UAB and Miami of Ohio showed once again why bowl games both matter and can be highly entertaining. We’re in the infancy of this bowl season, but this one has a chance to be among the most entertaining.
There were also so many subplots around UAB, which earned a 24-20 win over Miami (OH) in the Bahamas Bowl, where the outcome wasn’t decided until the final play just short of the end zone, sort of like Rams-Titans in Super Bowl XXXIV.
Redshirt senior Reynard Ellis tackled Miami’s Jalen Walker at the 2-yard line following a 13-yard completion from Aveon Smith on the game’s final play to secure the win for the Blazers.
That gave UAB a 7-6 record, the seventh straight year the Blazers have been above .500.
There were many unusual circumstances surrounding this game, with the main one being that the winning head coach knew this would be his final game, regardless of the outcome.
In August, highly successful UAB head coach Bill Clark stepped down, citing medical issues with his back. Offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent was named the interim head coach and guided the Blazers all season. Despite outward support from the players to retain Vincent, UAB hired former NFL Super Bowl-winning quarterback Trent Dilfer to be the head coach on Dec. 1.
It could have been an uncomfortable situation, but Dilfer, who attended the game but didn’t coach, and Vincent appeared to work well together.
Vincent badly wanted the head coaching job, didn’t get it, and will now move on.
He was extremely emotional after the win.
“I am so proud of all we accomplished,” he said in the postgame ESPN interview.
He should be proud, but UAB was looking for an upgrade.
This is not to diminish what Vincent accomplished, especially since he took over so late in the summer, but the Blazers went 4-4 in Conference USA.
They will be moving to the American Athletic Conference next season, which has been hands down the top Group of Five conference for years.
(Whether it stays that way after losing Cincinnati, Houston, and UCF head to the Big 12 remains to be seen, but the AAC should still be formidable, certainly a step up for UAB).
This situation is sort of like that of North Texas, which is also leaving C-USA for the AAC. North Texas fired its coach Seth Littrell after a 7-6 season in which the Mean Green advanced to the C-USA title game before losing to UTSA, 48-27.
It’s not that UAB didn’t appreciate the job that Vincent did, but it wanted to reach a higher level. Skeptics will say UAB is getting an unproven coach, whose coaching experience consists of being the head coach of Lipscomb Academy. Dilfer did turn this Tennessee high school into a state power in his four seasons, but the jump from high school to a Group of Five school can be steep.
Then again Dilfer has been involved in the Elite 11 quarterback camp for the top high school prospects in the country. Before coaching high school, he was a high-profile analyst for ESPN. He knows the terrain and understands the importance of having a top-flight quarterback. Think a Super Bowl quarterback who earned one Pro Bowl berth during his NFL career can get the attention of some talented signal-callers?
There will be plenty of time to analyze Dilfer’s hiring, but one thing is for sure – he had to be proud of the grit his team showed in Vincent’s final game.
UAB also played without running back DeWayne McBride who has declared for the NFL draft and didn’t want to risk injury. McBride currently leads the NCAA with 1,713 rushing yards and is second with 19 rushing TDS.
So Jermaine Brown Jr. stepped in and rushed for 116 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. His 12-yard scoring run with 2:43 left made it 24-20.
Brown was more than a basic understudy. He finished the season with 948 rushing yards (5.8 avg.) and eight touchdowns.
There were plenty of others who were heroes for the Blazers. Receiver Trea Shropshire was the Offensive MVP with six receptions for 183 yards and a TD. Linebacker Michael Fairbanks II was the defensive MVP with seven tackles, one TFL, a half-sack, and a blocked extra point.
This was the first of this season’s 43 bowl games and it set the bar extremely high. The new coach hopes this effort under the old one can set the tone for better things in 2023.