Although Tennessee is favored by 12 points, UAB (6-1) has the superior record. Tennessee (3-5) lost its season opener 38-30 to Sun Belt Conference school and 26-point underdog Georgia State.
“They’re coming in here thinking they’re going to roll over us, so we’ve got to be ready for that,” Vols running back Ty Chandler said. “They’ve seen we’ve gotten upset in the past. Everybody better be locked in. We have no reason not to be locked in.”
Tennessee followed that Georgia State debacle by falling to BYU, part of four losses for the Vols in their first five games. But they’ve bounced back since.
The Vols have beaten Mississippi State and South Carolina in two of the past three weeks. Tennessee’s only loss during that stretch was a 35-13 setback at No. 2 Alabama that was competitive until midway through the fourth quarter.
Now Tennessee faces a UAB team that has been steady all season despite losing 35 seniors from a team that went 11-3 a year ago. The Blazers are ranked fifth nationally in total defense, giving up an average of 248.6 yards a game, and haven’t allowed a single opponent to score over 20 points.
UAB’s Bill Clark and Tennessee’s Jeremy Pruitt know each other well.
Both are former Alabama high school coaches whose dads also coached in the high school ranks. Clark noted this week that Pruitt played on a Plainview High team that beat his Piedmont squad in the 1990 state playoffs. Pruitt mentioned that he was an assistant coach on the 2006 Hoover team that lost the state championship game to Clark’s Prattville squad.
“We’ve had a bunch of good matchups,” Clark said.
Clark said Tennessee shows the characteristics of a well-coached team in how it has improved.
Pruitt praises UAB’s defense and says the Blazers have a Southeastern Conference-caliber receiving corps. UAB is 25-9 under Clark since restoring its program after the school didn’t play any games in 2015-16 because of financial reasons.
“They’re very well coached,” Pruitt said. “The guys that coach there, I’m very familiar with them. It doesn’t surprise me.”
Some other things to know about Saturday’s UAB-Tennessee matchup (7 p.m., ESPNU):
TENNESSEE’S QB TRIO
Tennessee’s three scholarship quarterbacks all have been cleared to play Saturday. Usual starter Brian Maurer didn’t play last week because of back-to-back concussions and Jarrett Guarantano suffered a broken bone in his left, non-throwing hand against South Carolina.
Guarantano and J.T. Shrout combined to throw for 351 yards against the Gamecocks. Pruitt said Wednesday that Shrout got about 50% of the first-team reps this week, Maurer about 40% and Guarantano 10%. Pruitt noted that Guarantano’s experience — he has made 22 career starts — meant he didn’t need as many reps.
Both teams are particularly strong in the receiving corps.
Tennessee features the senior tandem of Jauan Jennings (42 catches, 652 yards, 7 TDs) and Marquez Callaway (17-374, 4 TDs). UAB has Austin Watkins (31-655, 5 TDs), Kendall Parham (23-518, 6 TDs) and Myron Mitchell (20-339, 3 TDs).
STRUGGLING AGAINST SEC
Although UAB has been successful since returning to the field in 2017, the Blazers haven’t fared well against SEC teams. They lost 36-7 to Florida in 2017 and fell 41-20 to Texas A&M last year.
UAB has given Tennessee problems before. UT’s 3-0 series lead includes a 17-10 win in 2005 and a 32-29 overtime triumph in 2010.
UAB’S SOFT SCHEDULE
UAB played only two FBS teams that have more than one win this season. The Blazers lost to Western Kentucky (5-3) and beat Texas-San Antonio (3-4).
Their other wins came over Championship Subdivision program Alabama State (3-4), Akron (0-8), South Alabama (1-7), Rice (0-8) and Old Dominion (1-7).
UAB’S DIVERSE SACK ATTACK
UAB has made 26 sacks this season and is tied for eighth among all FBS teams in sacks per game. The Blazers have put together that type of pass rush by having three players with at least 4½ sacks: Jordan Smith (5½), Kristopher Moll (4½) and Garrett Marino (4½).