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2014 Season Preview: Mississippi State vs. UAB

Mississippi State takes on UAB in the second game of the season, and this one has the potential for a Bulldog beat down of the Blazers.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

When Mississippi State squares off against the UAB Blazers on September 6, the Bulldogs will be facing the one squad that Southern Mississippi defeated demolished obliterated in 2013 season. The Blazers now find themselves in a major state of change, and the Bulldogs should feast on this opportunity in the second game of the season.

2013 Year in Review

For Blazer fans, UAB did not give them much about which to cheer during the 2013 season.  The team only picked up two wins, a 52-28 victory over Northwestern State and a 27-24 win against the Florida International Golden Panthers.

UAB liked to go big in its losses to the SEC last year, losing to LSU by 39 points and Vanderbilt by 38 points. After a bye week on October 19, UAB lost their last six games by an average of 25.5 points per game.  Among the lowlights were a 52-31 loss at UTSA, a 56-14 loss at Marshall, a 63-14 loss at ECU, and the aforementioned 62-27 loss to Southern Miss.

Looking at last year's results, it safe to say the Blazers are not channeling Willie Nelson hoping to get on the road again.  They only had two decent showings on the road, a 34-31 loss at Troy to open the season and their victory over Florida International. Other than those games, the road proved to be unkind to the Blazers, who averaged losing by 27 points per contest, even with throwing in a victory.  If one takes away the two three-point games, the average loss on the road comes in at 37.8 points per contest.

The Blazers saw two quarterbacks share about an equal number of passes in Jonathan Perry and Austin Brown.  Both completed just over 52% of their passes, but Brown had the better touchdown to interception ratio, tossing nine touchdowns and only three interceptions.  Perry won the yardage contest, tossing for 1379 yards to Brown's 1199, but he also threw six interceptions against ten touchdowns.

The Blazers did not have a 1000 yard rusher, but Darrin Reaves came close with 928 yards.  He also picked up 12 of the Blazers' 17 rushing scores. Jordan Howard ran for 881 yards and 6.1 yards a carry, but he only found the end zone on two occasions.

Jamarcus Nelson led the receiving corps last year, hauling in 42 catches for 846 yards and eight touchdowns. Jamari Staples also picked up 31 catches for 458 yards and four touchdowns.  Reaves proved to be a threat in the passing game with 29 catches for 295 yards.

Defensivley, the Blazers were a mess. Only six players managed to start all 12 games for the Blazers.  Injuries just destroyed the squad.  Offensive lineman had to play defense.  It was just ugly.

2014 Outlook

While it is hard to imagine things getting much worse in Birmingham, they are not going to be great either.  The Blazers have a new head coach in Bill Clark, who came to the Blazers from Jacksonville State.  He replaced Garrick McGee, who left to take over as offensive coordinator at Louisville. Of the players you read about earlier, both Brown and Perry are gone.  That leaves UAB starting a new quarterback in the 2014 season. Right now, the Blazers have yet to come close to naming a quarterback for the season.

Also gone from UAB is Reaves, who is currently on the roster of the Carolina Panthers.  With those three gone, a chunk of the offensive production is gone from the Blazers' roster.

Look for the team to hope to run an up-tempo offense with a punishing running game this season.  Of course, the key will be to find out which players can be the featured back in such a situation.  Should that not work out, the Blazers do have talent at the wide receiver position.  The question will be whether or not the coaching staff can design a Plan-B offense in time.

Defensively, the Blazers should improve if for no other reason than surviving injuries this season.  During the team's media day, Clark said UAB had to "change physically," questioning the strength and durability of the team in 2013.  He also called the team fundamentally bad on defense.  Neither of those terms stir the echoes in the hearts of Blazer fans.

Fans should not expect to see too much of the same when it comes to starters and positions on the field.  Clark has hinted that he expects "a bunch" of position battles this fall.  That should not come as a surprise as the Blazers brought in 14 (!!!) JUCO players for this season. With a new stadium to call home, the Blazers need to find a way to pick up some wins, and going the JUCO route can do just that.  It can also wreck the next five years if it does not work out.

3 Factors
1. Dan Mullen does not lose this type of game.

Say what you will about Dan Mullen, but he does not see his team lose games in which they are heavily favored.  Yes, they may play those games much closer than they should, but the Bulldogs win them. Honestly, this UAB team is not as strong as any of the teams that provided tougher-than-they-should-have-been non-conference contests last year.

2. How long will starters play?

The Bulldogs should be comfortably ahead by the time halftime rolls around in Starkville. The big question for the coaching staff will be how much longer they wish to play the starters.  Mullen has already said that he will play Damian Williams this year, and this would be a good opportunity to get the sophomore some more time on the field.  The second half could also be an opportunity to get either Nick Fitzgerald or Elijah Staley on the field as well if the Bulldogs wish to do so.

3. Ground and Pound

There will not be much of a reason for Mississippi State to feel the need to throw the ball around all game long against the Blazers.  In fact, this could be a great game to establish order in the backfield if it has not already happened.  Defensively, the Bulldogs should attack the UAB offense.  If that happens, the fans may be treated to quite a few turnovers, making the game get completely out of hand.  This could easily by a 35+ point victory for Mississippi State to move the Bulldogs to 2-0.