The most successful football season in UAB history now has its crowning achievement. A week after losing on the same field in the regular season finale, UAB celebrated a 27-25 victory at Middle Tennessee in the Conference USA championship game. In its second season back after a brief shutdown of the entire football program, UAB is a conference champion.
UAB’s defense came up with the critical fourth down stop at the UAB 46-yard line as a pass from Middle Tennessee quarterback Brent Stockstill fell incomplete in good coverage. UAB was unable to run out the clock though, so the defense would have had to make one more stop of the Blue Raiders in the final minute of the game. But Middle Tennessee lined up with 12 men on the field on the fourth down before UAB snapped for a punt, and UAB was awarded a free first down. With no more timeouts to use, Middle Tennessee could not stop the clock and UAB ran out the clock.
UAB got a big day from running back Spencer Brown, who rushed for 156 yards and a touchdown. Quarterback Tyler Johnston III passed for 140 yards and rushed for 56 yards while accounting for two total touchdowns. UAB really held firm inside the red zone on defense, forcing Middle Tennessee to settle for field goals on each of their first two possessions of the game and doing so once again in the fourth quarter. Success in the red zone for UAB managed to make up for giving up 456 yards of offense, including 362 through the air off the arm of Brent Stockstill.
Enough can not be said about the job Bill Clark has done at UAB. The head coach of the program for one year before the university shut the program down, Clark stuck with the program as it became clear the program would return after a brief hiatus. To take a program that was shut down to a conference championship in a span of four years is absolutely incredible and why Clark should not only be hearing some phone calls from schools in search of a head coach but also should be considered for some coach of the year honors.
UAB will now play in their second straight bowl game in as many years, and the Blazers will look for the first bowl victory in school history (0-2 all-time in bowl games). An official bowl announcement is pending, although a matchup with Sun Belt champion Appalachian State in the New Orleans Bowl would be a fun matchup.
It was not so long ago that the UAB football program was seemingly shut down for good, but the Blazers have sure taken advantage of life after death. With their 29-21 victory over North Texas on Saturday, clinched bowl-eligibility for a second straight season after being brought back from their abbreviated hiatus.
Going further, UAB head coach Bill Clark is now three-for-three in putting together a bowl-eligible season at UAB. UAB went 6-6 in Clark’s first season on the job in 2014. UAB did not play in a bowl game, however, as the school announced the program was shutting down at the end of the regular season and no bowl trip would be taken by the program. Clark stuck with the university as it decided to bring the football program back beginning in 2017, and Clark coached the program to a record of 8-5 last season, ending with a loss in the Bahamas Bowl.
UAB is also 10-0 at home since being revived as a program. The 6-1 start is also the best start for the Blazers in program history.
UAB has never played in back-to-back bowl games in program history. The Blazers have only played in two bowl games since 1996, but they are primed to be playing in their third this bowl season.
UAB is now in first place in the Conference USA’s West Division and looking to lock down a division championship next for a chance to capture the Conference USA title for the first time in program history. Not too shabby for a program that was left on the curb just a few years ago.
The rebirth of UAB football continues to be underway. Days after signing its latest recruiting class (which actually ranked ahead of four Conference USA teams) and confirming its coaching staff to continue preparing for the program’s return in 2017, UAB’s Board of Trustees approved the funding for a $15 million football facility to be built on campus.
The 46,000-square foot facility will include updated locker rooms, administrative offices weight rooms and more to allow for the operation of a steady football program. This is the kind of support the program lacked at the time it was temporarily and hastily shutdown at the end of the 2014 season. It is important to keep in mind, however, this is still a work in progress for the university as it prepares to properly support its football program.
“Do the stars need to align a little bit? Yes, but so far they are,” UAB Athletic Director Mark Ingram said, per Al.com. “We feel great about the design efforts… People are making pledges.”
UAB head coach Bill Clark, who has admirably opted to stay in Birmingham to lead the program through this unique time, seems appreciative of the show of support from the university’s higher-ups.
“It’s just confirmation of where we’ve already been headed,” Clark said. “It’s a process that you go through at the university level to get buildings built, and for them to put phase one and phase two together is a big deal because it really just speeds the process up.”
Linebacker Jake Ganus transferred to Georgia last year following the abrupt shutdown of the UAB football program by the school. Ganus went on to have a standout season in Athens and earned team MVP honors. Now at the Senior Bowl, Ganus is staying true to his roots and representing the UAB program back in Alabama.
“I’ve had that helmet with me for a while,” Ganus after Senior Bowl practice Thursday, per SEC Country. “I spent three years there, I have hundreds of teammates and a bunch of coaches. I just wanted today to be the day I could just honor them. It’s all about my teammates. They got me to Georgia, those coaches got me to Georgia, those coaches they gave me a scholarship and I’m grateful to them and UAB for that. I’ll be wearing the Georgia helmet on Saturday, but I just want to take a day and thank them.”
Of course, nobody from the Georgia community will be likely to have a problem not seeing Ganus wearing the signature red helmet with the “G” logo, considering the story that led Ganus to Georgia. But don’t worry Georgia fans, Ganus appreciates all of your support too.
“I’ve got two fan bases behind me, it’s awesome.”
UAB reversed its original decision to eliminate football, but the Blazers are not expected to play again until the 2017 season at the earliest. UAB head coach Bill Clark has remained committed to seeing the program return to the field despite reports of Southern Mississippi having interest in the Blazers coach taking over as its head coach.
On Thursday it was reported by UAB intends to hire Les Koenning to be the program’s new offensive coordinator. However, as this report first published by Football Scoop spread, the message being sent had evolved to rumors suggesting the hire has already been made. UAB head coach Bill Clark said Friday morning there have been no additions with the coaching staff just yet.
“The only people that we have on staff are the three guys that have been here,” Clark said to Al.com. The three staff members Clark was referring to were defensive coordinator Duwan Walker, defensive line coach David Reeves and offensive line coach Mike Bennefield. “They never quit working.”
This sort of stuff tends to happen all the time though. If the intent to hire Koenning is there, Clark may feel it is not right to comment on such news until the contract is officially signed.
Koenning was the wide receivers coach for Texas in 2014 and he has previous offensive coordinator experience at Texas A&M and Mississippi State.