University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers (9-3) vs Florida Atlantic Owls (8-4)
UAB, the defending Conference USA champions, will take on Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Florida, Saturday, Dec 7.
Coach: Bill Clark
UAB Players to watch:
*Junior WR Austin Watkins, Jr. (6-3/200)
The Miami native is leading a trio of UAB wide receivers who are amongst the most productive units in the nation. Watkins Jr., Kendall Parham and Myron Mitchell combined for 2,043 receiving yards heading into the conference championship game.
A first cousin of NFL standout Sammy Watkins, the UAB junior and North Fort Myers graduate has emerged as one of the most dynamic receivers in the country. During the regular season, Watkins had 44 receptions for 890 yards and five touchdowns.
“Really, I have to give credit to my quarterback Tyler Johnston and our offensive line,” Watkins said. “Our coaches are giving us a good game plan every week, so everyone knows what they’re doing and no one really has to think about much.”
*Junior MLB Kristopher Moll (6-1/200)
Last week, the nation’s sixth ranked defense finished the game (vs No. Texas) with seven sacks, 11 tackles for loss and two interceptions. Both Kristopher Moll and Jordan Smith had two sacks, and Garrett Marino had the final sack on 4th-and-11 to secure the victory. UAB held North Texas to just 21 rushing yards for the entire game.
Senior DT Garrett Marino (6-2/290)
Marino was the first player to sign at UAB when the program was reinstated in 2015. The Blazers defense is leading the conference with 18.5 points given up per game, and a league low of 269.8 yards per game. Marino, the senior leader of the defense, had 11.5 tackles-for-loss, six sacks, and five passes defended during the regular season.
*Junior DE Jordan Smith (6-6/250)
On the edge, Jordan Smith has put together an All-Conference worthy season with 39 total tackles, 12.5 tackles-for-loss, eight sacks, and three forced fumbles.
***Freshman LB Alex Wright (6-4/235)
C-USA Freshman of the Year candidate Alex Wright has 8.5 TFL. Wright’s 8.5 TFL and 4.5 sacks are the most of any freshman in the league. UAB has recovered 12 fumbles this year, Wright has two of those.
*Junior RB Spencer Brown (6-0/220)
UAB quarterbacks have thrown 17 interceptions this year, and with starting QB Tyler Johnson hobbled by a knee injury, HC Bill Clark decided to rely on the running game last week.
Brown, the school’s all-time leading rusher, had been injured in week 6 vs Rice. In the following five weeks, Brown’s playing time was very limited. Last week, however, he looked like his old self, carrying the ball 19 times for 111 yards. Look for a heavy dose of the run game vs FAU.
Coach: Lane Kiffen
Florida Atlantic Players to watch
Senior TE Harrison Bryant (6-5/240)
Florida Atlantic University football’s Harrison Bryant has been named as one of three nationwide finalists for the John Mackey Award, given to the top tight end in FBS, as announced by the committee.
Bryant, a senior from Gray, Georgia, leads all of the nation’s tight ends with 61 receptions and 965 yards receiving. Those totals not only lead all Conference USA tight ends, but ranks second among all league pass-catchers in yards, while slotting fifth in receptions. Two weeks ago, in the Owls’ 40-26 win over UTSA, Bryant had a career day, recording 10 receptions for 192 yards.
**Sophomore QB Chris Robinson (6-4/215)
Robinson. an Oklahoma tranfer, was named co-CUSA freshman of the year last season after throwing for over 2,500 yards and 12 touchdowns for the Owls as the starter for all but one game.
This year, Robinson has thrown for 3,125 yards, with a Td/Int ratio of 22-5. The Owls lead the conference averaging 443.1 yards per game. They are also putting up a league leading 34.1 points per game, putting up over 40 points five times this season.
*Junior MLB Akileis Leroy (5-11/235)
Leroy is the heart and soul of the Florida Atlantic defense. He leads the team with 94 total tackles; 14.5 tackles-for-loss; and 7.5 sacks. He’s picked off three passes and forced three fumbles this year.
“We just balled out. I’m still in shock,” Leroy said after clinching the East. “It’s always our dream to win the conference championship. Just the fact that we are one step closer to it, it gives me chills.”
Senior WLB Rashad Smith (6-1/215)
Smith is credited with four fumble recoveries during the regular season. “We’re number one in the country in turnovers,” said head coach Lane Kiffin, “and number one in the country in turnover margin. I’m proud of these players, two of three years to win the division, now to have the conference championship at home, it’s a good spot to be in.”
Senior CB Meiko Dotson (5-11/188)
Speaking of turnovers, last week, FAU cornerback Meiko Dotson set a new Owls single-season record with his eighth interception on the season. Dotson also moved into a tie for the most interceptions in the nation for the 2019 season. His record-setting pick came with 50 seconds left in the second quarter.
*Junior FS Zyon Gilbert (6-1/180)
Zyon Gilbert is another FAU defender quietly having an impressive season. Gilbert has eight passes defended and two interceptions on the season. Fellow corner Chris Tooley tied Gilbert for the team lead in pbu’s.
FAU Stadium – Grass
Dec. 7 | Boca Raton, Florida