Bahamas Bowl: Strength vs. strength in Miami-UAB matchup

RedHawks’ stout run defense will face off against one of nation’s best rushing attacks

Credit: Matthew Hinton

Credit: Matthew Hinton

The news was stunning, especially in football-mad Alabama.

University of Alabama-Birmingham President Ray Watt announced on Nov. 30, 2014, that the university was shutting down its football program.

Less than 10 years later,the Blazers will meet the Miami RedHawks on Friday in the Hometown Lenders Bahamas Bowl. Kickoff at Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium in Nassau, Bahamas.

Both teams are 6-6, but while Miami is wrapping up its ninth season with Chuck Martin as coach, the Blazers are as much in a state of flux as ever. Not only are they preparing for a jump to the American Athletic Conference — which the University of Cincinnati is leaving for a move to the Big 12 next season — but they also will be playing their first game under coach Trent Dilfer, whose new position was announced on Dec.2.

What kind of impact Dilfer’s hire will have on the look UAB shows the RedHawks remains to be seen. It’s likely the former National Football League quarterback, who helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to the 2000 Super Bowl championship, won’t have time to drastically alter the Blazers’ approach. That means Miami can expect to battle a ground-oriented attack led by 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior running back DeWayne McBride, who set program single-season rushing records with 1,713 yards, 19 touchdowns and averages of 7.4 yards per carry and 155.7 yards per game.

McBride also set the program record with 272 rushing yards in a regular season-ending win over Louisiana Tech that UAB needed to become bowl-eligible. The Blazers rank sixth in the nation with an average of 243.8 rushing yards per game and 17th with 30 rushing touchdowns.

“We’re super-excited,” 6-1, 220-pound redshirt-sophomore linebacker Matt Salopek said. “They’re super-talented. They have a very good offensive team.”

“They’re really, really gifted,” said Martin, who has led Miami to three straight bowl appearances for the first time since the then-Redskins beat Florida, Georgia and South Carolina in 1973, 1974 and 1975 Tangerine Bowls. “They’re really talented. They’re twitchy athletic everywhere. They could easily be 10-1. They had opportunities for the ball to go their way, and it didn’t, but they’re as gifted as any in our league.

“They’ll run the ball, but they can also throw the ball over your head. They’ll be a rigid challenge on both sides of the ball. They’re as good as anybody we’ve played since Kentucky and Cincinnati.

“They’re not just one guy, either. You can’t focus on him. They can rotate backs, so they’re not tired at the end of the game.”

Miami’s 14th bowl game in program history promises to be a matchup of strength on strength. The Blazers’ running game faces a RedHawks’ defense that led the Mid-American Conference and ranked 41st in the nation while allowing an average of 135.8 rushing yards per game. Only four Miami opponents reached 100 yards rushing, and the RedHawks allowed just 15 rushing touchdowns all season.

Miami also led the MAC in scoring defense, allowing just an average of 22.5 points per game while seeing seven of 12 games decided by one-possession scores – two of them consecutive losses, 17-13 at Bowling Green and 16-10 to Western Michigan. Miami finished a gritty 4-3 in one-possession games.

Despite those impressive numbers, Miami had zero players named to the MAC first-team all-conference defensive team. Salopek insisted that the RedHawks weren’t thinking about what others might see as a slight.

“It’s an 11-player sport,” the third-team all-conference pick pointed out. “We’re proud to be the No. 1 defense in the MAC.”

Miami left on Monday for the Bahamas, but not before Martin recognized linebacker Ryan McWood during a pre-bowl practice. A combination of pandemic protocols and injuries led to the 6-2, 221-pound McWood, a Grosse Point, Mich., native, spending seven seasons in Oxford.


“I said he set program records with 4,426 practices and 10,000 line drills,” Martin said, tongue firmly in cheek.


Bahamas Bowl

Miami vs. UAB, 11:30 a.m., ESPN, 980, 1450

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