What to expect when the Florida Gators take on UAB

With all of the attention being given to the coaching search, it’s easy to overlook the Florida Gators’ upcoming football game with UAB. I can’t promise this preview is as exciting as continuously refreshing FlightAware, but here’s what you need to know about the weekend’s matchup with the Blazers.

Florida is the better team… probably?

As I write this, the Gators are an 11-point favorite in Vegas. For a team that has hasn’t won a game since September, that’s a lot of points. Florida has more talent according to the recruiting rankings, of course, even if they’re down to around 17 former 4 or 5-star recruits healthy and available to play.

There is considerable disagreement on both participants when it comes to the algorithmic systems of measuring teams. The exact details of these systems are proprietary, but I do know that Sagarin is based on points scored and allowed, while ESPN Efficiency and S&P+ are play-by-play derived and FEI is drive-based. There is not always this wide a difference among systems, but these two teams are particularly polarizing.

For what it’s worth, The Power Rank has been the most accurate of these systems at predicting game outcomes straight up this year. It likes the Gators by about 15 points in this matchup.

UAB hasn’t played anyone like Florida yet this year.

The Blazers aren’t above playing paycheck games, obviously, but this weekend’s is the only one it has this year. Consequently, UF will be the first Power 5 team they meet up with all season.

The best two teams UAB has faced so far are North Texas and Southern Miss, both on the road. The Blazers lost to the Mean Green 46-43 and beat the Golden Eagles 30-12. UNT and USM are a combined 9-1 in conference play absent their respective games against UAB, with the sole loss being Southern Miss falling to North Texas.

Six of UAB’s ten games have been close, and they’re 4-2 in those contests. The Blazers have been maddeningly inconsistent, befitting a team playing its first season in several years. They lost by 20 to a currently 2-8 Ball State team and fell to a dreadful 1-9 Charlotte team while also defeating pretty good (by Group of Five standards) Southern Miss and UTSA teams.

All four of those games, the two horrible losses and two best wins, were road games. Go figure. Again: they’re inconsistent. There’s no real way of knowing which UAB team will show up at Florida Field.

UAB likes to run.

The Blazers definitely lean on the run game. They are 14th nationally at rate of running on passing downs, meaning second down with at least eight yards to go and third or fourth down with at least five yards to go. They’re a little lower but still high at 36th at running on standard downs, which are all downs that aren’t passing downs.

Freshman running back Spencer Brown will get the lion’s share of the carries. He has 1,117 yards already on 207 rushes (5.7 per carry) with ten touchdowns. Quarterback A.J. Erdely is second on the team in rushes, gaining 427 yards on 84 non-sack carries (5.1 per rush) with ten scores of his own.

They’re more efficient than explosive with the run game, but as we’ve seen all year, Florida’s defense tends to turn opponents into explosive run teams. If the Gators find themselves in a hole late, that’ll be bad news because of the way UAB is equipped to chew clock with the run game.

UAB is bad at passing.

The passing game Florida will see is much like the run game: more efficient than explosive. Even so, it’s not as high quality as the rushing attack. Erdely completes 61% of his passes at a seven yards per attempt clip with a nice 13-3 touchdown-to-INT ratio. He finds himself in pressure situations often, though, as he’s been sacked on 6.7% of his drop backs (not including scrambles).

Befitting an efficiency-based pass game, none of the Blazers’ receivers that have at least ten catches on the year averages even 15 yards per grab. None of them even hit ten yards per target. The team’s leading receiver by both catches and yards is Andre Wilson, so that’s the name you’ll hear the most.

The Blazer defense is mediocre from a national standpoint.

UAB isn’t really outstanding in any phase of the game on defense. Their few positives also come with downsides. They’re good at making pass attacks inefficient but don’t sack the quarterback often. They’re good at stuffing short yardage runs but give up some big rushing plays.

After allowing 51 points to Ball State in Week 2 and 46 to North Texas in Week 4, the defense has found its groove. It hasn’t allowed more than 24 points in regulation since, with the 12 points they allowed to Southern Miss being the best showing in there. Six of them came on a single breakdown that ended up an 84-yard touchdown catch, and three more came on a 22-yard field goal drive.

Still, they’ve not been playing a murderer’s row of teams here. CUSA is barely above the Sun Belt at the bottom of FBS, and their non-conference games so far were against FCS Alabama A&M and the second-worst teams in the MAC and Sun Belt. Giving up point totals in the 20s for most of the last two months is a nice feat by good CUSA team standards, but it’s not terribly impressive compared to the best units in the country.

Florida should win, but it can’t afford to sleepwalk through it.

The lead item in UAB’s game notes is that it can set a program record with eight wins in a season in the Swamp. This is not a program looking to keep from being embarrassed. It wants to make a statement and set a new high water mark for wins in a season in the process.

Florida has had poor starts in each of its last three games. Make it four in a row, and the Gators will be sweating this one out late.

The Blazers aren’t great, but they’re not bad either. With their good running game and suspect pass attack, they’re built to sit on a lead rather than make a late comeback.

If UF be ready to play from the opening kick for once, they’ll eliminate the worrying scenario. It’s not been proven that Randy Shannon can get this team up for the start of a game, however. If the team’s been distracted by coaching rumors all week and doesn’t care about finishing strong, it can very well lose this game. This weekend is really when we’ll see if they mean what they say about staying focused and playing for themselves and the seniors or not.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2