UAB was its own worst enemy in the first half of Saturday night’s game at Liberty. In the second half, for the second consecutive season, Liberty turned into bullies to walk away with a 21-14 victory in the rain over the Blazers at Williams Stadium.
The script was different than a year ago. What remains the same, however, is Liberty won the second half, which allowed the Flames to win the game.
“We put the defense out there too many times,” UAB head coach Bryant Vincent said in his postgame radio appearance. “They just got extra possessions with the turnovers. We played all the way to the end. I’m proud of this defense. What we got to do is go back and get better.”
UAB ate up chunks of yards on the ground in the first half. DeWayne McBride had 110 yards on his first six carries. The Blazers had 228 yards rushing in the first half. Jermaine Brown burst to a 31-yard touchdown in the first quarter. Put those things together, and the Blazers could have built a comfortable lead. Instead, the teams were tied 7-7 at halftime.
The problem was easy to spot. UAB (1-1) couldn’t hold on to the football. Brown lost a fumble on his first touch of the night. McBride lost a pair of first half fumbles before halftime, including one that came on first-and-goal from the Liberty 6-yard line.
“We came out and ran it extremely well in the first half,” Vincent said. “I got to do a better job of teaching ball security. It’s on me, this game is on me.”
The only good news about the first half fumbles was that the defense did not allow a point after a turnover. It was still a frustrating first half for the Blazers.
“Our defense rose up time after time after time,” Vincent said.
In the second half, Liberty made adjustments and took away the running game. Mix in second half sacks and UAB netted a total of six yards on the ground after halftime. With quarterback Dylan Hopkins and the passing game struggling, that was hard to overcome.
UAB did use a big passing play – a 56-yard catch-and-run from Hopkins to Trea Shropshire – to threaten on the first drive of the second half. UAB had a first down at the 13-yard line after the long gain. They eventually turned it over on downs after Hopkins gained just two yards on a scramble on 4th-and-4 from the 7-yard line.
Liberty scored on a two-yard run by quarterback Kaidon Salter and a 1-yard run by Dae Dae Hunter on successive possessions.
UAB’s defense made a huge play late in the fourth quarter when Noah Wilder jumped on a fumble at the Liberty 20-yard line. Three plays later, McBride scored on a 9-yard run to trim the deficit to a touchdown with 3:08 left. UAB never got the ball back.
McBride finished with 177 yards on 20 carries and Brown had 91 yards on 17 carries. The passing game provided just 114 yards. Tyler Taylor led the defense with nine tackles.
The key now is responding to the difficult loss.
“You can go back, we’ve taken tough losses several years and we’ve always responded,” Vincent said. “I fully expect this football team to come back next week and respond just like we have in the past. We just got to get back to work and stick together.”
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