and-cut through the middle. This one ended in more frustration as, on 4th-and-2 at the 19-yard line Croom called for another field goal attempt. Andrews' 37-yarder plunked into the right upright, clanging harmlessly away.
"We played good football, we just didn't capitalize when we got down there," Prosser said of the first-quarter frustrations. Failure to cash in loomed larger after the Blazers converted their own field goal after a eight-minute drive. Penalties pinned UAB to a 3rd-and-29 at their own 11, and a draw play got just ten yards. But a facemask on the tackle (again not ID'd) provided a free first down at the 36-yard line. Given new life UAB ground as far as the Bulldog 16 before a holding call negated a first-down keeper by Hackney. Nick Hayes bumped a 28-yard kick through the uprights at 10:02, expanding the lead to 10-3.
This time the Bulldogs responded, putting together a 12-play drive of 59 yards started by a short kickoff and 19-yard return by Tyler Threadgill. The series mixed York's best throws of the season with tough gains from Norwood, who broke the 100-yard mark on his ninth carry. He spun out of a tackle on on 3rd-and-five to keep the drive moving, then let Fred Reid take two turns. Norwood returned for 3rd-and-goal, which UAB noticed as a faked handoff froze the rush. York was able to roll right and find Butler open in the end zone at 4:40.
A 10-10 tie gave the (announced) crowd of 32,310 reason to cheer and the Bulldogs reason for hope things were about to turn their way at last. The Blazers changed everything on the first drive of the third quarter, as senior White took advantage of true freshman cornerback Mario Bobo twice. He lost the rookie for a 30-yard gainer to the Bulldog 21-yard line, then got free in the end zone for a perfect 18-yard strike from Hackney at 11:42.
"That was damaging," Croom said. "You get three-and-out and it changes everything. They march the ball down the field and score."
State had no answer this time as York was sacked to end one possession and incompletions stopped the next. "We had some guys open and missed them," Croom said. "We felt we had to throw more because they were stacking up, and you don't get a better opportunity."
The last real opportunity to change this game came after Norwood bounced off and shed tacklers for a 38-yard gainer to the Blazer 15-yard line. He had to step out and in Norwood's absence York was sacked back to the 25-yard line. Andrews made good on his 42-yard field goal at 13:55 of the fourth period, but State still trailed 17-13. And UAB got the three points back on a 48-yard drive with Hayes hitting from 33-yards out at 9:28.
The Bulldogs failed to move the chains as on 3rd-and-5 Milons made the catch but failed to get the needed yards. Brooks Crabtree's punt went just 27 yards; Lindsey went over twice as far, spinning away from the rush and dashing down the left sideline for the back-breaking score. "The punt really just put the dagger in," McDougal said.
"We thought if we got to the fourth quarter and were still in it we had a good shot," said offensive guard Brian Anderson, who played a week after a third-degree ankle sprain at Vanderbilt. "And there were definitely some people excited. We just didn't do it in the fourth quarter."
Or, as any Bulldog could have said, did not do it over four full quarters. "It's definitely frustrating," Prosser said. His coach was in complete agreement. "Again we're in position to make plays and we don't," said Croom, pointing to offensive failures to take advantage of passing opportunities Norwood created. Missed tackles and broken assignments were defensive faults, though players and coach alike praised the Blazers' tough-nosed play. "Give them credit, they played good enough to win the ball game," said Prosser. "I think if we capitalize we win the ball game, so that's on us."