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Week 1 Preview: UAB Blazers

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The wait is over. How will Miami’s new-look offense do against a veteran UAB squad?

Miami v Florida International Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

The wait is finally over, it’s time to play some football. After more than 8 months, the 2020 Miami Hurricanes season begins tomorrow night, as the UAB Blazers come into Hard Rock Stadium. For Manny Diaz, he heads into his second year as head coach for UM with high expectations, after going 6-7 in his first season.

The Blazers already played their first game of 2020, with a 45-35 home win over Central Arkansas last week. Fourth year head coach Bill Clark has done a fine job with this program, considering UAB shut down the football team for two seasons in 2015 and 2016.

Last year, the Blazers posted a 9-5 record, and appeared in the C-USA championship game for the second consecutive season. They lost in that game to FAU, before falling to Appalachian State in the New Orleans Bowl.

Don’t let the C-USA header fool you, the Blazers are no pushover whatsoever, and if Miami doesn’t come out swinging, it could be a lot closer than people anticipate.

On offense, the Blazers are led by quarterback Tyler Johnston, who struggled at times against Central Arkansas and had some injuries come up, but still went 17-for-25 passing, for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Johnston also threw an interception. Johnston has talent, but can easily be forced into making mistakes, and capitalizing on those mistakes will be big Miami’s secondary. The Hurricanes trio at safety, Bubba Bolden, Amari Carter and Gurvan Hall Jr. will have their chance to snag an interception, if you ask me.

The real big name to know for the Blazers on offense is running-back Spencer Brown, who is the all-time leading rusher at UAB. Last week, Brown, who dropped 20 pounds in the offseason, rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown, averaging over 5 yards per carry.

Brown is a bigger running back, and it’ll be critical for linebackers Zach McCloud and Bradley Jennings Jr. to bring him down when they have the chance.

Though, Brown isn’t the only talented ball-carrier on UAB. Jermaine Brown isn’t as big as Spencer, but is effective nonetheless. Against UCA, Jermaine rushed for 75 yards and 1 touchdown, on 15 carries.

Stopping the run will be the main goal for Miami’s defense, which means DT’s Nesta Jade Silvera and Jonathan Ford will need to plug the middle all night long.

UAB has a legit threat at wide receiver too, junior Austin Watkins. Watkins was named to the Bilentikoff Award preseason watch list, and versus Central Arkansas, he totaled 7 catches for 72 yards. This is going to be a very interesting matchup on Thursday, and a test for Miami’s secondary, if cornerbacks Al Blades Jr. and DJ Ivey can shut-down the productive receiver.

The Blazers held the ball for over 35 minutes against Central Arkansas, and with D’Eriq King on the other sideline for Miami, you better believe UAB is going to try and control the time of possession on Thursday night.

For the Hurricanes offense, Thursday night will be the long-awaited UM debut of new offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee, who comes to Coral Gables after two very successful years as OC for SMU. It’ll also be the first game for quarterback D’Eriq King in a Miami uniform, as the duo of him and Lashlee look to revive the Hurricanes offense.

In their first game, they go against a veteran UAB defense, that’s loaded with players who can disrupt the opposing offense. Don’t let 35 points by Central Arkansas fool you. The Blazers defense gave up less than 300 yards of total offense, but the 3 touchdowns they surrendered came off turnovers by the UAB offense and special teams.

In 2019, UAB had the number-8 defense in the nation, allowing just 301 yards of offense and 21.6 points per game. Against Central Arkansas, the Blazers defense gave up 4.4 yards per play, forcing 3 turnovers and coming away with 2 sacks and 5 TFLs.

Coming off the edge, the Blazers have two exceptional pass-rushers in Jordan Smith and Alex Wright. Last year, Smith finished the season with 8 sacks and 14.5 TFLs, while Wright had 4.5 sacks and 8.5 TFLs as a freshman. Biggest question mark for the Hurricanes in these matchups, is how will tackles Jarrid Williams and John Campbell Jr. do against the Blazers talented pass-rushing duo?

Look for Miami to establish the running-game on Thursday, whether it’s King with designed QB runs, or starting RB Cam’Ron Harris. Don’t be surprised to see plenty from true freshmen running backs Don Chaney Jr. and Jaylan Knighton.

Getting past the defensive line will be one for Miami’s rushing attack, but then they’ll have to deal with UAB middle linebacker Kristopher Moll, who is a native of Dads County. Last season, Moll finished his junior year with 102 tackles, 8 sacks and 15 TFLs. He led the Blazers with 8 tackles against Central Arkansas.

Looking at Moll, the Hurricanes will look to unleash their two-headed monster at tight end, juniors Brevin Jordan and Will Mallory. Lashlee loves to use TE’s in his offense, and they’ll definitely want to make it difficult for Moll in passing situations covering either Jordan or Mallory.

Thursday will also be a great first test for Miami’s wide receivers, as they’ll be paired up against talented UAB cornerbacks, Brontae Harris and TD Marshall. Mark Pope, Dee Wiggins and Mike Harley are the starting WR’s for the Hurricanes, as they look to use their speed to create separation, and come up with big plays.

Lashlee’s offense is fast, faster than we’ve ever seen a Canes offense operate at. Averaging over 80 plays per game last year with SMU’s offense, Lashlee is going to have Miami running near that same amount, and their ability to wear-out this Blazers defense will be critical in getting a win.

PREDICTION

I know many fans are expecting the new-look Miami offense to go out there and put up 50-plus points against UAB, but I don't think we’re going to see that right off the bat in week one. First game of the season, you’ll always see plenty of sloppy play, and considering this is the first time the Hurricanes will be playing against an opponent in a new offensive scheme, there’s bound to be some bumps early on, and that’s ok.

The Hurricanes defense will be key on Thursday, and I see DE’s Quincy Roche and Jaelan Phillips having big nights, feasting on the Blazers offensive line. They’ll be big, and Miami needs to help them out by creating turnovers as well, getting the team energized with the new Turnover Chain.

This is one of the more anticipated seasons for the Hurricanes I can ever remember being a Miami fan, new OC, new quarterback, and the program is desperately trying to create new memories after a horrific 2019 season, and revise The U.

The spread right now is Miami -13.5, and I'd be very surprised if the Hurricanes don’t cover. I do think it’ll be close in the first half, but the Canes all-around talent and depth at certain positions will be too much for the upstart Blazers to overcome.

Canes: 38

UAB: 16

Let’s get a nice win on Thursday, and get ready for a big game against Louisville next Saturday.