BIRMINGHAM – For a team with no appreciable passing attack, UAB proved to be a remarkably stubborn opponent for a shorthanded Southern Miss squad.
The Blazers, capitalizing on the first turnover of the night, connected for a timely touchdown pass late in the third quarter and went on to a surprising 30-17 Conference USA victory Thursday night at Legion Field.
It was the first win in 10 tries in this series for UAB.
“Give credit to UAB, they did a heck of a job,” Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. “It looked like they wanted it more than we did.”
Run-first senior quarterback Joe Webb eluded a season’s worth of arm tackles to lead the way for the Blazers, rushing 24 times for 138 yards and a first-half TD. His 21-yard third-quarter touchdown pass broke open a 10-10 tie.
UAB (2-3, 2-1 C-USA) has a week-plus off before its Oct. 17 visit to Ole Miss.
The Golden Eagles (3-2, 1-1), who saw their eight-game winning streak end last weekend, now return home trying to figure out how they have lost two in a row – especially after a game in which they outgained their hosts 345-245 and gave up just 6 net yards passing.
“The mental part was the difference,” Fedora said.
That and the three turnovers.
Too many mistakes
Southern Miss, which won this matchup 70-14 a year ago, was playing without career leading rusher Damion Fletcher and sensational sophomore receiver DeAndre Brown, both of whom suffered injuries in Saturday’s 35-28 loss at Kansas.
“Not having those guys here was not the difference in the game,” Fedora said. “UAB beat us in all three phases of the game”
Down 20-10 midway through the fourth quarter, the Golden Eagles put together a crisp 10-play, 59-yard series that ended with a 20-yard TD pass from Austin Davis to Quentin Pierce with 5:24 left, their second scoring hookup of the night.
Could UAB play keepaway? They picked up one first down running, then had to punt with 2:44 left. Trey Ragland’s knuckleball got away from the Southern Miss returner and UAB recovered, setting up Josh Zahn’s second field goal of the night, following his 51-yarder early in the fourth quarter.
The visiting team had one more shot, but Davis promptly threw an interception to Hiram Atwater, who returned it 40 yards for an touchdown with 1:05 left, delighting a crowd generously listed at 26,871.
“We still had a chance if we could execute at the end, but it should have never been that close,” Fedora said.
The game was tied at 10 at halftime, on a career-best 49-yard field goal by Southern Miss junior Justin Estes on the final play before intermission.
UAB led 10-0 after the first quarter as the Blazers crisply executed their quarterback option attack.
Webb turned in a SportsCenter-worthy 31-yard scoring run to make it 10-0 with 2:15 left in the first quarter.
That Estes field goal was set up when Webb could not manufacture a first down on three runs from his own 1.
For Southern Miss, Davis completed his first nine passes in the game, including a sweet 41-yard strike to Pierce off a flea-flicker play early in the second quarter. He finished 24 for 32 for 234 yards.
Southern Miss now has extra time to prepare for an Oct. 10 visit to Louisville – the third BCS team the Golden Eagles play this season.
John Pitts/NEMS Daily Journal