The UAB Blazers played their inaugural football season in 1991 as a Division III school. The Blazers were successful right off the bat finishing 4-3-2 (2 ties) under Jim Hilyer. By ‘93 UAB was a 1-AA independent (FCS) and by ‘95 a 1-A (FBS) independent.
The Blazers slumped into obscurity under a myriad of coaches until Bill Clark took over in 2014. Clark finished 6-6 and the program was shutdown for no reason other than the Alabama Crimson Tide were tired of sharing resources and potentially recruits.
Clark was patient, waited his turn, and the Blazers came back in 2017 finishing 8-5, 11-3 in 2018, and 9-5 in 2019. 2017 was UAB’s first bowl appearance since 2004, and 2018 was the Blazers first bowl win since... ever. The Blazers were back in a bowl in 2019 and Clark is 34-19 in four seasons (six years) as head coach.
According to Bill Connelly’s SP+ metrics, the Blazers are ranked 68th in the preseason. UAB is expected to finish 118th on offense and 30th on defense. Miami is preseason 23rd overall, expecting to finish 63rd on offense and 9th on defense.
The Athlon Conference USA preseason team has Blazers all over the place. On the 1st team offense UAB is represented by running back Spencer Brown and wide receiver Austin Watkins Jr. Brown ran for 566 yards (3.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns while splitting duty a year ago. Watkins caught 57 passes for 1,092 yards (19.2 yards per catch) and six TD’s in ‘19. He’s the deep threat Miami defensive backs need to be worried about.
The first-team defense also has Blazers in defensive lineman Jordan Smith, linebacker Kristopher Moll, and cornerback Brontae Harris. Smith finished the 2019 season with 14.5 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Moll, however, is the star of the team. Moll finished last season with 102 tackles, 15 tackles for loss and eight sacks. Harris missed 2019 with an injury but had 11 pass breakups in 2018.
The third-team defense has UAB defensive lineman Tony Fair, cornerback T.D. Marshall, and safety Dy’john Turner. In ‘19, Fair had five tackles for loss, Marshall had six PBU’s and Turner had nine PBU’s of his own. Offensive lineman Sidney Wells made the fourth-team offense.
Scheme on O
Like the entire NFL and 90% of college football, UAB bases their offense out of 11 personnel (one running back, one tight end). Above, the Blazers are in a 3x1 winged H look against App State in their bowl game. UAB’s offense lives off of play-action passes and getting Watkins open in a variety of ways like screens, digs, and deep posts.
Below, you can see a 13 personnel (one back, three tight ends) formation. On this play the Blazers ran play-action, half roll boot and a throw back touchdown. That’s the kind of play Louisiana Tech and Virginia Tech ran against Miami with much success in ‘19.
And what about Watkins? Here he gets the ball on a fin dig (shorter dig route), breaks tackles and burns into the end zone. He’s going to be the main concern for Miami’s defensive coordinator heading into the game.
However, the Blazers do give up sacks on their quarterback. App State came away with six sacks, seven tackles for loss and an interception against UAB. They’re susceptible to the pass rush and if ASU can get back there Miami should have no problem in 2020 with Quincy Roche and Gregory Rousseau.
Scheme on D
UAB runs a 4-2-5 with a 2-high safety shell. Bill Clark’s defense loves the two ends in a stand-up two point stance which I absolutely hate, personally. But UAB gave up only 21 points per game so he must be on to something. The Blazers don’t have to bring pressure as they recruit fast and long on the defensive line and can get there with three in Conference USA but probably four against Miami.
Above, you can see their defensive back adjustment against a trips open bunch look and on 3rd and 11 UAB checks to a six defensive back picture. Still with 2-high safeties (makes sense on ‘and long’). Rhett Lashlee is going to have to coach his QB up to expect the defensive end / edge rushing linebackers to drop into coverage so some of the quick slants and screens aren’t going to be there post-snap like you would assume from pre-snap looks.
Like in the picture above, that stand up lineman can drop into coverage, rush the passers, and definitely has more vision against option plays because he’s standing up rather than down. He’s just more open to being kicked into oblivion by a guard, tackle, or h-back because of being up in his stance. He’s also easier to read on option plays because he’s easier to see pre and post snap.
Canyonero keys to victory
Miami will have to do a couple of things in order to get the win against UAB. First, they will have to protect the quarterback. We know the biggest weakness at Miami is the O-Line and that won’t change against an aggressive UAB defense that brings back their top two tackle for loss and sack leaders from 2019. Coach Clark will bring speed and length on the field against Miami and hope to be able to run with and disrupt D’Eriq King in the pocket.
Miami will have to shutdown Austin Watkins. It’s easier said than done. Everyone knows he’s getting the ball but he manages to not only get open but haul in the highly contested 50-50 balls. Watkins fits the mold of “What college coaches look for in a wide receiver.”
But like the FIU, Central Michigan, and Louisiana Tech games- the real truth is Miami will have to play motivated football against UAB. The ‘Canes can’t afford to come out flat against a well coached Blazers football team. This is a top-down issues from the head coach down to the last walk-on and back up. Miami cannot afford to come out flat.
Prediction: Miami by 10