Davis Wade Stadium
Fox Sports Net
Hope is abound for the first time in a long time at UAB. Saturday's big victory is something that the Blazers haven't experienced much recently. They've won only eight games in the past three years and got demolished by Southern Miss by 35 points to close out last season. Their defense in 2013 was riddled by maybe more injuries than any other college football team. It got so bad that an offensive lineman was having to play defense by the end of the season. Their players were constantly banged up and the lineup experienced little continuity from week to week. Because of this, they finished ranked in the 120's in most of the major defensive categories.
The offense wasn't much better, finishing 77th in points per game and 79th in yards per game. What little success they did have came in the run game. But with a defense that gave up over 40 points a game, it didn't really matter. The season was already in crumbles, but it all culminated in a 62-27 loss to Southern Miss, a team that had not won a game in almost two calendar years. The end result was a 2-10 record and a head coach that split to take an offensive coordinator job.
Enter new head coach Bill Clark. The former South Alabama defensive coordinator and Jacksonville State head coach got to campus and signed FOURTEEN juco players in his first signing class. He made it clear that he wanted guys that could come in and make an impact right away. These players combined with all of the ones returning from injury allowed UAB to come into the 2014 season with a lot more depth and offered a glimmer of hope.
The new ball coach couldn't have imagined a better debut than what his players gave him last week against the Troy Trojans. The Blazers dominated their in-state rival in every facet of the game with a convincing 48-10 beatdown. UAB had a whopping 339 yards on the ground and saw two of its running back go over the century mark.
The Blazers know they will be facing a different animal Saturday afternoon when they come to Starkville. This is their Super Bowl and they will not hold anything back. As far as Mississippi State is concerned, they'll look at what UAB did in the first game and hopefully see that they're not to be taken lightly. Let's take a look at what you can expect to see on Saturday.
The UAB offense will be led by a new signal caller in Cody Clements. He was mostly a game manager in the opener against Troy, completing 12 of 18 passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. He threw one interception. Clements knows he doesn't have to do too much with two capable running backs. The main threat the Bulldogs should watch out for is sophomore running back Jordan Howard. The 220 pounder is arguably one of the top running backs in Conference-USA and started the season off with a solid performance. He rushed the ball 19 times for 179 yards with two touchdowns.
The Blazers have a big play threat receiver in Jamarcus Nelson who amassed 846 yards last year which included 20 yards per catch. He continued that against Troy, catching just two passes for 65 yards. When he gets his hands on the football, it's usually a big play. Mississippi State will need to look for a way to contain him and be prepared for the deep route.
UAB knows they'll be outmatched up front, but they will still do everything they can to run the football. That will be their bread and butter this season which favors Mississippi State in this game. We all know how well the Bulldogs have defended the run the past several games. They surrendered only 71 yards to Southern Miss last Saturday.
Expect to see more blitzing from the Bulldog defense than you saw a week ago. UAB is more of a run first team than Southern, and they also have a new quarterback who is still getting used to live game action. Look for Geoff Collins to be more creative and aggressive. They will try to hit Cody Clements early and often and also but a damper in the run game. The difficulty will be not to get over aggressive after seeing all those run plays. You don't want to get hit with the play action that could result in big gains.
This could be one of those games that the linebackers shine. Benardrick McKinney, Matthew Wells, and Beniquez Brown will have a chance to have a big day and pad some stats. UAB will look to run the ball every chance they get. Mississippi State's front seven will be tough for UAB's offensive line to contend with. You have to wonder if they will stick to that game plan if it doesn't work or try to air the ball out a few times.
Likewise, UAB's defense was also impressive in the run game in their opener. They matched MSU's defense, holding Troy to 71 yards rushing. The two players that MSU will be on the lookout for on this defense are defensive lineman Diaheem Watkins and linebacker Jake Ganus. In 2013, Ganus racked up 75 tackles and eight tackles for loss. Watkins had 7.5 tackles for loss and led the team with 5.5 sacks. The duo got off to another strong start in 2014. Ganus led the team in tackles and forced a fumble against Troy. Watkins had just one less tackle and also had two sacks.
Like we mentioned earlier, the UAB defense was just a disaster last season. They have much better depth now, and their performance in the first game was a great confidence booster. They won't play scared and will be as physical as they can against Mississippi State. I think you'll see much of the same from the Mississippi State offense that you saw last week: a good balance of the run and pass and several running backs rotated through. Josh Robinson had a fantastic first game and made an impact both running and catching the football. This should be another game he does well in. Ashton Shumpert will also be back so we might see a new wrinkle or two thrown in.
The Mississippi State receivers were impressive in week one and will look to have another big day against the Blazers. Jameon Lewis in particular will be looking to hit pay dirt a few times. The senior receiver's brother recently passed away this week so you can bet that he will be playing with a bit of extra motivation.
If the rumors about Prescott are true, Damian Williams will have to be ready to go at quarterback. He proved he can get the job done last year, but that's a big blow if Prescott is out. If that is the case, you have to wonder if one of the freshman qb's will see their first career action in the fourth quarter. With that being said, all the Prescott situation is at this point is rumors.
On special teams, the Blazers are in a lot better shape than the Bulldogs right now. Punter Hunter Mullins averaged 43 yards a kick, and place kicker Ty Long went 16-24 on field goals last year. He was money from inside 40 yards, going 11 for 13. Jamarcus Nelson is an excellent returner and took two all the way to the house last year. He plays both kickoff and punt returner. All three of these players are seniors and make the special teams a strength of the UAB team.
Mississippi State's special teams issued continued in the opener, as Westin Graves missed a field goal after a botched snap and hold. Although neither resulted in turnovers, there was also a dropped kickoff and a dropped punt return. This game is just as good as any for State to try and get back on track. I would expect to see Sobiesk get his shot this week at place kicking duties, and that battle could last several weeks.
The Mississippi State vs UAB match-ups over the past several years have been closer than you might think. The 2011 Bulldogs found themselves trailing 3-0 at halftime before scoring 21 unanswered to get the win. The Blazers won't be intimidated coming into Davis Wade, and I wouldn't expect this game to resemble the Southern Miss one. Another shutout would be nice, but it's unlikely to happen. I think UAB has a chance to hang around for a while and make this game interesting for at least a half. The Dogs physicality should take over and the game should start to get out of hand late in the third quarter. The game is at 1:00 in the afternoon, but hopefully that won't take away from the home field atmosphere.
Numbers to Know
The number of rushing yards the Blazers racked up in last week's 48-10 win over Troy. That's impressive no matter who the opponent is, and it's good enough to start them out ranked 11th in rushing offense for the 2014 season. That effort, which was spearheaded by 182 yards from sophomore Jordan Howard, will be tough to duplicate against an MSU defense that gave up just 71 yards total to Southern Miss last weekend.
The number of receivers/running backs who caught a pass for Mississippi State in last week's season-opening 49-0 win over Southern Miss. That list included a few newer names like Fred Ross and Fred Brown, and it was led by De'Runnya Wilson who MSU will be counting on to be a big part of the offense in 2014. After a big 2013, defenses are going to key on Jameon Lewis more this fall, so it will be key for MSU to continue to spread the wealth through the air successfully.
The percent chance for rain at Saturday's kickoff time of 1 p.m. That's the highest percentage forecast for Saturday according to Weather Underground, so things may have a better chance of staying dry than they did in last week's monsoon of a season opener. It looks like heat will be more of the concern though, as game time temps could hover around 95. Happy buttsweat season, everyone!