Florida's Foes: Previewing the UAB Blazers

By Brett Kaplan

Once upon a time, a first year coach replacing a Florida legend played a University of Alabama-Birmingham – excuse me, they like to be called UAB – Blazers team and won very convincingly. Ron Zook taking over for Gators legend Steve Spurrier faced the Blazers in his first game as head coach and passed with flying colors, beating UAB 51-3. Now, new Florida head coach Will Muschamp has the reigns and faces UAB in his first year after replacing two-time national champion coach Urban Meyer. The circumstances are a little different, but one thing remains certain: Florida still has the talent to make this game laughable.

The UAB Blazers come from Conference USA, a conference they have pretty much owned with a record of 36-15-3 all-time. UAB placed fifth in C-USA East last season with a 4-8 record overall, 3-5 in conference. Head coach Neil Callaway is entering his fifth season (the Blazers open their season against the Gators) in which he has amassed 15 wins and 33 losses. Callaway is familiar with the SEC, playing at Alabama and coaching at Auburn, his alma mater, and Georgia as offensive coordinator under Mark Richt. 16 starters return for UAB, a team that lost to Tennessee in overtime and took Mississippi State down to the final minute.

The offense is led by senior quarterback Bryan Ellis. Ellis started the final nine games in 2010, throwing for just a shade under 3,000 yards (2,940 yards), 25 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. Ellis has two 500 plus yard receivers returning to throw the ball to in Frantrell Forrest (558 yards, four touchdowns) and Patrick Hearn (536 and four touchdowns). Running back Pat Shed also returns for his senior season after leading the UAB in rushing with 847 yards and three touchdowns, while also catching 47 balls for 471 yards and four touchdowns. UAB’s offensive coordinator Kim Helton returns to his alma mater in Gainesville, where he was a standout center from 1967-69, This team can put up points, as UAB scored 31 points five games last year and put up over 500 yards of total offense five times. They also have a very experience offensive line, where the Blazers have a combined 118 starts.

UAB struggled on defense a year ago when they gave up 31.6 points per game. To try to improve their defense, UAB hired former Clemson and Memphis head coach Tommy West. He’s got two leaders to anchor his defense in linebacker Marvin Burdette and defensive tackle Elliot Henigan. Florida will have feel out this Blazer defense because they have no tape from last week and West was out of coaching in 2010. It’s something Gators offensive coordinator Charlie Weis has been very concerned about:

“For the second week in a row, we have no evidence for sure what they’re going to do on defense. They brought Tommy in, who had a year off. You have to break down all the UAB tape (from last year) and then break down all the Memphis tape from 2009. You have two columns of stuff right there with no body of evidence from this year. There’s some guesswork. Fortunately, last week I thought the assistant coaches did a nice job predicting what we were going to go against and it kind of played true to form. We’re playing a little bit of that guesswork again this week.”

The Gators on paper should completely outmatch this UAB team. However, if the Florida front seven can’t get the pressure on Ellis that they got last week against FAU, then the Blazers might be able to pick on the Gators young secondary. If Florida’s offense does what it did last week, then they should take care of business easily. John Brantley looked like he was in a groove in the first half and really managed the team well. Florida’s offense should take advantage of a new defense with their speed backs in Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey, and will look forward to getting playmaker Trey Burton back. UAB should provide the perfect tuneup before SEC play starts next week. Their offense should test the Gators new look defense, but the Gators should be confident heading into Tennessee week.

Final Score:
Florida 49, UAB 9

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