Beat Writer Q&A Preview: UAB -- Evan Dudley
For each week of Western Kentucky's 2020 football season, Tyler Mansfield of InsideHilltopperSports.com will connect with a beat writer who covers the opposing team for a Q&A session.
WKU (1-3 overall, 1-1 Conference USA) is coming off a 38-14 home loss to Marshall, while UAB (3-1, 1-0) was off last week. The Blazers defeated UTSA 21-13 their last time out on Oct. 3.
Kickoff between the Hilltoppers and UAB is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. (CT) Saturday at Legion Field in Birmingham. Stadium is carrying the broadcast.
Mansfield: UAB is off to a 3-1 start to the season and won its first Conference USA game of the year. What have you seen out of the Blazers through their first four games, and how can you assess the way they've been playing?
Dudley: As with many teams in the Age of COVID-19, the Blazers have been interesting to watch through the first quarter of the season.
The defense gave up short fields to Central Arkansas in the season opener and was gashed on the ground by Miami, however, the secondary is allowing the second-fewest yards in the nation and the run defense and pass-rush is hitting another gear at the right time. UAB’s rushing attack is hitting on high gear and the passing game can strike fast at any given moment.
Overall, the Blazers have a high ceiling but also have the capacity to shoot themselves in the foot with turnovers and avoidable penalties.
Mansfield: UAB has a consistent offense year-in and year-out - and that's the case this season with players like Spencer Brown, Myron Mitchell and Bryson Lucero. From your perspective, just how good is the Blazers' offense this year?
Dudley: The only limit is itself. The Blazers have plenty of talent on the outside and in the stable but turnovers have been a problem since last year’s meeting at Western Kentucky. Lucero has an outstanding debut at South Alabama but got humbled against UTSA with three picks. However, Lucero also threw three touchdowns and UAB won a game it would’ve lost last season.
The main threat is and will always be Spencer Brown. The senior running back dropped 20 pounds of weight and made a commitment to improving his entire game during the offseason. It shows as Brown is the fourth-leading rusher in the nation with 450 yards and five touchdowns and is on pace for his third 1,000-yard season in an already illustrious career.
Mansfield: With Tyler Johnston III still sidelined with a shoulder injury, what have you seen out of backup quarterback Bryson Lucero in the games he's played? What has he done well, and where has he struggled?
Dudley: I somewhat answered this question with my previous response but let’s go deeper.
Lucero is incredibly talented but doesn’t have a lot of experience as a starting quarterback. He started four games his entire prep career at IMG Academy, rated a 3-star prospect by the 247Sports Composite, and has started the last two games for the Blazers with mixed results.
His debut outing saw the redshirt freshman throw for a career-high 319 yards and two touchdowns but leveled out against UTSA with 195 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. Lucero has an accurate deep ball but has to make better decisions when delivering on short-to-medium routes.
Mansfield: How do you see Saturday's game vs. WKU playing out? Feel free to leave a score prediction, too.
Dudley: The Blazers are looking to close out their final year at Legion Field with an undefeated record (24-0) since returning to the field in 2017. Their active home-winning streak currently sits at 20 games – tied for third in the nation – and they’ll be prepared for what the Hilltoppers have to offer.
The UAB defense is just as good, if not better than it was last season and the offense can score at-will if it doesn’t get in its own way. The Hilltoppers keep it close early but the Blazers pull away in the end.
UAB 38, Western Kentucky 17