'A Season to Remember' UAB Football's Journey through 2020 Season
In a season bound to have games postponed or canceled, nothing compared to what UAB went through. Coming into the season, the team had the deaths of Freshman outside linebacker Allen Merrick and incoming Freshman Jamari Smith weighing heavily on their hearts. The football team dedicated this season to those two young men and did so with passion. The season was also the last season at Legion Field before moving to their new on-campus stadium in uptown Birmingham.
UAB was scheduled to open the season with New Mexico State, Alabama A&M, Miami (FL), and South Alabama before going into conference play. NMSU canceled, Alabama A&M canceled, Miami chose UAB as their non-conference opponent per ACC + 1 format, and South Alabama gave UAB the green light to return the home and home. Down two games with a week to kickoff, it was looking like UAB was to have a 9-game regular season.
Thanks to the quick work of UAB Athletic Director, Mark Ingram, UAB was able to fill the last two home games. FCS Central Arkansas to open the season and Louisiana on October 23rd.
The season has arrived. First up, Central Arkansas. UAB wins 45-35. Second up, Miami (FL). Miami wins 31-14 as UAB Redshirt Junior QB Tyler Johnston III fractures his shoulder and is out indefinitely. Redshirt Freshman QB Bryson Lucero stepped in over the next six games, garnering a 3-3 as a starter with wins over South Alabama, UT San Antonio, and Western Kentucky.
Following Western Kentucky, UAB put their 21-game home win streak dating back to the beginning of the 2017 season against #19 Louisiana. That is an opportunity for UAB Head Coach Bill Clark to pick up his first win against a ranked foe. That goal fell short in a hard-fought game in which Louisiana won 24-20.
Halloween featured the toughest conference game on the schedule in Louisiana Tech. That game saw UAB's run game at their absolute best, running for 338 yards, but Lucero struggled by throwing two interceptions. The good news for UAB that game was Tyler Johnston returning from his shoulder injury and giving UAB a fighting chance. A fumble at the goal line and a push from the Louisiana Tech offense resulted in a 37-34 double-overtime loss for the Blazers.
UAB had three games scheduled in November with two at home against rivals North Texas and Southern Mississippi along with one road game at UT El Paso. Unfortunately for UAB, they had some issues with COVID and canceled their game with North Texas. On the other side, Southern Mississippi and UT El Paso had COVID issues of their own and canceled their games with UAB.
Sitting at 5-3 (2-1), UAB was trying to get at least two more conference games in a bid to win their third straight C-USA West division title. Rice came through with a reschedule from October 10th to December 12th. Conference USA administration tried to schedule UAB to travel to Middle Tennessee on December 6th, but Middle Tennessee had COVID issues. Conference USA released a statement that a UAB win at Rice will win the West division title thanks to the conference win percentage rule in which UAB would have a 75 percent conference win rate, winning 3 of 4. Sitting behind UAB was UT San Antonio, who only had a 71 percent conference win rate, winning 5 of 7.
Gameday at Rice arrived. UAB had not played in 42 days since the Louisiana Tech game and were down 31 players due to COVID and contact tracing. Among those 31 players were star senior running back Spencer Brown, star freshman running back DeWayne McBride, and star wide receiver Austin Watkins Jr, who opted out of the season to prepare for the NFL draft. The depth at running back was thin with juniors Lucious Stanley and Larry Wooden and sophomore Jermaine Brown Jr. The return of Tyler Johnston behind center and a talented receiving core led by Senior Myron Mitchell, provided comfort for the Blazer offense. Rice had shut out then #21 Marshall the week prior and was ready. In a season already filled with so much adversity, UAB was ready. Johnston threw two touchdown passes in the 3rd quarter and the UAB defense played lights out in the 4th quarter to secure a 21-16 win and their third straight C-USA West division title.
Awaiting UAB on the other side in the C-USA championship game was Marshall. Marshall boasted the #3 rush defense in the country, but UAB gashed that rush defense for 216 rushing yards. Tyler Johnston passed for 252 yards and two touchdowns, including a 71-yard dagger to sophomore wide receiver Trey Shropshire with 4:02 left in the game, and UAB held on to win 22-13. Johnston and Shropshire connected five times for 180 yards and the lone touchdown. Redshirt freshman kicker Matt Quinn played his part and accounted for three field goals,
including a 48 yarder just before Johnston's dagger. The defense played magnificent, allowing 0 passing yards in the first half before holding on in the end to seal the win.
For a program that was shut down in 2014, this season could have been another rebuilding year for UAB. A man named Bill Clark stuck around and picked up right where he left off in 2017. He has since then led UAB to 3 straight Conference USA West division titles, two Conference championships, and a bowl win over Northern Illinois in 2018. On top of it all, UAB has the most wins in the Conference USA since 2017 with 37 between 2017-2020. What Clark has accoladed over those years is just outstanding and maybe the beginning of something even more special.
Every Faithful, Ever Loyal. Go Blazers!