GAME NOTES: The UAB Blazers and Rice Owls will wrap up their respective 2010 campaigns Saturday afternoon in a Conference USA tilt at Rice Stadium.
UAB won its home finale this past weekend with a 31-15 triumph over rival Memphis to retain the "Battle for the Bones" trophy. That win snapped a two- game slide for the Blazers, but at just 4-7 on the season, a win this weekend would still leave them one win short of bowl eligibility. UAB is 1-4 on the road this year.
Like their counterpart, the Owls are also on the outside of the bowl picture with a 3-8 ledger. They were able to end a three-game skid with Saturday's 62-38 triumph over East Carolina. Rice has won its last two home games.
UAB holds a 2-1 series edge over Rice, and that includes a 44-24 victory last year in Birmingham.
UAB's offense has totaled 73 points over the last two games, with both the running game and passing attack producing big results. Bryan Ellis threw for 361 yards and three touchdowns in the win, though he was also intercepted twice. Jeffrey Anderson paced the receiving corps with six catches for 80 yards and a TD, while Patrick Hearn hauled in four passes for 123 yards and a score. On the ground, Pat Shed ran for a game-high 125 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries. In all, the Blazers managed 510 yards of total offense for the game. Shed has averaged 5.5 yards per carry on the year and has rushed for 813 yards and scored three times. He also leads the team with 40 receptions for 377 yards and two TDs. Ellis has thrown for 2,692 yards to go along with 22 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.
The UAB defense stepped up with a much improved effort against Memphis after surrendering 54 points to East Carolina in its previous outing. The Blazers did not allow a 100-yard rusher against Memphis, while Tigers' quarterback Ryan Williams was held to a pedestrian 228 yards on 16-of-31 passing. The only touchdown UAB allowed came on a 28-yard pass in the third quarter to cut the deficit to 24-15, but the Blazers shut the door after that. They also limited Memphis to 2-of-10 on third down and only one field goal in two trips to the red zone. Still, UAB enters this tilt ranked 107th nationally in pass defense (256.6 ypg) and are tied for 93rd in scoring defense (31.9 ppg). The Blazers will be out to prove that they have in fact turned a corner defensively. Marvin Burdette heads the unit with 97 tackles on the year.
Against ECU, the Owls' 62 points marked their highest point total since 2008 and their largest offensive output (639 yards) since 2007. Most notably, the running game has been firing on all cylinders of late. Jeremy Eddington tied a school record with four rushing touchdowns to go along with 143 rushing yards in the win. Sam McGuffie added 114 rushing yards and a TD, while quarterback Taylor McHargue also notched 93 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Over the last three weeks, Rice has averaged a robust 532 yards of total offense per game. In fact, the Owls have rushed for nearly as many yards in that span (856) as they did through the first eight games of the year (859). McGuffie leads with way with 827 rushing yards (4.6 ypc) and five TDs on the season, and he is also the team's leading receiver with 37 catches for 370 yards and three scores.
While Rice has made significant strides recently on the offensive end, the defense continues to give up points in bunches. The Owls have not allowed less than 30 points in any game this season, as they rank 116th nationally in both scoring defense (39.9 ppg) and total defense (457.8 ypg). And out of 120 teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision, they rank dead last in pass defense, allowing 308.7 yards per tilt. ECU finished right at that average last weekend, as Pirates' quarterback Dominique Davis torched the Owls' secondary for 308 yards and three TDs. ECU had two receivers go over 100 yards with a touchdown, while running back Jon Williams also ran for 100 yards and a score. However, the Owls' defense did come up with a fumble recovery and a pair of interceptions. Justin Allen led the way with eight tackles in the win.
Although nothing more than pride will be on the line, both teams are coming off solid performances a week ago. Look for both coaching staffs to pull out all the stops in the playbook in what should be a wide open contest.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Rice 41, UAB 31