Bowl season could not have started in more thrilling fashion. The 2022 Bahamas Bowl between Miami (OH) and UAB last Friday featured three fourth quarter lead changes. And it was two yards away from featuring a fourth.
In the final play in Nassau, Miami snapped the ball 15 yards away from the end zone staring down a 24-20 deficit. Quarterback Aveon Smith delivered a dart to Jalen Walker, who attempted to evade the UAB defense en route to a clock-expiring touchdown. Unfortunately for the RedHawks, Blazers outside linebacker Reynard Ellis wrapped Walker up along the way, bringing the receiver down at the 2-yard line.
UAB exited Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium with a 24-20 victory and handed the RedHawks a loss which sealed their first losing season since 2017. Only a super thin margin separated the joy of victory and despair of defeat in the Bahamas Bowl. Here’s what we learned from the stunning finish.
Miami put itself in position to win on the final play
You might be asking, “Why didn’t they Miami to the end zone on the final play?”
So many times in these situations, defenders blanket all areas of the end zone, quarterbacks wait too long, and the result is an overthrow. UAB decided to rush three and drop eight and given the Blazers’ coverage, targeting the open Jalen Walker gave Miami its highest probability of victory. Had Walker made outside linebacker Reynard Ellis miss, it likely comes down to a 50-50 Oklahoma drill-esque battle with cornerback Starling Thomas V on the goal line.
Missed tackles have been present throughout bowl season thus far, but that was not the case here. Ellis made an incredibly efficient tackle by taking Walker down by the waist rather than the legs. Smith’s throw to Walker roughly five to six yards short of the end zone gave Miami a chance to win, but UAB stepped up similar to the 1999 St. Louis Rams and countered with an even better play.
Bryant Vincent ball was too much for RedHawks’ secondary
The Bahamas Bowl marked the final game for Bryant Vincent as UAB’s interim head coach. Vincent had been an important part of the Blazers’ rise to prominence as the offensive coordinator under Bill Clark from 2018-21. Look at UAB box scores over Vincent’s time with the program, and you’ll notice one thing.
UAB doesn’t always pass, but when they do, they take home run shots. The Blazers’ top three receiving yards leaders averaged 22.5, 16.0, and 18.7 yards per catch this year. Last year, Trea Shropshire led all UAB receivers with 26.0 yards per reception. And this trend dates back as far as Vincent’s time with the program does, as wide receiver Xavier Ubosi posted a receiving average of 23.9 as the team’s yardage leader in 2018.
Shropshire won MVP honors with six receptions, 183 receiving yards, and one touchdown. The opening play of the game was a 46-yard bomb to Shropshire in man coverage. The senior wideout also hauled in 48 and 49 yard receptions, often thriving on islands in man coverage. Seeing Shropshire in one-on-one coverage was especially disadvantageous for the RedHawk secondary, and these explosive plays were critical to the game result. UAB mainly won this game through its rushing attack, but those three Shropshire receptions accounted for over 70 percent of UAB’s passing yards.
Vincent’s signature style of running teams into the ground and mixing in the occasional deep ball proved to be a winning formula in the Bahamas.
As usual, turnovers were Miami’s equalizer
At the time of writing on Tuesday, Dec. 20, there are 11 FBS teams with a positive double-digit turnover margin. Miami is one of them with a +10 on the season.
The RedHawks didn’t feature a productive offense in 2022, generating 305.6 yards per game to rank 10th-to-last in the FBS. But if you take the bottom 12 offenses in college football, in terms of yardage output, Miami is the only one to average 20 points per game. That impressive turnover margin is a major reason why.
Miami won the turnover battle 2-0 in the Bahamas Bowl. The first takeaway could not have occurred at a more opportune time or location. In the late third quarter, Miami punter Dom Dzioban booted the ball away to the Blazers, but Starling Thomas V muffed the punt. Ambe’ Caldwell dove on the pigskin at the 4-yard line, and one play later, the RedHawks found themselves in the end zone for the go-ahead score. That convenient turnover saved Miami the trouble of stringing together an additional, methodical drive, and that was a theme for the RedHawks this season.
Miami recorded one more takeaway in the fourth quarter when Matthew Salopek forced a fumble with roughly six minutes remaining. However, the offense couldn’t capitalize with starting field position from the UAB 28-yard line. In fact, the unit lost two yards on the series and watched a 47-yard field goal attempt to miss the uprights. A touchdown stemming from that turnover would have likely sealed the game, but Miami’s takeaways were certainly the equalizer in a game which featured a yards disparity of 390-272.