UAB threw scare into Miss. State last season

By David Brandt/The Associated Press

Mississippi State isn’t overconfident heading into today’s game against Alabama-Birmingham.

And really, the Bulldogs don’t have any reason they should be.

Most of the team was around for last year’s game against UAB, when it needed a fourth-quarter rally to win 29-24.

“We’re very aware that this is a very good football team and they’ve got weapons out there,” Mississippi State defensive coordinator Chris Wilson said.

In the rematch, Mississippi State (2-3) will be on the road against UAB (0-4), which hosts a Southeastern Conference opponent at Legion Field for the first time in more than five years. The Blazers are winless, but appear to be improving after a 24-23 loss last weekend to Troy.

Today’s game is at 11 a.m. in Birmingham.

A home victory over an SEC opponent would certainly be a way for UAB to gain momentum. Mississippi State has won eight straight non-conference games and three in a row over the Blazers.

“There’s no question this is a big day and a tremendous opportunity for our program,” UAB coach Neil Callaway said. “It’s exciting for us to play them here in Birmingham. It’s important that our fans come out, not just for this game, but really for any game.”

Both teams share a common trait: Flashes of good football surrounded by too many mistakes

Mississippi State is trying to find some sort of offensive consistency after a rough game in a 24-10 loss to Georgia. The usually potent running game gained just 56 yards, and the Bulldogs are still trying to mix and match offensive linemen because of injuries and ineffective play.

Quarterback Chris Relf has also struggled, though others say it isn’t completely his fault.

“Most of the time the quarterback is going to get the criticism,” MSU receiver Chad Bumphis said. “But you’ve got to look at it, because we probably weren’t where we were supposed to be, making him hold the ball longer. It’s not always his fault. Half the time it’s the receivers anyway. I feel bad for him because I know how hard he works.”

While fans may point fingers at specific players, Mississippi State coach Dan Mullen is not. There’s too much blame to go around.

“We’ve got a lot of things to clean up,” Mullen said.

One encouraging sign was Mississippi State’s defense, which gave up just three points in the second half to Georgia.

Linebackers Cameron Lawrence and Brandon Wilson continue to develop into some of the SEC’s most productive defensive players. Lawrence is fifth in the SEC with 45 tackles while Wilson is just behind him in sixth place with 41. Lawrence said constant work in the film room has been the biggest factor in the swift improvement.

“You can make up for a lot when you know what’s about to happen,” Lawrence said. “I like to put my work in during the week so that when Saturday rolls away I’m just playing and having fun.”

MSU’s defense will face a UAB offense that’s shown steady improvement.

Read more on today’s game in GameDay inside the NEMS Daily Journal newspaper.