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Februray 21, 1999 Alabama's Home on the Net

The Mobile News

Blazers get measure of its progress

Register Sports Reporter

LINCOLN, Neb. -- Pay no attention to the final score. UAB (fans and school officials genuinely dislike being called Alabama-Birmingham) picked up a win Saturday.

Now coach Watson Brown won't talk in those terms; it's a loss on the record, so it is, indeed, a loss. But he will admit to feeling good about his team.

He has every reason to feel good about UAB's first performance of the season and about the progam's progress since his arrival.

Call it a moral victory if you like, but Saturday's game deserves more credit than that. Say what you will about the favored team not taking the underdog seriously. Come up with any of the well-used reasons and clichþs that are passed out like Halloween candy when a vast underdog playing a superior team keeps the game closer than expected.

Fact is, UAB played well, better than most expected, including Nebraska. In that respect, Saturday's 38-7 loss was a victory for the young program, even if it's merely a win in the column of respect.

Here are some more facts, in case the game -- on Nebraska's home field, in UAB's season opener, a week after the Cornhuskers defeated offensively charged Louisiana Tech by 29 points -- requires more:

UAB rushed for 18 yards on its first possession, a total that equaled Auburn's rushing total for its entire game Thursday night against Virginia. And UAB, which finished with 154 rushing yards and a touchdown, collected its yardage against the defending national champion on a field where it has now won 44 straight home games and embarrassed teams with richer football histories.

Comparatively speaking, four seasons ago when Brown first arrived on campus, UAB opened its season with a 13-3 loss to Alabama State. Saturday, it played one of the country's most successful teams (the program's worst record in the past 30 years is 9-3) and the country's most successful team in the '90s to a 21-7 stand at halftime, a score enhanced by a Nebraska touchdown with nine seconds remaining in the half.

Consider this: Nebraska scored 56 points against Louisiana Tech last week and scored 42 against Tennessee in the Orange Bowl, not to mention 54 points against Texas A&M in the Big 12 championship game last December.

Don't forget: UAB has been a Division I-A program just two seasons and one game. The Blazers have played football just eight previous seasons. And this: there was no betting line on this game, meaning the point differential was so high bookmakers wouldn't even take bets on the game.

Of course, the game also presents some realities. UAB still has much work to accomplish, the depth chart needs bolstering and mistakes need to be eliminated.

With the score 21-7 and UAB at the Nebraska 11 yard line in the third period, the Blazers made mistake after mistake, not only failing to score a touchdown but being penalized so many times it moved itself out of field goal range.

Still, outside the UAB lockerroom this was a win for UAB and a huge step for a program still in its infancy, a program that will play a conference schedule next year and be more prepared for that role thanks to an afternoon in Nebraska when it didn't flinch, but did tire; a day when it didn't win, but gained a measure of victory.

© 1998 Mobile Register. Used with permission.

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