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NCAA Football Preview - UAB Blazers

8:37 AM, Aug 19, 2013   |    comments
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Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -

2012 SEASON IN REVIEW: Garrick McGee's first run as head coach of the Blazers was not quite what the former Oklahoma quarterback was hoping for. After taking over a team that finished 3-9 in 2011, there was plenty of room for improvement.

McGee had trouble securing his first victory as a head coach as UAB lost to Troy (39-29), South Carolina (49-6), Ohio State (29-15) and Tulsa (49-42) to begin his tenure with the school. The Blazers coasted to a 52-3 victory over Southeastern Louisiana to improve to 1-4, but they then lost three in a row to Houston (39-17), East Carolina (42-35) and Tulane (55-45), which gave them an 0-4 record in conference play with four games remaining. UAB showed some life by posting a pair of upsets over Southern Miss (27-19) on the road and Marshall (38-31) at home. The decision over the Thundering Herd was the final of 2012 though, as UAB suffered lopsided losses to Memphis (46-9) and UCF (49-24) to arrive at a 3-9 overall record.

The Blazers had a high-powered offense and were very tough when everything was clicking, but their defense was able to limit just one of its FBS opponents to less than 20 points.


OFFENSE: UAB had the 19th best passing offense in the nation last season with an average of 308.8 yards per game through the air. The pass-first mentality left the Blazers with one of the worst rushing attacks in the FBS, as they yielded just 110.3 yards per game on the ground.

The quarterback position is not quite settled as sophomore Austin Brown and senior Jonathan Perry both have made a case to be the opening day starter. Brown was a C-USA All-Freshman Team selection last season after finishing with 2,673 yards passing with 15 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Perry was the starter early on last season during the team's slow start and also for the majority of the 2011 season. Although the team performed worse against the tougher competition early on, Perry completed 61 percent of his 122 attempts for 1,033 yards with six touchdowns against only one interception.

Senior wideout Jackie Williams will be a starter for a fourth season after leading the team with 799 yards on 52 catches last year. He comes into 2013 with a streak of 26 straight games with multiple receptions. Tight end Nolen Smith is back after missing all of 2012 with a knee injury, and he and fellow tight end Kennard Backman will serve as secondary options for UAB's passers.

The most dangerous Blazer on the offensive side of the ball is halfback Darrin Reaves, who became just the second player in school history to break the 1,000-yard mark in 2012 as a sophomore.

"I've been very fortunate to coach some really good offenses and have seen some really good skilled players and quarterback play, but what we have going on now is a very, very fast offense," said McGee on his personnel. "We have depth at every position. We have three running backs that are capable of starting for us, with one of them being an all-conference running back."

Reaves and the other rushers for UAB are fortunate that the team returned four starters on the offensive line and have a viable replacement for the open spot in redshirt freshman tackle Victor Salako (6-6, 315). The average weight of the projected starters on the offensive line is 300 pounds, and that size should be beneficial in improving the team's allowed average of 3.5 sacks per game, which ranked 116th in the FBS.

DEFENSE: The Blazers were unimpressive defensively last season despite the presence of middle linebacker Marvin Burdette, who was the leading tackler in the nation. Burdette's departure is going to be tough to cope with for a team that gave up averages of 427.3 total yards of offense and 37.5 points per game.

UAB is planning on switching to a 3-4 base defense in hopes of turning things around defensively. Connor Boyett (6-5, 285), Deric Scott (6-3, 285) and Diaheem Watkins (6-4, 260) form a solid trio up front on the line.

Senior linebacker Patrick Bastien's leadership ability will be tested as he is the only returning starter to the corps. The senior linebacker set a new career-high with 33 total tackles last season, including six stops for loss and two sacks.

"I think the team enthusiasm is at an all-time high," said Bastien on his upcoming senior campaign. "I've been here for five years and the optimism and how everybody is feeling great and we have really bought in. We have put in the hard work and now we are waiting to see the results."

The secondary's key asset is senior safety Calvin Jones (5-10, 190), whose 71 total tackles in 2012 make him the team's leader in that category. He is the only upperclassman in the defensive backfield though, as sophomores Lamarcus Farmer (5-11, 170) and Kelton Brackett (5-11, 190) are slated to start at cornerback, while fellow sophomore Vashon Landers (6-1, 175) will line up alongside Jones.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Junior place kicker Ty Long has proven his accuracy through his first two seasons of college football, converting 30 of his 36 field goal tries as an underclassman. Long's ability as a kickoff specialist has steadily grown as well which makes it hard not to see him competing for All-Conference honors as a junior.

Junior Hunter Mullins will be one of the top punters in the C-USA as well. Mullins averaged 44.8 yards per punt on 50 attempts last season, placing 12 inside the 20 and setting a season-long with a 61-yard boot.

Williams uses the same speed, quickness and vision that makes him unstoppable as a wideout in the return game quite well. In 2012, he averaged just under 10 yards per punt return and took one back for a touchdown and led the team with 227 kick return yards.

OUTLOOK: UAB's slow start to 2012 can easily be attributed to its dreadful non-conference schedule. The 2013 slate is not much more favorable despite Ohio State and South Carolina being replaced.

The Blazers will seek revenge from last year's opening loss as they square off with in-state rival Troy on the road. They will stay away from home for their second game as they look to upset the mighty LSU Tigers before heading back to Legion Field for their home opener against Northwestern State. McGee's unit then has another tough road test at Vanderbilt before it begins its conference season at home versus Florida Atlantic. The Blazers' road trip, including stops at FIU and Texas-San Antonio, is going to be very important in the fight for positioning in the conference standings. Those are going to be vital contests as they have four difficult games in a row against Middle Tennessee, Marshall, East Carolina and Rice before their regular-season finale versus Southern Miss.

UAB has an big task ahead of it to reach its first bowl game since 2004. McGee's goal of starting a winning tradition could be attainable in the near future if he can build a more capable defense.

The Sports Network

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