Archive for Saturday, October 7, 2000

UAB thriving despite injuries

October 7, 2000


— The third-string center is starting, the starting flanker hasn't played since the season opener and two top running backs have missed games.

The UAB offense has enough walking wounded to fill a month's episodes of ER. Yet the Blazers (3-1, 0-1 Conference USA) are still off to their best start since 1992, when they were a Division III team.

"It's comical in a way," Alabama-Birmingham coach Watson Brown said. "It's not, because it's been hard to deal with, but in some ways you just shake your head and laugh: How in the world could it happen?"

Thirteen offensive players have missed games due to injury already this season and several others missed practice time. Nonetheless, the Blazers entertain Louisville (3-1, 0-0) today fresh off their surprising victory over LSU and a blowout of Louisiana-Lafayette.

The good news is that flanker Willie Quinnie is expected to return after missing three games with a sprained knee. He caught three passes for 125 yards in the season opener against Chattanooga.

The offensive line has lost three starters, plus the backup center, and five receivers have been slowed by injuries. Running backs Carl Fair and Cedric Thatch have missed games.

"I don't know of any team it's ever happened to this quickly," Brown said of the injury epidemic. "Maybe in the season, but not four weeks. If this happened to us two years ago, we'd be 0-4 today."

The Blazers are in their fifth year of Division I-A but only their second with a full complement of 85 scholarship players. They've flirted with winning seasons the past five years, finishing 5-6 four times.

The injuries have created some feel-good stories, like Jegil Dugger. Dugger began the season as a backup fullback, but moved up following the injuries to Fair and Thatch.

He rushed for 84 yards and two fourth-quarter touchdowns in a 20-15 come-from-behind win over Chattanooga.

The Blazers' only loss was a 23-20 defeat at Kansas in a game that was designated as a Conference USA contest.

The win over the LSU was an attention-getter, especially since the Tigers rebounded with a win over Tennessee.

CUSA teams have wins over the SEC's Kentucky, Alabama and LSU this season. Brown, a former Vanderbilt quarterback, understands that the best way for his team and the league to get noticed is to win.

"We beat East Carolina last year, and they were the 17th-ranked team in the country," said Brown, brother of Texas coach Mack Brown. "Then we go beat LSU and we got a lot more credit than we did beating the 17th-ranked team last year."

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