September 20, 2003
Williams Brice Stadium
University Alabama Birmingham - Official Web Site
In nine seasons at UAB, head coach Watson Brown has brought the program from Division 1-AA to Division 1 with mixed success. In 2000 and 2001, the Blazers were bowl eligible with seven and six wins respectively. In 2002, the Blazers fell off with a disappointing 5-7 record and a substantially less effective defense than it had employed in the previous two seasons.
In 2001, the Blazers had the #1 ranked defense in the country giving up an average of only 57.3 yards per game and 1.9 yards per carry rushing. In 2002, after losing 5 starters from the 2002 starting defensive line, the Blazers gave up an average of 154 yards rushing per game.
In an effort to return the defense to its former glory, the Blazers brought in Troy State Defensive Coordinator and former Clemson assistant Wayne Bolt in the off-season to revamp its defense. Bolt immediately installed a new defensive formation with which the Blazers spent spring practice acquainting themselves.
Brown brings a wealth of experience to the Blazers offense. In 29 years of coaching, the younger brother of Texas head coach Mack Brown has held head coaching positions at Vanderbilt and Cincinnati in addition to his nine-year stint at UAB. He also served as offensive coordinator at Mississippi State and Oklahoma.
The UAB offense is coached by former Auburn quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Pat Sullivan. Sullivan served as head coach at TCU (1992-1997) and was an assistant at Auburn (1985-1991) before joining the Blazers staff.
Defensive coordinator Bolt comes to the Blazers after 12 seasons at Troy State, where he spent the last five as defensive coordinator. His 2002 Trojans ranked #4 in the country in total defense.
UAB Offense vs. Carolina Defense
The Blazers return 9 starters on an offense that put up an average of 22 points per game in 2002 while distributing the ball fairly evenly with an average of 130 yards rushing and 184 yards passing per game. Against non-conference Division 1 opponents, the Blazers only averaged 7.6 points per game including a three-point performance against Florida. They were also shutout by hapless Louisiana Lafayette.
The Blazers put a monstrous offensive line on the field. TE Sam Dudley (6'3"265 Jr.), a converted fullback who started eight games in 2002, is primarily a blocking tight end that caught only four passes in 2002. LG Andy Galloway (6'5" 320 Jr) started six games in 2002 before being lost to injury. Galloway may be challenged for the starting position by Junior-college transfer Marcel Binion (6'3" 300 Jr). RG will be held down by Larry Coachman (6'1" 340 Sr) who boasts a 420-pound bench and a 655-pound squat. True freshman Jamarius Dismuke (6'5" 310), who was named one of the top 35 high school prospects in Alabama last year, will challenge Artavious Williams (6'4" 340 Sr) for the backup position. Wilbert Hamilton ( 6'4"295 Sr) returns at RT where he started 11 games in 2002. Anthony Larry returns at LT where he started six of the final seven games after suffering an early Achilles injury in 2002.
Given the size and experience of the line, it seems that the Blazers should have been a better rushing team than they were in 2002. Dan Brooks (6'0" 220 So) was the team's leading rusher with 540 yards in a backup role as a true freshman in 2002 after starters Kendal Gibson (5'11 240 Jr) and Theron Dudley (6'0 230 Jr) faltered early in the season. For now, the starting job is Brooks' to lose.
The Blazers will have a unique challenge in choosing a quarterback this fall. The 2002 season saw the emergence of Darryl Hackney (6'2"235 So), a drop back passer who completed 51% of his passes for 1977 yards and 14 touchdowns in eight starts 2002. The Blazers also signed Jake Tompkins, one of the top high school quarterbacks in the southeast, this past February. Tompkins possesses true 4.5 speed. Tompkins is also a drop back passer who brings the surprising element of good speed to the game. As a high school senior, Tompkins completed 64.2% of his passes for 3348 yards and 46 TDs.
The Blazers' best receiver in 2002, Willie Quinnie, has expended his eligibility after a six touchdown and 627-yard performance. Roddy White (6'2" 190 Jr), a James Island High School graduate, returns after leading the Blazers in receiving with 39 catches for 580 yards in 2002. Jhun Cook (5'11" 185 So) will man the other wideout position after starting two games in 2002.
The Blazers need to find another game breaking type receiver to replace Quinnie if they are to have the success passing the ball that they did in 2002. In reviewing the roster, that player may be Lance Rhodes (5'11" 180 Jr) who is eligible after transferring from Arizona State. In the spring game, Rhodes caught four balls for 133 yards.
The Gamecock corners, Eiland and Robinson, match up very nicely against the UAB receivers. Darrell Hackney has the reputation of trying to force passes into coverage. The combination of Carolina's athletic superiority in the defensive backfield and Hackney's propensity for making bad decisions could make for a long night for the Blazers.
Carolina Offense vs. UAB Defense
In the off-season, new defensive coordinator Wayne Bolt has been given the responsibility of installing a traditional 4-3 defense in place of the unusual 4-2-5 defense that the Blazers employed in 2002. The change is a substantial one as the 4-3 is primarily a zone defense while the 4-2-5 required the defensive backs to play man coverage on nearly every play.
In spring practice, the Blazer defense performed well against the run allowing the first team offense to gain only 66 yards rushing. The secondary struggled with the new zone defense giving up 486 yards and 3 touchdowns. The big play was the Achilles heel for the defense as Hackney threw touchdown passes of 65, 62, and 58 yards on the way to a 367-yard passing day.
The Blazers don't have nearly the size or experience across the defensive front that they do across the offensive line. DE Chris Mason ( 6'3" 245 So) started one game in 2002. His backup will be JUCO transfer Vincent Pollard (6'3" 225). The other end position will be manned by Sam Kendrick (6'5" 260 So) who saw backup action in 11 games in 2002. The tackles will be Ernest Respress (6'5" 285 So) who had 28 tackles in limited action in 2002 and Shamar Abrams (6'2" 330 Jr) who started 10 games in 2002.
The UAB linebackers are very experienced and deep. Linebacker Zac Woodfin (6'2" 235 Jr) is a legitimate NFL prospect that led the team with 120 tackles in 2002. Woodfin possesses the uncommon combination of 4.6 speed and excellent strength evidenced by a 480-pound bench. Nigel Eldridge (6'2"230 Jr) returns from a 104-tackle effort in 2002. Gaylon Black (6'1" 225 Jr) returns after missing nearly all of 2002 with injuries.
Carolina's size advantage on the line will force the Blazers to provide linebacker support to stop the run. As a result, Dondrial Pinkins should find plenty of room to complete short and medium range passes under the defensive backs. As he looks downfield, Pinkins will see very favorable match ups for the Gamecocks as neither of the starting corners, Dio Hill (5'11 185 Jr) or Carlos Hendricks (5'10 182 Jr), have the size or strength to compete with Carolina's taller athletic receivers. SS Thurman Pearson ( 6'1" 185 Sr) started 11 games in 2002 and was third on the team with 99 tackles. That's not a statistic that speaks well for UAB's ability to defend against the big play. FS Julius Wainwright (6'1" 190 So) started 7 games in 2002.
Keys to a Win
The Gamecocks have a decided size and talent advantage in this game. While the Blazers show tremendous size across their offensive line, statistics don't support the supposition that they are effective run blockers.
I expect that Carolina will try to rattle Hackney right from the beginning in an effort to get him to force passes into coverage. If the Gamecocks are successful in doing that, it will be a long night for the Blazers offense in Williams Brice.
From an offensive perspective, I expect that we will see the full-blown Skip Holtz offense in an early attempt to take advantage of Carolina's physical advantages in the defensive backfield. If the Blazers drop linebackers back to support the defensive backfield, the Gamecocks have the size advantage on the offensive line to dominate the Blazers' defensive line.
The Gamecocks should be confident, but not overconfident going into this game. While the talent level clearly favors the Gamecocks, Brown's UAB Blazers marched into Death Valley and stole a game from LSU two seasons ago.
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