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2013 UAB football's 10 things to know: Watering seeds and finding a blitz

UAB threatened Ohio State well into the fourth quarter in Columbus and got destroyed by Memphis at home. Garrick McGee's first season in charge was full of upside, youth, and serious head-scratchers.

Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE

Confused? Check out the glossary here.

1. The slow build begins again

The results never really came around, but Neil Callaway was close to a breakthrough. The UAB coach, hired in 2007 to replace Watson Brown, boosted his Blazers from 115th in the F/+ rankings to 98th in 2008, then 93rd in 2009, then 82nd in 2010. But thanks in part to a 3-9 record in one-possession games, UAB couldn't ever get over the hump in the win column. The Blazers went 1-5 in close games in 2010 and finished 4-8 overall; a .500 record in such games would have potentially resulted in a bowl bid.

Things fell apart in 2011 -- UAB sank to 108th and 3-9, and Callaway was gone -- and Garrick McGee, former Bobby Petrino assistant at Arkansas, took over. He's been talking about planting seeds lately, and one can understand the metaphor. His first season in Birmingham had its fair share of encouraging moments, same-old-UAB moments, and youth upon youth. The Blazers did improve to 91st in F/+, and the turnover is minimal this time around (sans a huge loss at linebacker); there's no reason to think there won't be more improvement coming down the pike. But this program seems to hit a ceiling around five wins and an F/+ in the high-80s. Is Williams the man to take UAB beyond that?

2012 Schedule & Results

Record: 3-9 | Adj. Record: 4-8 | Final F/+ Rk: 91
Date Opponent Score W-L Adj. Score Adj. W-L
1-Sep Troy 29-39 L 25.4 - 31.0 L
15-Sep at South Carolina 6-49 L 14.3 - 41.5 L
22-Sep at Ohio State 15-29 L 29.2 - 31.2 L
29-Sep Tulsa 42-49 L 36.5 - 32.8 W
6-Oct SE Louisiana 52-3 W 25.9 - 9.6 W
13-Oct at Houston 17-39 L 23.6 - 31.7 L
20-Oct East Carolina 35-42 L 31.8 - 43.2 L
27-Oct at Tulane 45-55 L 35.3 - 59.2 L
3-Nov at Southern Miss 27-19 W 22.5 - 24.1 L
10-Nov Marshall 38-31 W 25.5 - 17.3 W
17-Nov Memphis 9-46 L 11.0 - 32.0 L
24-Nov at Central Florida 24-49 L 42.1 - 37.9 W
Category Offense Rk Defense Rk
Points Per Game 28.3 69 37.5 114
Adj. Points Per Game 26.9 73 32.6 100

2. UAB made no sense in 2012

As might be expected when a first-year coach leads a super-young team onto the field, UAB's season featured a wealth of highlights and lowlights. The Blazers hung around for quite a long time against an Ohio State team that finished 12-0 (it was 21-15 midway through the fourth quarter), conquered Southern Miss and Marshall and came up just short against two Conference USA bowl teams, Tulsa and East Carolina. Oh yeah, and they also lost by 37 points to Memphis at home. Ove the course of 12 games, UAB was awful, above average, awful, and mediocre.

Adj. Points Per Game (first 2 games): Opponent 36.3, UAB 19.9 (minus-16.4)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): UAB 30.5, Opponent 24.5 (plus-6.0)
Adj. Points Per Game (next 3 games): Opponent 44.7, UAB 30.2 (minus-14.5)
Adj. Points Per Game (last 4 games): Opponent 27.8, UAB 25.3 (minus-2.5)

Make sense of that, I dare you. Jonathan Perry, then a junior, played most of the first two games and the last one, and despite the fact that his replacement, then-freshman Austin Brown, was more sporadic (in good ways and bad), UAB's overall offensive performance improved a decent amount; for most of the final 10 games, UAB was average or better on offense (aside from the egregious performance against Memphis, in which the Blazers gained all of 213 yards against the No. 80 defense according to Def. F/+). And the young defense was all over the map.

Offense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 50 67 68 70
RUSHING 112 80 64 92
PASSING 19 66 69 60
Standard Downs 68 58 71
Passing Downs 78 87 73
Redzone 106 105 99
Q1 Rk 91 1st Down Rk 81
Q2 Rk 83 2nd Down Rk 85
Q3 Rk 95 3rd Down Rk 64
Q4 Rk 53

Quarterback

Note: players in bold below are 2013 returnees. Players in italics are questionable with injury/suspension.

Player Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Comp Att Yards Comp
Rate
TD INT Sacks Sack Rate Yards/
Att.
Austin Brown 6'1, 208 So. ** (5.3) 205 355 2,673 57.7% 15 12 36 9.2% 6.1
Jonathan Perry 6'2, 210 Sr. NR 74 122 1,033 60.7% 6 1 6 4.7% 7.6
Jeremiah Briscoe 6'3, 197 Fr. ** (5.2)







3. The training wheels are off

UAB's offense utilized lots of passing on standard downs and lots of running on passing downs. There are three reasons why you might do this: Either you are an extreme underdog trying to throw your opponent off, you have a quarterback who isn't much of a passer (or is Taylor Martinez, not much of a passer but with serious legs), or you have a freshman quarterback. UAB utilized Austin Brown in a way similar to what UCF did with Jeff Godfrey back when Godfrey was a true freshman (2010); like UAB as a whole, Brown hinted at both upside (13 yards per completion, 15 touchdown passes) and youth (12 interceptions, a terrible sack rate). He completed 20 of 30 passes for 337 yards, three touchdowns and a pick (with a lot of sacks) against Tulsa and completed 22 of 37 for 319 and three scores against ECU, and in what may be an encouraging sign, he threw six of his 12 picks in just two games. When it wrong, it went wrong a lot, but it didn't always go wrong. If that makes any sense.

Garrick McGee and offensive coordinator Richard Owens might be taking the training wheels off this year; their approach to play-calling was both smart and conservative, and they might give Brown a chance to make a few more plays this year. And the best part is that, if Brown struggles with the extra responsibility (or gets hurt), the Blazers have a pretty good backup plan in Jonathan Perry. They also might have a strong run game to fall back on if they need to.

Running Back

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Rushes Yards Yards/
Carry
Hlt Yds/
Carry
TD Adj.
POE
Darrin Reaves RB 5'10, 210 Jr. *** (5.5) 215 1,037 4.8 4.1 13 -9.4
Bashr Coles RB 5'11, 212 So. ** (5.4) 39 262 6.7 6.7 1 +7.8
Greg Franklin RB 5'11, 197 Sr. *** (5.6) 36 180 5.0 5.0 2 +0.8
Jonathan Perry QB 6'2, 210 Sr. NR 30 100 3.3 2.9 2 -4.8
Austin Brown QB 6'1, 208 So. ** (5.3) 26 55 2.1 2.8 0 -7.0
Dontavius Jackson RB 21 44 2.1 3.2 1 -5.4
Jordan Howard RB 6'0, 205 Fr. ** (5.4)





4. Depth in the backfield

Darrin Reaves was a first-team all-conference running back in 2012, and on a carry-for-carry basis, he was the least effective of UAB's top three backs. Former star recruit Greg Franklin and intriguing freshman Bashr Coles were each excellent in backup roles (especially Coles, who showed some big-play ability among his three carries per game). While the play-calling may have been conservative, it was also pretty effective with the efficient Reaves grinding out yards and ceding the floor to his big-play backups from time to time. While passing on standard downs had its purpose last year, three good backs running behind a more experienced line might be an equally effective option this time around, especially with the loss of three of UAB's top five receivers. Jackie Williams is a quality No. 1, but we'll see who else might emerge in the receiving corps to replace Patrick Hearn and Nick Adams, both of whom averaged better than 8.5 yards per target. Jamarcus Nelson is an interesting, if terribly inefficient, option, and former star recruit Nyiakki Height enters the picture after a year at safety. Plus, JUCO transfer DeVante Scott was perhaps the jewel of the recruiting class. There are options, but no guarantees.

Receiving Corps

Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Targets Catches Yards Catch Rate Yds/
Target
Target
Rate
%SD Real Yds/
Target
RYPR
Jackie Williams WR-W 5'11, 190 Sr. *** (5.5) 80 52 799 65.0% 10.0 17.6% 62.5% 9.9 94.1
Patrick Hearn WR-Z 72 42 628 58.3% 8.7 15.9% 63.9% 8.8 73.9
Nick Adams WR-X 69 45 656 65.2% 9.5 15.2% 69.6% 10.0 77.2
Darrin Reaves RB 5'10, 210 Jr. *** (5.5) 55 41 302 74.5% 5.5 12.1% 50.9% 5.4 35.6
Jamarcus Nelson WR-Z 5'11, 160 Jr. ** (5.4) 49 22 414 44.9% 8.4 10.8% 61.2% 8.4 48.7
Jay Davis WR-W


41 23 277 56.1% 6.8 9.0% 53.7% 7.1 32.6
Kennard Backman TE 6'3, 258 Jr. *** (5.5) 37 23 235 62.2% 6.4 8.1% 54.1% 6.4 27.7
Nolen Smith (2011) TE 6'3, 205 Jr. *** (5.5) 33 19 273 57.6% 8.3 8.1% 48.5% N/A N/A
Greg Franklin RB 5'11, 197 Sr. *** (5.6) 19 12 190 63.2% 10.0 4.2% 68.4% 9.2 22.4
Sam Accursio TE 16 11 88 68.8% 5.5 3.5% 87.5% 5.8 10.4
Nyiakki Height WR 6'2, 190 So. *** (5.5)







Grant Davis TE 6'4, 255 RSFr. ** (5.4)








DeVante Scott WR 5'10, 180 Jr. *** (5.5)








Tristan Henderson TE 6'4, 258 Jr. ** (5.4)








J.J. Green WR 6'3, 185 Fr. ** (5.4)








Jamari Staples WR 6'4, 192 Fr. ** (5.4)








Offensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 95.5 3.03 2.67 37.1% 66.0% 19.8% 80.1 6.5% 7.6%
Rank 88 55 104 82 68 79 91 93 79
Player Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals Career Starts/Honors/Notes
Chris Hubbard LT 25 career starts; 2012 1st All-CUSA
Kaycee Ike RT 6'5, 293 Sr. ** (4.9) 12 career starts
Cameron Blankenship LG 6'4, 305 So. ** (5.4) 9 career starts
Billy Autrey C 6'2, 290 Sr. ** (5.3) 8 career starts
John Hix RG 6'2, 270 Jr. ** (5.2) 6 career starts
Brian O'Leary C 6'2, 290 Jr. ** (5.4) 5 career starts
Aaron Green RG 6'3, 300 Jr. NR 5 career starts
Cody Payne RT 3 career starts
Hisham Haqq LT
Roscoe Byrd OL 6'3, 319 So. ** (5.4)

5. A solid line, all things considered

Offensive line coach John Peterson earned his salary last year. UAB returned a single lineman with any starting experience (Chris Hubbard) and was forced to shuffle the lineup around all year, but the Blazers still ranked in the Top 100 in both Adj. Line Yards and Adj. Sack Rate (Brown's awful sack rate was mitigated by Perry's ability to avoid them); those aren't great ratings by any means, but it could have been much worse. UAB held up reasonably well against blitzes and opened holes for runners on run-heavy downs. And this time around, Peterson's line still might have overall depth problems, but it does return six of eight players who started a game last year. Losing Hubbard, easily their best lineman, is a blow, but the line has a lot more going for it overall this time around.

Defense

Category Yards/
Game Rk
S&P+ Rk Success
Rt. Rk
PPP+ Rk
OVERALL 86 109 102 108
RUSHING 81 97 88 104
PASSING 80 118 112 118
Standard Downs 100 96 100
Passing Downs 108 100 110
Redzone 116 110 117
Q1 Rk 113 1st Down Rk 120
Q2 Rk 98 2nd Down Rk 113
Q3 Rk 96 3rd Down Rk 80
Q4 Rk 119

Defensive Line

Category Adj.
Line Yds
Std.
Downs
LY/carry
Pass.
Downs
LY/carry
Opp.
Rate
Power
Success
Rate
Stuff
Rate
Adj.
Sack Rate
Std.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Pass.
Downs
Sack Rt.
Team 90.1 3.01 3.48 39.6% 67.4% 19.7% 80.0 5.0% 2.9%
Rank 108 80 87 66 57 55 93 49 117
Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Diaheem Watkins DE 6'4, 258 Jr. ** (5.4) 7 23.0 3.4% 4 1.5 0 1 0 0
Deric Scott DT 6'3, 285 Sr. ** (5.1) 12 18.5 2.7% 4 1 0 0 0 0
Chris Walton DE 6'3, 260 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 16.5 2.4% 7.5 1.5 0 0 0 1
Jontavius Morris DT 6'2, 295 So. ** (5.2) 12 14.5 2.1% 3.5 0 0 0 0 1
Connor Boyett DT 6'5, 367 Sr. ** (5.3) 12 14.0 2.1% 4 3 0 1 2 1
Chris Rabb DE 5'10, 220 So. ** (5.4) 12 11.0 1.6% 6.5 3.5 0 0 0 0
Jewel Christian DT 6'2, 295 Sr. ** (5.4) 9 8.0 1.2% 1 0 0 1 1 0
Trey Grissett DE 6'5, 260 Jr. *** (5.5) 12 7.5 1.1% 1.5 1 0 0 0 0
Steve Pickren DE 6'4, 245 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Andra Smith DT 6'5, 265 Fr. ** (5.4)






Linebackers

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Marvin Burdette MIKE 12 123.5 18.3% 13 2 1 1 2 2
Greg Irvin JACK 12 58.5 8.7% 7.5 1 0 2 0 2
Daniel White (2010) LB 6'2, 234 Sr. NR 12 45.5 6.9% 6.5 2.5 1 0 1 0
Patrick Bastien WLB 6'3, 227 Sr. ** (5.1) 12 27.0 4.0% 6 2 0 0 1 0
Derek Slaughter JACK 5'11, 195 So. *** (5.5) 12 23.5 3.5% 1 1 1 0 0 0
Shaq Jones WLB 6'3, 200 So. ** (5.2) 12 23.5 3.5% 0.5 0 0 0 0 0
Tevin Crews LB 6'2, 212 So. NR 11 12.0 1.8% 0.5 0 0 1 0 1
Jesse Parrish MIKE 6'0, 220 Sr. NR 6 5.0 0.7% 1 0 0 2 0 0
Steven Banks LB 6'0, 224 Sr. NR 1 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Destin Challenger LB 5'11, 215 So. ** (5.4) 8 0.5 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Larry Pettaway LB 6'2, 210 RSFr. ** (5.4)
Brandon Fuller LB 6'1, 220 Fr. ** (5.4)

Jalan Coleman LB 6'2, 215 Fr. ** (5.4)
Je'Niah Jackson LB 6'0, 210 Fr. ** (5.4)






6. UAB couldn't blitz

UAB's defense was in no way good in 2012. We'll get that out of the way immediately. But it did have some strengths -- the Blazers were decent at generating pass pressure, mostly from its front four, on standard downs, made a good number of plays in the backfield, and was reasonably efficient (or, at least, not incredibly inefficient) against the run overall. But they were terrible against the pass, in part because they got no pressure whatsoever on the quarterback on passing downs. When you are almost twice as likely to record a sack on first-and-10 instead of third-and-10, something is amiss.

The line returns everybody of consequence, which is lovely. Ends Diaheem Watkins and Chris Walton were solid; Watkins was downright good until he was sidelined with a rib injury for five games. And the tackles are both decent and of good stature. There is perhaps more potential up front than at any other place on this defense. But there is no guarantee that the Blazers will be any better at linebacker, especially considering their star is gone.

7. And now Marvin Burdette's gone

Marvin Burdette almost made one of every five UAB tackles last year, which is absolutely absurd. He was one of the primary reasons for the run defense's semi-efficiency, too, logging 13 tackles for loss among his 123.5 tackles. Patrick Bastien has potential, and if Daniel White (a senior who has battled all sorts of injury issues in his career) can stay healthy, he could make up for some of the lost play-making ability. But the linebackers only managed six sacks last year, and in Burdette and Greg Irvin, they must replace half of that total. There are quite a few interesting recruits coming into the picture, but relying on freshmen is rarely good for immediate improvement.

Secondary

Name Pos Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Rivals GP Tackles % of Team TFL Sacks Int PBU FF FR
Calvin Jones S 5'10, 187 Sr. ** (5.4) 11 55.0 8.1% 2.5 0.5 0 1 1 2
Jake Ganus S 6'2, 190 So. *** (5.5) 12 49.5 7.3% 3.5 0 1 3 0 1
Lamarcus Farmer CB 5'11, 170 So. NR 12 39.0 5.8% 4 0 0 8 0 0
Lamar Johnson S 11 26.0 3.8% 1.5 0 2 1 0 0
Kelton Brackett CB 5'11, 186 So. *** (5.5) 12 24.0 3.6% 1 0 0 0 2 0
Cornelius Richards CB 11 19.0 2.8% 1 1 1 2 0 1
Cortez Webb S 6'2, 189 Sr. ** (5.4) 10 15.5 2.3% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Darius Powell CB 5'10, 181 So. ** (5.4) 7 14.0 2.1% 0 0 0 3 0 0
Nyiakki Height S 10 11.5 1.7% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Vashon Landers CB 6'1, 175 So. ** (5.2) 10 3.5 0.5% 0 0 0 1 0 0
Devon Brown CB 5'11, 182 So. ** (5.2) 2 1.0 0.1% 0 0 0 0 0 0
Jay Davis S 6'1, 194 Jr. NR

T.J. McCollum S 6'3, 205 Fr. *** (5.5)

Jordan Petty CB 5'9, 175 Fr. ** (5.4)

Greg Maclin S 6'3, 165 Fr. ** (5.4)

Nicholas Jackson S 6'2, 205 Fr. ** (5.4)

8. Boosting the back seven

Of the 23 members of UAB's first full recruiting class under McGee, 11 were either defensive backs or linebackers. Plus, receiver Jay Davis makes a switch from receiver to safety. That tells you that, while the blitz was pretty bad, the secondary itself had plenty of say in UAB's awful No. 118 ranking in Passing S&P+. There was some play-making ability here -- returning safeties Calvin Jones and Jake Ganus and corner Lamarcus Farmer combined for 10 tackles for loss and 13 passes defensed -- but down-for-down proficiency was sorely lacking. Experience is better this year, especially with two former three-star recruits (Ganus and Kelton Brackett) getting thrown into the fire as freshmen, but it will probably be another year before this secondary rounds into respectable shape.

Special Teams

Punter Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Punts Avg TB FC I20 FC/I20
Ratio
Hunter Mullins 6'3, 195 Jr. 50 44.8 7 12 14 52.0%
Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Kickoffs Avg TB TB%
Ty Long 6'2, 188 Jr. 64 63.1 32 50.0%
Place-Kicker Ht, Wt 2013
Year
PAT FG
(0-39)
Pct FG
(40+)
Pct
Ty Long 6'2, 188 Jr. 39-41 7-7 100.0% 7-10 70.0%
Returner Pos. Ht, Wt 2013
Year
Returns Avg. TD
Greg Franklin KR 5'11, 197 Sr. 11 19.9 0
Jackie Williams KR 5'11, 190 Sr. 10 22.7 0
Jackie Williams PR 5'11, 190 Sr. 14 9.4 1
Lamarcus Farmer PR 5'11, 170 So. 9 7.3 0
Category Rk
Special Teams F/+ 37
Net Punting 117
Net Kickoffs 35
Touchback Pct 19
Field Goal Pct 19
Kick Returns Avg 77
Punt Returns Avg 44

9. You have to tackle the punt returner

UAB's special teams unit was pretty solid overall. Ty Long was a solid kicker and kickoffs guy, Jackie Williams was a good punt returner, and the kick coverage unit was decent. Plus, punter Hunter Mullins averaged nearly 45 yards per punt with lots of fair catches and balls downed inside the 20. But it appears that Mullins was also quite adept at outkicking his coverage; when an opposing punt returner got a return opportunity, he tended to take it a long way. UAB was last in the country in opponent punt returns. Remedy that problem to some degree, and you've got yourself a potential Top 25 special teams unit.

2013 Schedule & Projection Factors

2012 Schedule
Date Opponent Proj. Rk
31-Aug at Troy 102
7-Sep at LSU 3
21-Sep Northwestern State NR
28-Sep at Vanderbilt 49
5-Oct Florida Atlantic 116
12-Oct at Florida International 99
26-Oct at UT-San Antonio 114
2-Nov Middle Tennessee 98
9-Nov at Marshall 79
16-Nov at East Carolina 81
23-Nov Rice 92
30-Nov Southern Miss 87
Five-Year F/+ Rk 102
Two-Year Recruiting Rk 96
TO Margin/Adj. TO Margin* -9 / -6.2
TO Luck/Game -1.2
Approx. Ret. Starters (Off. / Def.) 16 (8, 8)
Yds/Pt Margin** +3.5

10. Who the heck knows?

UAB ranked 91st in F/+ last year and returns a wealth of experience. That suggests the Blazers could move into the 80s this year; to move any higher would require defensive improvement I don't see as realistic. So what does that mean for UAB's record? Your guess is as good as mine. The Blazers play seven teams projected between 79th and 102nd, three projected worse and two projected better. Beat the three worst teams and go 3-4 against the middling teams, and you're bowl eligible. Is that realistic? Is Austin Brown ready to take a step forward? Will the receiving corps produce a decent No. 2 option? And can the UAB defense improve at all on passing downs? This team has a lot of flaws, but ... teams ranked in the 80s and 90s typically do. If the Blazers can win some close games, they could very well reach a bowl this year, but we'll set the bar at 4-5 wins for one more year first.

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