Bryant Vincent said earlier this week that, while chapters have been written about this UAB football team, the entire book is not a finished product.

Four chapters have been written. Two of those chapters ended poorly for the Blazers, which puts them on the brink of falling below .500 for the first time since football returned to the campus in 2017.

One of the favorite chapters of any UAB football season comes on Saturday when Middle Tennessee comes to Protective Stadium for the Children’s Harbor Homecoming Game. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 p.m.

The Children’s Harbor Homecoming Game began in 2017. The Blazers beat Louisiana Tech, largely thanks to a blocked field goal attempt on the game’s final play in the first one, overcame North Texas with a strong second half the following year, won in a rout over Old Dominion in 2019, got past UTSA in 2020 and finally lost one last season with a setback to Rice.

More than 90 children will be represented on Saturday. The players received information on the kids they are playing for early this week and more than 60 families came to practice on Thursday.

“Any time you can play for anything that’s bigger than you, it’s special,” senior Kelle Sanders said early this week. “Playing for something like this is truly special because knowing that you can be someone’s limelight for three and a half hours. It’s just, being there for somebody, for the game, it’s special. I’m just at a loss for words thinking about it.”

The last time these two teams met was in the 2018 Conference USA championship game. UAB claimed its first C-USA title that day with a 27-25 victory over the Blue Raiders. Six current UAB players – safeties Will Boler and Grayson Cash, cornerbacks CD Daniels and Starling Thomas V, defensive tackle Fish McWilliams and punter Kyle Greenwell – are listed on the participation chart in that game. Greenwell was the only one to register any stats, punting four times with an average of 46 yards per punt and a long punt of 53 yards.

Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill got ready to play different personnel this week, but he’s familiar with the plan, even though Bill Clark is no longer the program’s head coach.

“To me, there are not many changes,” Stockstill said. “To me, it’s the same schematic-wise, same offense, same defense to what they were doing with Bill there. They are still a tough, physical, hard-nosed team, who plays hard every snap. Those characteristics haven’t changed.”

The Blue Raiders know what to expect when UAB has the ball.

“It’s no secret that they like to run the ball a lot,” said Middle Tennessee defensive end Jordan Ferguson. “That’s the strength of their offense this year. They like to play really physical. They do a lot of 12 heavy, where they use a big offensive lineman at the tight end. They have two really good running backs that can pound it and get downhill. I know we have to be ready for that. We’re going to have to work hard.”

There’s no doubt that the UAB offense is fueled by DeWayne McBride and Jermaine Brown Jr., who have helped the Blazers lead C-USA with 220 rushing yards per game. Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, allowed a C-USA best 107.8 yards per game over the first five games.

The Blazers need to throw the ball well to help open up things on the ground. Dylan Hopkins had his best game of the season last Saturday, throwing for 231 yards and two touchdowns, and Trea Shropshire finally showed up with four catches for 65 yard and his first touchdown of the season.

The key to passing success, though, comes up front. Middle Tennessee is tied for 15th nationally in sacks with 19 in five games. Defensive tackle Zaylin Wood has four sacks, which is 21st in the country. Defensive end Ferguson and defensive tackle Marley Cook each have three sacks.

“What they do is bring multiple pressures,” Vincent said. “It all starts up front, starts with No. 7 (Wood) and No. 9 (Ferguson). They’re extremely fast, they’re twitchy, they bring a ton of pressure. We’ve got our hands full. Probably one of the top defenses we’ll see, (is) coming to town this Saturday.”

Offensively, Middle Tennessee uses the big play approach with quarterback Chase Cunningham, who has thrown for 1,368 yards with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. UAB’s defense has just nine sacks in four games, with Sanders leading the way with two sacks. Kyle Harrell is next with 1.5 sacks but he’s missed the past two games with a foot injury. The Blazers also have perhaps the best secondary in the conference.

“They don’t have a lot of sacks but they do push the pocket because they’re so big up front,” Stockstill said. "On the back end, they don’t give up a lot of big plays. They keep the ball in front of [them] and make you go a long way. I think it’s probably all 11 of those guys on defense (playing well). They’ve been in this system for a long time. They’ve all got a good understanding of what they want to do.”

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