BIRMINGHAM – Perhaps a dark horse Heisman Trophy campaign was born on a sunny Saturday at Protective Stadium in UAB’s 35-21 victory over Georgia Southern.

OK, that’s probably unneeded hyperbole, at least at this point. On this day, though, UAB running back DeWayne McBride was not only good, at times he was out of this world good. He ran away from Georgia Southern defenders. He ran through them. He tight roped the sideline for extra yardage. He gained a career-best 223 yards on 28 physical carries and found the end zone four times. He gained a hefty 8 yards per carry, which is just another day on the field for him.

All the while, his teammates noticed.

“We talk team all the time,” said UAB head coach Bryant Vincent. “When your teammates see you give that extra effort for them, over and over again, it inspires you. We feed off each other and we love each other and we do this for each other. DeWayne’s effort, over and over again is what we’re all about.”

It certainly was just part of an afternoon that included a relentless defensive effort against the high octane Georgia Southern offense that came with the second most yards per game in the country and was fresh off leading the way in a 45-42 win at Nebraska. At times, they were as good as advertised. Quarterback Kyle Vantrease fed the football to 10 different receivers in the passing game and the Eagles rushed for 214 yards.

On Saturday, though, the UAB defense was better. Linebacker Noah Wilder had a career-best 18 tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry. The front three found ways to pressure with the defense dropping eight defenders. Vantrease was uneasy, completing just under 50% of his passes after coming in with a 64.7 completion percentage. And the Blazers forced three turnovers with Tyler Taylor, Keondre Swoopes and Jaylen Key grabbing interceptions. The Blazers also had 11 pass breakups with Swoopes and Mac McWilliams each coming up with three.

On a day full of big plays, perhaps none was bigger than the one provided by Tyler Taylor, a 6-foot-3, 245-pound senior linebacker. It came a time with the Blazers teetering on disaster late in the fourth quarter. UAB had led throughout, jumping to a 21-7 lead in the first half, but had failed to make things more comfortable, partly because of a pair of missed Matt Quinn field goals in the second half.

The Blazers trotted on the field, with 8:35 left in the game, while clinging to a 28-21 lead. Georgia Southern, which had scored on its previous two possessions, had the momentum with 78 yads to go for the potential game-tying score. Four plays into the drive, Vantrease tried to squeeze the football into coverage and Taylor was there for the interception.

“That’s where great defenses are built, in moments like that,” Wilder said. “When Tyler Taylor made that play, I was so ecstatic and happy for him. In moments like that, you find out what kind of defense you are. We just got to go out there and thrive in those moments. That’s what we live for.”

Taylor gave an assist to a teammate.

“I got to start out with Jaylen Key, he told me if the quarterback looks a certain way first, he’s going to go that way,” Taylor stated. “He looked that way, which brought me back. I just ran back and made a play. It was just a good feeling. I had the team on my back. I’m just glad I could help the team win.”

Taylor returned the interception 16 yards, setting the Blazers up at the Georgia Southern 33-yard line. McBride carried for 12 yards on the first two downs, quarterback Dylan Hopkins faked a handoff and darted around left end for 17 yards and McBride capped it with a 4-yard touchdown run with 4:46 remaining.

That also capped an outstanding day for McBride, who was coming off a game where he fumbled the ball twice in a road loss at Liberty. McBride scored on runs of 1, 31, 27 and four yards.

“It felt good,” McBride said, who had 400 rushing yards on 48 carries in his first two appearances of the season.  We came out ready. I felt in the warmups our team was ready. I’m going to give a shoutout to the offensive line. They were moving boys off the ball today. I’m just came out ready and we I see a hole I got to hit it.”

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