HATTIESBURG, Mississippi — Jordan Howard set a school record with 262 yards rushing as Alabama-Birmingham beat Southern Miss 45-24 Saturday.
The Blazers (6-6, 4-4 Conference USA) became bowl-eligible for the first time since 2004 by amassing 371 yards on the ground, with Howard logging his eighth 100-yard game of the season and scoring his 13th touchdown in 12 games.
"It is a big deal for us," first-year UAB coach Bill Clark said. "It was part of our goals. People thought we were crazy when we broke it down to conference champs and part of that was being bowl eligible.
"You get what you dream about. You get what you hope for and work for. I'm very happy for these guys."
It has been an autumn of potential discontent at UAB, with speculation over the future of its football program often overshadowing what has been taking place on the field. Not only has conversation centered on the possibility of dissolving the program after 2016, but the Blazers will be one of eight C-USA teams with at least six wins. The league has five guaranteed postseason spots, with a sixth possibility if the Southeastern Conference or Atlantic Coast Conference cannot fill a slot in the Duck Commander Independence Bowl.
That means the Blazers will be waiting to hear about its short-term future as well and whether they will be playing a 13th game this year.
"We hope to know something soon," Clark said. "We will keep our fingers crossed and say our prayers and, hopefully, we will get some good news."
Howard, who was averaging 120.5 yards rushing per game, logged the most yards ever allowed by a Southern Miss defense, nudging aside Cal's J.J. Arrington, who had gone for 261 yards against the Golden Eagles in 2004.
"He is a good running back, big, powerful and gets downhill," Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. "If you don't make him go sideways, he is hard to get down."
Southern Miss (3-9, 1-7), which snapped a 23-game losing streak by beating UAB in the 2013 regular-season finale, closed 2014 on a five-game skid.
"Well, it was not the way we wanted to end the season," Monken said.
UAB's Cody Clements threw for 176 yards and three touchdowns, including scoring passes of 24 yards to Tristan Henderson, 14 yards to Jamarcus Nelson and 22 yards to Josh Magee as the Blazers took a 21-7 halftime lead.
The Golden Eagles' lone points in the first half came on a 100-yard kickoff return by Michael Thomas following the Clements-Magee hook-up. It was Southern Miss' first kickoff return for a score since the 2012 season opener.
UAB returned the favor in the second half, with Nelson taking a kickoff 99 yards for a score. It marked the first time in Roberts Stadium history that each team had returned a kickoff for a touchdown.
The Blazers added other second-half scores on Howard's 1-yard run, D.J. Vinson's 12-yard run and Ty Long's 34-yard field goal, while Southern Miss answered with Jalen Richard's 60-yard run, Nick Mullens' 3-yard pass to Richard, and Corey Acosta's 45-yard field goal.
The UAB defense limited the Golden Eagles' ground game to 97 yards and sacked Mullens seven times for 49 yards in losses.
"Someone told me, 'You are probably going to be favored in one game, if you get three, it is good, and if you get six, it will be some kind of miracle,'" Clark said. "It has been tough. My wife will say that I am one who can focus pretty well, but it has been hard.
"Hopefully, (Saturday and the season), shows what we are about."