BIRMINGHAM - Coming off its second and final bye week of the season, the UAB football team (6-1) ventures to Knoxville this Saturday, Nov. 2, for its final non-conference game of the season at Tennessee (3-5). Kick is slated for 7 p.m. EST/6 p.m. CST on ESPNU.
THREE THINGS TO KNOW:
- The Blazers are ranked fifth nationally in total defense entering this weekend’s contest. UAB has yet to allow a team to score more than 20 points in a game this season. Along with ranking fifth nationally in total defense, the Blazers are also 2nd nationally in fumble recoveries (12), 5th in tackles for loss per game (8.6), 6th in third down defense (.271), 7th in passing yards allowed (160.3), 7th in sacks per game (3.71), 8th in rushing defense (88.3) and 11th in scoring defense (15.7).
- Junior linebacker Kristopher Moll has put himself into contention for Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year. During league play, Moll is leading the league with 10.8 tackles per game. Despite missing the first game of the season, Moll leads the team in tackles with 54, and has also added 9.0 TFL, 4.5 sacks, three forced fumbles, six quarterback hurries, one fumble recovery and one pass breakup.
- Austin Watkins Jr. (655), Kendall Parham (518) and Myron Mitchell (339), have accounted for 1,512 of UAB’s 1,763 receiving yards this season. That clip of 85.8 percent of receiving yards makes them the second most productive receiving trio in the nation, only behind Minnesota’s trio who is responsible for 86.4 percent of the Gophers’ receiving yards.
HEAD COACH BILL CLARK
“We’re coming off an open date. It really couldn’t have come at a better time for us. We had some guys banged up after some hard-fought games. It really came at a good time for us to get some guys well. We have some guys we’ll have to see about this week, but we’ll hopefully get some guys well that have been out. For us, it was a lot about working on ourselves as always, but really trying to work on more of the opponents down the road, specifically conference opponents. We have some that have an open date right before us and one that has one maybe two weeks before us. We try to look at all of our opponents and more than anything, get healthy and get on the road to do some recruiting. Obviously, Tennessee is coming off a big win. They’ve played really well the last three games going back to the Mississippi State win. They played Alabama very well and then played really well against South Carolina. We’re obviously going into a hostile environment. I know our guys are going to be looking forward to the challenge. I’ve known Coach Pruitt and a lot of those guys on the staff for a good while. I know they do a really good job. We’re going to have our work cut out for us, but we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
On Tennessee this season:
“If you take them from the first game until now, they look like two different teams. You can tell when a team buys into whatever that plan is. I always say wishbone or empty, they all work. It’s a lot about buying in and believing. I think if you just looked at them on the hoof, they’ve looked as good as anybody. They probably felt early on like they might have been underachieving, but if you watch them now, they are playing really hard. To me, that’s the first sign of what a team should look like. Are they playing hard or improving? They’re playing really well on special teams. I think they look like a good team. You look at the Alabama game. If they don’t fumble that ball going into the end zone, it could be a different game, but they’re right there. I’m very impressed with them.”
On keeping players healthy for conference play:
“I think all of those things have to weigh into what we’re deciding and thinking. We were open this week. Southern Miss is open next week prior to us, so they’re going to be getting a lot of guys well. We have to look at those things and consider them. I would say this is the next game, so it’s super important to us, but a guy has to be well. If he’s not ready to go, he won’t be ready. If he is, we’ll get him. I know that sounds kind of simplistic, but we won’t push a guy back that’s not ready.”
On what a win over Tennessee would mean:
“I think there’s always the national recruiting spotlight. What do you do about someone that has more advantages than you do from a financial standpoint? You always want to compare yourself to those guys. I think it’s the next game. That’s why we have to say the next game is a big game. The next game is a championship game for us, so they’re all big. I think you always want to see how your guys will do on that stage.”
On the game’s comparison to last year’s matchup with Texas A&M:
“It’s very similar. They were chanting and cheering the whole game. They’re going to come off this big win feeling good about themselves. Their crowd looked like they were really into their last game, so we’re going to expect the same amount of noise and excitement from them. I think that Texas A&M game had to help us. Granted, we have 30-something guys that didn’t play a lot. There were 30-something guys that we lost, so we have a lot of guys that didn’t play. We did have a lot of guys that were at least in that experience on the sidelines or maybe on special teams. I hope that will help us. Tyler (Johnston III) played well in that game, so I hope he can repeat that.”
On Tennessee’s receivers:
“I’m not an expert on the SEC because we have our own things to worry about, but if you watch – I guess the guys at Alabama have to be considered the best, but they would have to be right there close. They are all big, dynamic, fast and catch the ball in traffic. If you watch that game, you’ve seen them throw the ball down field more than I’ve seen them throw it down field. That’s what we try to do. With someone that can run the football in multiple formations, who do you choose to cover or double? That’s what we try to do offensively, but they are very good.”
On UAB’s receiving corps having a chip on its shoulder:
“We really haven’t talked a lot about Tennessee, so we’ll start on that today, but I’m sure they do. I think they are going to be looking for motivation. We’re always looking for motivation. I always say that for any athlete. I think every player we have is going to want to show up on that stage and play well. It’s really not our receiving corps against theirs, but that’s just human nature to compare yourself and want to do well.”
On adjusting the defensive game plan to Tennessee’s receiving talent:
“We’re always going to play man. We’ll mix zone in there, but that’s who we are. We play man. That’s something I’ve been doing for 20-something years, so we’re always going to play man. That’s who we are. When we mix it with zone, I hope we mix it at the right time.”
On Austin Watkins Jr. being added to the Biletnikoff Award Watch List:
“Any time a guy in our program gets recognized, it helps all of us. Every one of us have to keep our head screwed on straight, stay humble and remember it’s about the guys around us. We want our guys to get recognized. Austin is a very humble kid. He’s definitely a competitor, and you’ll see that come out on the field, but he’s very humble. I’m proud for him and hope he keeps playing well.”
On the importance of special teams:
“It’s a field position game. I remember talking to a guy years ago asking about what it’s like playing in these games. That was more from an FCS standpoint. It’s a little bit different now, but it’s still about who their guys running down running down on kickoff are. Who are their guys compared to our guys athletically? I’ve always felt good about our special teams. I think sometimes in the depth when you get some people hurt, you start seeing those backups. How good are they? I hope we get some guys back. Now we’ve created some depth with some guys coming back, which should make our special teams better. Our specialists are doing a really good job. Tennessee has really good special teams. It should be a good battle.”
On pregame speeches:
“I’m pretty much into the moment. I have some things that we say. We touch on all three phases every week and last minute expectations. Some guys think we should know this because we’ve done it forever, but I’m totally different. I don’t care if they’ve heard it 1,000 times, I’m going to say it one more time and remind them about the things win and lose games. They’re the same things week after week. I think there’s always whatever that moment is just off the feel of our guys, but you definitely want them ready coming out of that tunnel.”
Fitzgerald Mofor, LB, R-Sr.
On playing at Tennessee:
“Obviously, it’s a great experience being able to play in that environment. Usually teams of that stature draw a really big crowd. Their crowd and fans get really engaged. It’s exciting just to be in that atmosphere in an SEC environment. It’s always good competition, and they have really good players as well. Every year, just like we played Texas A&M and Florida the first year, it’s really exciting to figure out where we really are.”
On changing the focus to the game instead of the atmosphere:
“It definitely changes on the first kick. As soon as the ball is kicked off, you can’t worry too much about that. During the game, there are more important things we have to figure out and pay attention to rather than that. I feel like it’s more of a distraction at that point. It’s nice to look at pregame, but as soon as the game starts, it’s time to go.”
On what the defense’s success this season can be credited to:
“I think it’s a mixture. I think we have good coaches that put players in a position to make plays. We also have a lot of talented guys that make a lot of plays and are really fast. I’m sure you guys know Kris (Moll), (Garrett) Marino, Jordan Smith, Starling (Thomas), Will Boler etc. All of those guys make so many plays on a daily basis. The great thing about them is they do it in practice as well. I’m not too surprised when I see those guys making those plays. I think it’s a little bit of both.”
On proving the defense can play with SEC teams:
“Every week, we don’t like it if other teams are moving the ball and scoring. No matter who we’re playing every single week, we’re going to try our best defensively to make stops and get the ball back to give it to the offense. It’s a good opportunity to be able to showcase that against Tennessee. They have really good players on the outside, a really good O-line, really good running backs and a good quarterback too. It’s going to be a challenge this weekend, so we’ll see.”
Colby Ragland, OL, R-Jr.
On how facing UAB’s defense in practice has helped prepare for Tennessee’s defense:
“I think it’s very important from the standpoint that our defense is big, strong and fast. We know that’s what the SEC is all about. They have big bodies and are fast and strong. You really have to be on you’re A-game. At the same time, you have to expect anything and everything out of them. Going against our defense, we get that on a daily basis. It just prepares us better for what to expect.”
On what a win over Tennessee would mean for the program:
“I think it would be great from the standpoint that they’re an SEC school. Any time you can get a win over any opponent is good, but knowing it’s an SEC opponent is big. We’re Conference USA and have talent just like they do, but to get a win over a team like that would do a lot of great things. It gives the whole team confidence. We’re going to go in there with a chip on our shoulder with something to prove just like every week. As long as you have something to prove, you can always be satisfied with the results.”
On what the team has to prove:
“It’s the next game. It’s an SEC opponent. You want to win every game, but you’re on a bigger stage with an SEC opponent on ESPN. Everyone is watching with 100,000 strong in the stadium. That atmosphere is supposed to be unbeatable. Those are the games that you live for.”
On the motivation of UAB’s receivers:
“I love our guys. I think we have one of the top receiving corps in the nation. I’ve seen all three of them put the work in. I know they’re licking their chops. Everybody is looking forward to this game, but I know for a fact those three guys want to take advantage of every situation. Every target they get, I know they’re going to try to do something special. I’m excited to see it myself.”