UAB can't stop Graham

Published: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, September 1, 2002 at 1:18 a.m.

It was a streak used almost as a promotion for Alabama-Birmingham's defense. And the message was clear.

Don't run on us.

Sometime, though, the streak would have to end. Saturday against No. 6 Florida and its tough-nosed tailback Earnest Graham, it did.

After holding 26 consecutive teams without a 100-yard runner, Alabama-Birmingham's impressive mark was finally trampled.

By halftime.

Graham rushed for 182 yards against the Blazers - 117 in the first two quarters - to become the first 100-yard runner against UAB since Louisville's Frank Moreau in 1999. Since then, teams from Florida State to LSU to Pittsburgh to East Carolina have failed to produce a 100-yard rusher against the Blazers.

"You kind of expect it from the young guys," senior defensive end James Malone said. "But it's still kind of shocking because it's the first time in over (two) years anyone has done that."

Youth and inexperience is what finally did it to the Blazers. UAB lost their top six tacklers and nine starters from last year's team, littering their starting lineup Saturday with new faces.

"We played like a team with a bunch of new people," UAB coach Watson Brown said. "We made a lot of mistakes, kind of lost our poise."

Sophomore Gaylon Black is one, having taken over at linebacker where Rod Taylor led the team with 111 tackles last season before going on to sign a free agent contract with the Baltimore Ravens. The middle linebacker, Zac Woodfin, is also a sophomore while redshirt freshman Julius Wainwright is the starting strong safety.

"We just got a lot of new faces over there," Brown said. "No one ran the ball on our defense the last two years. This is a different bunch. But, you got to live with what you got."

The youth showed against Florida. The Blazers gave up three big runs to Graham, a 50-yard run up the middle and down the right sideline which set up Florida's second touchdown. Graham's second explosion was a 21-yard touchdown that gave Florida a 20-0 second-quarter lead. The third was a 63-yard rush in the third quarter which set up Florida's first field goal and a 37-3 lead.

Graham got 134 yards on just those three carries alone. Something foreign for a defense that gave up an average of 57.3 yards per game and 1.9 per carry.

"That was most frustrating, we'd have a stop, then give up a big play," Malone said. "We gave up way too many big plays."

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