Preview 2017: UAB Blazers
Previewing and looking ahead at the UAB Blazers season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The UAB Offense
Head coach Bill Clark and offensive coordinator Les Koenning know how to get an offense moving. The UAB attack wasn’t bad at the the end of the run in 2014, but it’ll obviously be a work in progress to start things off.
Before the thing shut down, the O two years ago averaged 33 points per game with a balanced attack that exploded from time to time. That’s asking a lot early on with a whole new group taking over, but it’ll be able to bomb away to keep up the pace thanks to a defense that’ll give up yards and points in chunks.
Flexibility will be the key as the coaching staff tries to adapt the system around the players as much as possible, and not necessarily the other way around.
There’s a good-looking running back in Kalin Heath to start with, but the passing game looked the part this offseason with a huge spring performance. Of course, that was against the UAB defense in a scrimmage, but like two years ago, there was decent balance.
Biggest Key To The UAB Offense
Stay on the field and keep things moving. The offense is going to be way ahead of the defense to start. There will be plenty of chances to keep up the pace, but the more the O can grind, the better.
While it’ll be tempting to get the passing game going in a hurry, a ball control attack would be a big, big plus early on, just to get as much control as possible. It’ll be okay to dink and dunk to move the chains. No, the offense won’t be slow and go, but it’ll be a plus when it is.
What You Need To Know About The UAB Defense
While the offense will look the part at times, the defense is going to have its issues. Defensive coordinator David Reeves did a great job with the Blazer defensive line a few years ago, and now he gets to run the whole thing.
It’ll be a 3-4 look with the strength at linebacker, but can the line hold its own? It’ll be an adaptable defense that’ll show a variety of formations.
The linebacking corps is going to be the biggest positive to start – at least that’s the hope – with Tevin Crews one of the holdovers and Shaq Jones a leader no matter where he plays. Jones could end up working up front as a hybrid defensive end for a line that has to find a pass rush.
There’s bulk on the inside with a few massive 300-pounders who could be thrown in to gum up the works, but can the line get into the backfield like it did in 2014? That’s where Jones comes in.
Corner Darious Williams should be a factor on one side, and then it’s up to the JUCO transfers as much as possible in the secondary. Chigozie Onyekwere is a former receiver with great size and upside.
Biggest Key To The UAB Defense
Force takeaways. It’s going to be ugly at times, and there won’t be any one thing the defense can do to dominate against most of the mediocre-to-great teams, but can this group be aggressive enough?
It’ll be okay to sell out to get to the quarterback or make things happen behind the line – this group has to take a ton of chances. Generate a few takeaways here and there, come up with enough third down stops to keep games alive, and then hope things are close late.
UAB Will Be Far Better If …
It uses all of 2017 to 2018. Call this a redshirt season. UAB will be tempted to try picking up where things left off in 2014 – going 6-6 in a strong season – but that’s not going to happen. Going 5-7 doesn’t matter if it gets those wins by playing a slew of veterans or JUCO transfers who aren’t going to be on the team once it becomes relevant and decent again.
Of course, how do you tell the few players who stuck around to take a seat? You don’t – everyone who can play will play – but this year is all about finding as many young players to develop as possible.
Best UAB Offensive Player
RB Kalin Heath – The Kansas State transfer will be part of a good-looking rotation with Lucious Stanley and former linebacker Donnie Lee, but if everything goes well, the main man will be easy to figure out.
The 6-2, 195-pound Lee is smooth, with the ability to make things happen in the open field and catch a little, too. Lee will be the goal line, thunder type, and others will get their chances, but Heath is the best player on the lot.
2. WR Collin Lisa
3. QB A.J. Erdely
4. RB Donnie Lee
5. QB Tyler Johnston
Best UAB Defensive Player
LB/DE Shaq Jones – Will he play outside linebacker in the 3-4 alignment, or will he be a hybrid who does a little of everything for the defensive front? No matter where he is, he’ll be one of the team’s best performers and playmakers what should be a solid linebacking corps. The 6-3, 210-pounder might be a tall, rangy defender, but he’s tough, and he can move.
2. LB Fitzgerald Mofor
3. CB Darius Williams
4. LB Tevin Crews
5. S Broderick Thomas
Key Player To A Successful Season
QB A.J. Erdely – How much can he progress as the season goes on? Will he get any time behind a patchwork line that’ll spend most of the season trying to figure out the right combination? The 6-4, 224-pound Erdely can push the ball down the field, but he’ll have to hold off 6-1, 213-pound Tyler Johnston – a baller who looked great in the spring game.
The UAB Season Will Be A Success If …
It’s a three-win campaign. – Starting out with a win over Alabama A&M should be a given, and Coastal Carolina is an FCSer making the move up into the big world. Win those two, start 2-1, and then hope for an upset along the way against one to the mediocre Conference USA teams. It’s not going to be easy, and there will be some brutal beatdowns at times, but three wins or more would be terrific after coming back from the dead.
Key Game To The UAB Season
Nov. 25 vs. UTEP – Where are the Blazers at by the end of the year? For just about anyone else, the schedule would be a dream with eight games against teams that finished with a losing record. But for UAB, can it get better as the season goes on, and how much can it improve by the end of November from the opener three months earlier?
Everyone wants to win every game, and everyone really wants to win the final game of the campaign. Beat the Miners, and the optimism for everything going into the offseason would be massive.
2014 UAB Fun Stats
– Red Zone Scores: Opponents 33-of-41 (80%) – UAB 38-of-51 (75%)
– 3rd Quarter Scoring: UAB 134 – Opponents 69
– Field Goals: UAB 13-of-17 – Opponents 8-of-15