Yesterday Hunter Paniagua broke down the UAB offense. Today I'll flip the script and put the UAB defense under the microscope.
UAB STARTING DEFENSE
DE: Connor Boyett (6-5, 267, Sr.)
DT: Deric Scott (6-3, 285, Sr.)
DE: Diaheem Watkins (6-4, 258, Jr.)
LB: Derek Slaughter (5-11, 210, So.)
LB: Patrick Bastien (6-3, 227, Sr.)
LB: Destin Challenger (5-11, 215, So.)
LB: Jake Ganus (6-2, 215, So.)
CB: Cortez Webb (6-2, 189, Sr.)
SS: Calvin Jones (5-10, 187, Sr.)
FS: Jay Davis (6-1, 194, Jr.)
CB: LaMarcus Farmer (5-11, 170, So.)
Notable Backups: DT Jontavious Morris (6-2, 295, So.), DE Chris Walton (6-3, 260, Jr.), LB Shaq Jones (6-3, 210, So.), CB Kelton Brackett (5-11, 186, So.), CB Jimmy Jean (6-3, 180, Jr.)
ANALYSIS & MATCHUPS
Under second-year coordinator Reggie Johnson, who came over to Birmingham from the University of Arkansas with head coach Garrick McGee, the Blazers' defense is still very much a work in progress.
Eight starters are back in the fold from a unit that ranked in the bottom half of Conference USA in 2012 in almost every major statistical category. Johnson, who also serves as position coach for the outside linebackers, is trying just about everything to get more speed and athleticism on the field, including vacillating between a 4-3, his primary scheme a year ago, and a revamped 3-4 defense.
Johnson's defense started out in the 3-4 versus Troy last week, when the Trojans nipped UAB 34-31 after a fourth-quarter comeback. But, despite showing glimpses of both fronts, the visiting Blazers struggled mightily to contain Troy's offensive attack, allowing 25 first downs, 497 yards of total offense and, most incredibly, 30-of-33 passing from the home team's quarterbacks (who spread the ball around, too, considering six different Troy receivers had at least three catches).
Given Zach Mettenberger's successes through the air and on third downs in LSU's opener against TCU, that kind of coverage could be dangerous for UAB in Tiger Stadium (and all the more inflating for Mettenberger's confidence). Of course UAB didn't exactly eliminate the ground game last week either, conceding 178 yards rushing on 4.6 yards a carry for Trojan backs. The temptation will be there for Les Miles and Cam Cameron to abuse the power run game, but there's an awful lot to be had against this Blazer secondary. Whether the LSU staff opts to play it safe or keep its passing roll going from Arlington will be an interesting facet of the game.
Personnel-wise, UAB may be dabbling in more 3-4 defense, but the Blazers don't really have the beef up front to pull it off for an entire game. Starting defensive tackle Deric Scott (27 tackles a year ago) weighs in at 285 pounds and is by no means a prototypical nosetackle. Scott is at his best when paired with sophomore Jontavious Morris (6-2, 295) on the inside. At DE look for a steady rotation of Connor Boyett, Diaheem Watkins and Chris Walton. Boyett is probably the Blazer's best end, but Walton led the way last week with 3.5 tackles, one for loss.
Once you get away from the defensive front, UAB does have more pieces that fit well into a 3-4 scheme. That's most evident when considering the shuffling Johnson did in the offseason to get sophomore Jake Ganus down from safety to outside linebacker. Ganus started 10 games in 2012, finishing with 63 tackles. In his first game at outside linebacker versus Troy, Ganus dominated, racking up 10 tackles, two for loss, and a forced fumble. He'll start on the weakside for UAB against LSU, next to Patrick Bastien in the middle and Derek Slaughter, the "Jack" LB, on the other side. Destin Challenger will also feature in 3-4 sets but come off in the 4-3.
Backfilling for Ganus at free safety is converted receiver Jay Davis. The junior has the good fortune of learning from senior strong safety Calvin Jones, a mainstay in the UAB defense who finished 2012 with 71 tackles and comes down to assist against the run with regularity. At the corners UAB relies on LaMarcus Farmer – a former walkon who started 10 games last season, Cortez Webb and Jimmy Jean. Two interesting notes: Jean, who started the Troy game, is a transfer from Arkansas-Baptist while Webb actually is a former teammate of Mettenberger, having played on the 2010 Butler (Kan.) Community College team with LSU's starting quarterback.
Overall this is not a terribly strong group coming into Death Valley Saturday night, but there are several individuals – most notably Scott, Ganus and Jones – who are capable of disrupting LSU's offensive flow and capitalizing on mistakes or laziness from the Tigers.
Give us your take on UAB's defense