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Western Kentucky has the best rushing defense, at least according to the stats, in Conference USA. The Hilltoppers allow 120.43 yards per game, 3.22 yards per carry and nine rushing touchdowns.
Only one running back – Troy’s DK Billingsley – has rushed for more than 100 yards against the Hilltoppers in seven games this season. UTSA rushed for 213 yards against Western Kentucky, but three opponents finished under 100 yards against the Hilltoppers.
UAB head coach Bryant Vincent, who is also the team’s play caller, is aware of these numbers.
Western Kentucky is big and physical up front, with the middle anchored by 6-foot-5, 320-pound Brodric Martin and 6-foot-1, 285-pound Lorenzo Hernandez. The Hilltoppers are active at linebacker, where 6-foot-2, 250-pound Jaques Evans is the team leader with 53 tackles.
Vincent knows all about the personnel.
What will the Blazers do against a defense that has been successful against the run?
“You know they’re going to [try to] win the game running the football,” said Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton. “Both of those running backs are spectacular, the offensive line is very, very physical, the quarterback does a great job managing the game.”
Only one team in Conference USA currently has better running numbers than UAB. North Texas is the C-USA leader at 251.29 yards per game. The Blazers average 244.67 yards per game with a season-best 303 yards against Middle Tennessee. The season low was 122 yards at Rice.
DeWayne McBride is the national leader in rushing yards per game at 155.6 yards per game, and Jermaine Brown Jr. is fourth in C-USA at 69.67 yards per game with two games of more than 100 yards. Last week, the Blazers took advantage of quarterback Dylan Hopkins’ running ability, as well. Hopkins had 131 total rushing yards and 103 net rushing yards after factoring in sacks, a recovery of his own fumble and victory formation kneel downs.
As Helton expects, Vincent leaves no doubt where the focus is with his offense.
“We’re about to face the No. 1 rush defense in the conference,” Vincent said. “A team that’s fast, they’re physical, they’re long, they can really get to the ball. There’s no doubt, UAB is going to do what we do. We’re not going to change who we are, we’re not going to change our standard, we’re going to run the football. They can put nine in there, we’re going to run the football. We’re going to find ways to run the football. We’ve got a ton of faith in our offensive line and our tight ends and our running backs. We’re going to run the football, that’s what we’re going to do.”
A few minutes later, offensive guard Matthew Trehern stepped up to microphone during the weekly press conference. He was asked about running the ball against the top rushing defense in the conference.
"Us, as a unit, we accept the challenge,” Trehern said. “Like [Coach Vincent] said, we welcome the challenge and just like he said, we’re going to do what we do and we’re going to run the football.”
Trehern added that the attitude that it takes to run the ball well won’t change on Friday night.
“The mentality really starts on Monday’s practice,” Trehern said. “We talk about it to the offense, bring the mentality today and it will bleed over to [Friday]. When you bring that mentality every day, it bleeds over.”
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