Callaway: 'Tremendous challenge ahead of us'

UAB has had some time off. Lots of time off, at least from games. The Blazers haven't played since beating USM 30-17 at Legion Field on Oct. 1.

But UAB head coach Neil Callaway said the 2-3 Blazers needed the time to recharge for the stretch run of the season.

"I think it was a good time for us to have an open week," said Callaway in his third season in Birmingham after six seasons as offensive coordinator at Georgia. "We're five weeks into the season, plus you count four weeks of camp, so we've been grinding pretty hard for nine weeks. I think our players needed a break and it came at a good time."

Callaway said his team faces a stiff test in Oxford Saturday at 6 p.m. when Ole Miss (3-2) is the foe.

"We have a tremendous challenge ahead of us," he said. "Their offensive and defensive lines are as big and physical as we'll play against, not just this year, but probably the entire time we've been here. Watching the film on them before they played Alabama, it was obvious they were a good football team. I know Alabama won the game, but at the same time, watching them get after each other, I thought it was a heck of a ball game. Not only are they big and physical up front, I think they have tremendous team speed. I've been very impressed watching them play."

Callaway said one key is to get to Jevan Snead, the Rebels' quarterback. He likes the fact that his defenders have been able to get some pressure on opposing QBs so far this season.

"I think it's important to not just pressure him, but to get pressure on any quarterback," he said. "(Snead) has had his moments when he's struggled, but that has been when he's had pressure on him. There have been times when he looks like a fine quarterback. I think the key for us is to get pressure on him and get to him, and I think that's been one of our strong suits so far this season. Our front four has done a good job of getting pressure and getting sacks."

The Blazers have a real offensive threat in 6-foot-4, 220-pound senior quarterback Joe Webb. A mobile, swift threat, Webb is known more for his running and athleticism than his passing, although in 2008 he threw for more than 2,000 yards in addition to rushing for more than 1,000.

He's scored five touchdowns rushing and six passing so far this season. He's completing 54 percent of his throws (58-of-105) and amassed 644 yards through the air. But he's also thrown five interceptions.

Webb has rushed for 570 yards on 92 carries, averaging 6.2 yards per carry. He is the team's leading rusher and leads the player currently in second place by a whopping 402 yards.

Callaway said his passing game must improve, but that it takes everybody involved.

"I think the passing game is kind of all-inclusive," he said. "I learned a long time ago if you want to be efficient and effective throwing the football, it takes everybody. You have to have protection first. That includes the offensive line and the running backs. Then you have to have receivers being at the right place at the right time, and then you have to have a quarterback throwing the ball at the right spot, and then they have to catch it. So we need to get better in each area."

Defensively it's been through the air that the Blazers have had the most trouble. Teams have competed 124 of 187 passes for 1,543 yards this season, an average of 309 yards per contest.

The Blazers beat Rice 44-24 to open the season, then lost to SMU 35-33. Troy beat them 27-14, and Texas A&M rolled 56-19. Then came the Southern Miss game and an important 13-point UAB victory.

"It was a big win, and they embarrassed us last year," said junior tight end Jeffery Anderson. "It was a great win and helped our confidence."

Now they bring that confidence to Ole Miss, some 17 days after the victory against the Golden Eagles.

"I think it was good for the whole team," said sophomore linebacker Drew Luker of the 17-day break between games. "We didn't get to be on the field much, but we were able to get our bodies back. Having fresh legs will definitely help us get ready for Ole Miss."

The two schools have never met in football. Callaway said UAB will have to be at its best to win against the Rebels.

They're a good football team on both sides of the ball," he said. "They have great athletes, great players and it's going to be challenge."

The Blazers have gone two straight games without a turnover. Callaway said that will be a key to the upcoming game.

"We need to control the ball and not have turnovers," he said. "Defensively, we need to get pressure on their quarterback and slow down the running game."

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