Tigers try not to overlook UAB while cradling SEC West title

LOCAL TIGERS: Jarrick Bernard-Converse (24) and Micah Baskerville (23), both Evangel products, are keys for LSU’s defense. (Photo by PETER FOREST, Journal Sports)

By RYNE BERTHELOT, Journal Sports

BATON ROUGE – Not only does tonight’s 8:05 kickoff in Tiger Stadium mark the end of LSU’s nonconference schedule, it’ll also settle a score.

The Blazers have spent the last nine years sporting a .500 record against LSU all-time after LSU beat UAB 56-17 in 2013. UAB won the first matchup between the two teams in 2000, 13-10.

The final homefield appearance for LSU is, of course, Senior Night, with 17 honored in a pregame ceremony.

“We’re excited about sending our seniors off with a victory and that’s been really our focus this entire week, playing to our standards,” LSU coach Brian Kelly said. “Obviously it’s been a great year, but we still have a lot of work to do.”

The sixth-ranked Tigers have exceeded all expectations by securing the Southeastern Conference West Division title and a berth in next month’s SEC Championship Game against No. 1 Georgia, the defending national champions. A win there, and LSU is in the College Football Playoff as one of four teams alive for a national championship.

But first things first. Tonight it’s UAB, a championship contender in Conference USA year after year. Next week it’s a visit to Texas A&M, but Kelly is keeping his Tigers focused on the Blazers, who should not be taken for granted.

UAB features one of the most potent rushing attacks in the Group of Five, as running back DeWayne McBride has averaged almost 7-yards-per-carry on 204 attempts to go along with 17 touchdowns. The junior has also tallied 1,407 yards on the ground, good for second in the FBS. Their offense ranks fifth nationally in rushing yards-per-game.

McBride’s not the only running back head coach Bryan Vincent utilizes, either: Senior Jermaine Brown, Jr. sees plenty of work as a change-of-pace back for the Blazers and has eclipsed the six yards-per-carry mark on 114 attempts.

McBride and Brown head an offense that’s established and pedigreed in the eyes of Kelly.

“They’re very accomplished on offense. In an overview I would say they’re a very mature team,” Kelly said. “They’re made up of a lot of fifth-year seniors, (and) there’s a number of sixth-year players on this team. This is a mature, veteran football team that has a very good offensive structure.”

Vincent didn’t share in his counterpart’s focus on upperclassmen, however. Instead, true freshman Harold Perkins caught his attention, especially after Perkins recorded four sacks and two forced fumbles against Arkansas to lift LSU to a 13-10 victory last Saturday on the road.

“After 12 or 14 hours of film yesterday and last night, he’s a guy that really stood out. You sit there, you watch him, and you watch all the things that he does,” Vincent said Monday. “Whether he’s rushing the passer, whether he’s spying the quarterback, whether he’s playing coverage? This is without a doubt the best true freshman I’ve seen in my career. Without a doubt.”

Still, UAB’s 5-5 record, coupled with LSU’s meteoric rise up the rankings, have left the Tigers as heavy favorites. It’s a game that’s easy for the Tigers to overlook, just like Arkansas was the week before.

There won’t be any of that, Kelly said. He’s echoed the same mantra all season: Preparation is key.

“That’s kind of a piece of who we are, right? We focus on a process more so than an outcome,” Kelly said. “It’s been a consistent way of how we do things on a day-to-day basis. We focus much more on the little things, our habits, how we think, what we do on a day-to-day basis, much more than outcomes and championships, things of that nature.”

Contact Ryne at rgberthelot@gmail.com