Saturday, Sept. 22
Noon ET, BTN
Ohio Stadium; Columbus, Ohio
Head coach: Garrick McGee, 0-2, first year
2011 record: 3-9 (3-5 Conference USA East Division, fourth place)
Series mark: First meeting
School location: Birmingham, Ala.
Colors: Green and Gold
Stadium: Legion Field
Fight song: "UAB Fight Song"
Game Notes, including depth chart on page 8
It's not easy being Garrick McGee right now.
That doesn't mean he's frustrated or anything, but the UAB head coach knows the totality of the challenge in front of him. The first-year mentor inherited a team that went 18-42 in predecessor Neil Calloway's five seasons, and the program hasn't posted a winning record since Watson Brown – the brother of Texas coach Mack Brown – skippered the Blazers to a 7-5 mark in 2004.
In addition, UAB returns only four defensive starters from last season. Only four offensive players and five players on defense came into the season with 10-plus starts in their careers.
But McGee sees some positives, including some kind words from South Carolina head coach Steve Spurrier after the game.
"This was one of the closest 49-6 game I've ever been around," Spurrier said. "They stuffed us pretty good the first half. We were fortunate to get what points we could. Seems like we couldn't get a guy open or hit anybody. It was a struggle.
Spurrier had a reason for his compliments. UAB actually outgained the Gamecocks in the first half and ran 79 plays to the Gamecocks' 58, but the home team hit a few big plays and wore down the Blazers after a tight first half.
The challenge for McGee, now, is to get his players to believe they're improving during their 0-2 start.
"It is really hard, that's what we talked to the team about, because there is no evidence with the wins and losses," he said. "If you really study the film and really study the guys' technique and their understanding of the game plan on offense and defense, the way they communicated, got lined up, recognized formations, they weren't out of control. There are a lot of small wins that happened, especially in the first two and a half quarters of the South Carolina football game."
In A Nutshell
UAB was a 3-9 team a season ago and lost many of its best players, but there are some bright spots so far.
On offense, the team has some good offensive minds at work. McGee formerly coached standout offensive teams at Northwestern from 2004-07 and was Arkansas' offensive coordinator the last two years, and Arkansas played OSU in the Sugar Bowl in 2010 before McGee was a finalist for the Broyles Award as the top assistant coach in the nation last year. He also has former Louisville and Illinois coach Jeff Brohm as his offensive coordinator.
OSU head coach Urban Meyer said he is concerned about UAB's offense for a few reasons, including its ability to throw the ball downfield to some athletic receivers and the speed option the team runs.
Quarterback Jonathan Perry is in his second year as a starter after taking over in the middle of last season. This year, the 6-2, 210-pounder is 35 for 67 (52.2 percent) for 536 yards, two TDs and an interception. Perry has also rushed for 38 yards and a touchdown, and he's third in C-USA with 287.0 yards of total offense per game.
The team's rushing attack struggled vs. South Carolina, gaining just 27 yards on 42 carries. Darrin Reeves leads the way with 18 carries for 58 yards, while junior Greg Franklin has some talent and was a key part of UAB's upset win vs. Southern Miss last year. Also a good pass catcher, Franklin has 14 carries for 50 yards, while senior Dontavius Jackson started his career at Georgia and redshirt freshman Bashr Coles adds depth.
UAB is 30th in the nation in passing yards per game thanks to some standout targets. Junior Jackie Williams has a catch in every game of his career, and this year he has 11 grabs for 202 yards. Senior Patrick Hearn has 79 career catches including 11 this year for 174 yards, while JaMarcus Nelson has four career TD catches of over 40 yards. Nick Adams and Jay Davis are also in the mix.
Former Ohio State lineman and tight ends coach John Peterson coaches the offensive line, but he has a young unit that lost four of five starters to graduation, and the team is 115th in the nation in sacks allowed. The only player back is left tackle Chris Hubbard, a veteran who is a preseason all-league choice this year. The rest of the line is cobbled together, and center John Hix was banged up in the South Carolina game.
One year ago, the Blazers were worse than 100th in the country in all four of the major defensive categories, and not much has changed in 2012.
Through two games, the Blazers are 104th in total defense (477.0 yards allowed per game), 109th in rushing defense (220.5 yards), 116th in passing efficiency defense (174.6 rating) and 120th – dead last among the teams that aren't reclassifying – in scoring defense (44.0 points). Coaches have pointed to poor tackling – that might sound familiar to OSU fans – but the squad is simply very young on defense.
Up front, the line is undersized compared to Ohio State. Deric Scott and Connor Boyett start at tackle, but they are 285 and 267 pounds, respectively. End Diaheem Watkins can get in the backfield while Chris Walton starts on the other side.
At linebacker, UAB has some talent, including senior leaders Marvin Burdette and Greg Irvin. Burdette has 266 tackles, tying for eighth all-time at UAB, including 17 this year along with a sack from his MLB spot. He is one of the team leaders. Irvin starts as the "Jack" linebacker and knocked South Carolina QB Connor Shaw out of last week's game with a hard hit. Irvin has 16 tackles this year. The third LB is Patrick Bastien, while true freshman Chris Rabb has two sacks and Tevin Crews and Shaq Jones add depth.
In the secondary, safety Calvin Jones has 10 stops, while true freshman Jake Ganus is an honorable mention All-Alabama player last year who has seven tackles and an interception. First-year starting cornerback Cornelius Richards is a senior, while walk-on Lamarcus Farmer has four tackles and two pass breakups starting on the other side. Three-star recruit Kelton Brackett is also seeing playing time at cornerback.
Kicker Ty Long could be one of the best in the country, as the sophomore is 19 for 22 in his career. The team's net punt average is 99th in the nation, as punter Hunter Mullins has a strong leg but the coverage teams have been lacking. Wideouts Williams and Nelson return kicks and punts but neither has made an impact this year.
Possible Ohio State edges: Ohio State should be able to run the ball and put up points against the Blazers lowly ranked defense. UAB has also struggled running the football all season long.
Possible UAB edges: The Blazers have depth at running back and receiver as well as a talented offensive staff that could pose problems for a defense that hasn't been excellent this year.
Sept 1: vs. Troy, L 39-29. UAB lost in McGee's debut despite 317 passing yards from Perry as big plays undid a Blazer comeback bid.
Sept. 8: at (8) South Carolina, L 49-6. The Blazers outgained South Carolina in the first half but a fumble return TD sparked the Gamecocks, who blew things open with a pair of long second-half TD passes.
Each week, we'll endeavor to ask five questions of an opposing team expert to try to bring some unique insight into that squad. This week, Steve Irvine of the Birmingham News joins us.
Steve Spurrier said his team's win against UAB was the closest 49-6 win he's ever been a part of. What did UAB do to hang in there, frustrate South Carolina and make Spurrier say that?
UAB moved the ball well in the first half, only let Marcus Lattimore get loose one time and pressured the quarterbacks well for the first 30 minutes. UAB would probably have trailed, 14-6, without a bad pass interference call on fourth down late in the first half. South Carolina eventually wore UAB down and hit some big plays in the second half but it was closer than the final score indicates.
What skills does quarterback Jonathan Perry bring to the table?
Perry can run the ball and is a good passer when he plays with confidence. He throws the short and intermediate passes with some accuracy but is struggling throwing the deep ball.
What went wrong for UAB in the running game Saturday and is that fixable in a week's time?
It's really been a two-game problem for the running game. UAB got some yards on the ground in the first game against Troy but was far from consistent. I think it's a combination of things that hurt against South Carolina, beginning with the fact that the Gamecocks are pretty darn good up front. The timing off the running game was off so even when the line blocked well, the running backs didn't get to the hole quick enough. I don't see UAB having much success running against Ohio State but do think UAB will be a good running team in C-USA play.
UAB's offensive staff has a lot of BCS connections. Have they started to put their stamp on things and how is the team responding to their schemes?
The coaching staff has definitely put a stamp on the program but turning things around won't happen overnight. UAB is extremely young and hasn't had a winning season since 2004. It will take time but I think this particular coaching staff can turn things around.
The numbers say UAB is at the bottom of FBS in scoring defense. Is that a fair assessment, and is there anything they have done well that might be able to frustrate Ohio State?
Big plays have been a problem. UAB is much better defensively than it has been the past few years but they tend to make mistakes at bad times. Defensive communication was a problem against Troy but that didn't appear to hurt as much as South Carolina. I think against South Carolina they just wore down. I'm not sure that they've shown anything in particular that will frustrate Braxton Miller and the Ohio State offense.
Five Fast Facts
1. Just like UCF, UAB is in only its 17th year of Division I-A (FBS) football, but the team hasn't had a winning season since 2004.
2. UAB is 0-1 in school history against teams in the Big Ten at the time of the game. The Blazers lost to Michigan State in 2007 and also fell to Nebraska in 1998. The Huskers were in the Big 12 at the time
3. The program is 3-14 all-time against ranked teams including the loss to South Carolina, but the team did upset C-USA champion No. 20 Southern Miss last season in Birmingham.
4. The Blazers have never won a bowl game and have appeared in only one – a 59-40 loss to Hawaii in the 2004 Hawaii Bowl.
5. UAB does not have a player from Ohio on its roster. That is true of the Ohio State opponent for the third week in a row.
Last Time Out
The teams have never played before, but Ohio State does have some history playing teams from Alabama.
The Buckeyes are 1-4-1 all-time against teams from the Yellowhammer State, including an 0-3 record against Alabama. The Crimson Tide defeated Woody Hayes in his penultimate bowl game, downing the Buckeyes 35-6 in the 1978 Sugar Bowl. The teams then opened the 1986 campaign against one another, with Bama winning 16-10 in the Kickoff Classic in East Rutherford, N.J. Lastly, the squads met in the 1995 Florida Citrus Bowl, with Jay Barker's Tide downing Bobby Hoying and Eddie George by a 24-17 margin.
Ohio State is also 0-1-1 vs. Auburn. The squads actually played in Montgomery, Ala., in September 1917, with the Buckeyes and Tigers battling to a 0-0 draw. They didn't meet again until New Year's Day 1990, when War Eagle took a 31-14 decision in the Hall of Fame Bowl.
Lastly, OSU's lone win against a team from Alabama was a 28-10 victory against Troy in September 2008. Quarterback Terrelle Pryor made his debut, throwing for four touchdown passes as the Buckeyes steadily pulled away from the Trojans.
Ohio State also has some recent history against McGee. The current UAB coach was on staff at Northwestern as the receivers coach when the Wildcats upset Ohio State in 2004, capturing a 33-27 victory for their first win against the Buckeyes in 33 years. McGee was on staff for three more seasons but didn't have much luck as OSU took a 48-7 win in 2005, a 54-10 victory in '06 and a 58-7 triumph in 2007.
In addition, Ohio State and McGee faced off when he was the offensive coordinator at Arkansas in the 2011 Sugar Bowl. The Hogs, led by quarterback Ryan Mallett, piled up 402 yards of offense but Ohio State staved off a curious comeback to hold on to a 31-26 victory thanks to a late Solomon Thomas interception. Knile Davis ran for 139 yards for Arkansas and Joe Adams had nine catches for 120 yards and a score.