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Know Your Enemy: The UAB Blazers Football Team

The Basics

The UTEP Miners (5-1, 2-1) at the UAB Blazers (1-4,0-2)

Legion Field, 2:00 pm MST

All Time Record:  UAB Leads 2-1

Last Meeting:  UAB 38, UTEP 33 (October 31, 2009)

Best UAB News Site:  Off the Vine with Steve Irvine

Know Their Coach:  Neil Callaway (12-29 Overall, 4th season)

You can read it in the forums. The students are uniting too.  The fans can't take much more.  The national media is now starting to see the end is inevitable.  It seems everybody in Birmingham wants to see the Neil Callaway era end after this season (or sooner).  To be fair to Callaway, he's at a school that doesn't even have the support of the University of Alabama System.  Miner fans might not know that Paul Bryant, Jr. sits on the Alabama Board of Trustees.  Yes, Bear's son.  When Watson Brown was finally gone at UAB, the Blazers were on the verge of making a splash hire and bringing in current Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher.  But, "Little Bear" wouldn't dare allow UAB to overshadow the Tide who ironically were coming off two hires gone wrong (UTEP's Mike Price and Mike Shula).  So, the Alabama Trustee's blocked the hire of Fisher and instead, the Blazers got Callaway.

To be fair to Callaway, his team did show stead improvement.  Last season, they hit 5 wins which is the best of his career and they finished at .500 in C-USA play (4-4).  While the Board of Trustees screwed UAB when they forced Callaway as the hire, the school has given Callaway every opportunity to succeed.  No coordinators have been pushed out by the school or the fans.  In fact, Callaway has had his entire staff together since 2007 when he was hired.  In the C-USA, at any school actually, that's amazing. So, Callaway has the players he recruited and the coaches he hired.  And, it's just not working.  12-29 shows that.


The Numbers

First, we should compare how UAB's Multiple Set offense compares against UTEP's 4-3 defense.  Miner fans should be familiar with UAB's offense.  It's the same scheme that worked so efficiently with Joe Webb last season.  David Isabelle was considered to be the man to replace Webb because, like Webb, he very gifted running the ball.  Isabell will still play some quarterback, but Bryan Ellis has seized the starting spot because he is a more reliable passer than Isabelle.

This chart compares UAB's offense statistics against UTEP's current defensive numbers and ranks.  Note that UAB's national ranks are far superior to what we have seen from Rice and Memphis.  UAB might have trouble punching the ball into the end zone, but they are moving the ball consistently.  UTEP's defense will need to force UAB to rely on their kicker whenever possible.  UAB has the best punter, Trey Ragland,  in the C-USA but they also have the worst field goal kicker.  Josh Zahn has only made 3 out of his 10 field goal attempts this season and his long is only 35 yards.  

UAB Offense vs. UTEP Defense UAB Offense Rank (C-USA) UTEP Defense Rank
Total Offense 406.6 47 (5) 349.5 51 (4)
Scoring Offense 21.6 88 (9) 21.83 48 (2)
Rush Offense 168.6 49 (4) 143.83 50 (5)
Pass Offense 238 43 (6) 205.67 58 (5)
Sacks Allowed 1.4 pg 39 (6) 1.0 pg 106T (11)


Defensively, UAB runs the 4-3 defense just like UTEP.  UAB is led by their standout defensive end Bryant Turner.  Turner has 5 sacks this season and 7 more tackles for loss.  I expect to see him and Will Osolinsky have a strong battle on Saturday.  UAB also has a stellar defensive tackle, Eliot Henigan.  Henigan is a good, quick player with who can create penetration with his combination of size and speed (5 TFL's, 1 sack).  As noted earlier, UAB's best player in the secondary, safety Hiram Atwater, has been dismissed from the team due to  a violation of team policy.  UAB's secondary has only forced one interception this season

UAB Defense vs. UTEP Offense UAB Defense Rank (C-USA) UTEP Offense Rank
Total Defense 404 86 (7) 430.67 32 (3)
Scoring Defense 33.4 104 (8) 32.5 40 (4)
Rush Defense 151.5 64 (7) 167.5 50 (5)
Pass Defense 252.6 100 (8) 263.17 28 (5)
Sacks 2.6 pg 27 (2) .83 pg 18 (2)

Players to Watch

1.  Bryan Ellis, QB (72-133, 926 yards, 5 TD's, 5 INT's)

2.  David Isabelle (71 carries, 389 yards, 4 TD's)

3.  Pat Shed (WR, RB, KR/PR):  Shed is UAB's Marlon McClure.  He gets carries out of the backfield (44 carries, 290 yards, 6.3 yards per carry) and he is UAB's second leading receiver (17 receptions, 145 yards).  He hasn't been great on punt returns but is very effective in the kick return game.  

4.  I've already discussed Bryant Turner and Eliot Henigan, but I also wanted to mention sophomore linebacker Marvin Burdette.  He's UAB's leading tackler (36, 23 solo) and he has 2 sacks and 2.5 TFL's.  When UAB sends a blitz package, expect Burdette to get the call.  He's undersized (5'11, 230) but has good speed and instincts.


The Bottom Line

UAB desperately needs this win against UTEP.  We've played some desperate teams this season (New Mexico, Rice) but UAB is a lot better than UNM and is definitely farther along than Rice.  That said, UTEP's defense should bend but not break against the Blazers.  David Isabelle is still their best player with the ball in his hands but UTEP's defense should be able to bottle him up.  UAB doesn't have any real gamebreakers at running back or tight end.  Shed is quick and talented but he's not an every down player that UAB can use to attack the middle of UTEP's defense (like Memphis did with their RB's).  

Last year, UAB escaped from El Paso behind a superhuman effort by the incredibly talented Joe Webb.  David Isabelle has the talent to put UAB on his shoulders and lead them to a win, and Bryan Ellis is a good, accurate QB.  But the Blazers just seem to be stuck in the mud.  They are one of those teams that plays up or down depending on the level of their competition.  They seem to be a team without identity and that's usually reflective of a team that has lost faith in their coaching staff.   After UCF steamrolled them on ESPN last week (42-7), I kind of expect the wheels to come off in the coming weeks.  But, we'll see if Isabelle and Ellis will  prevent that from happening.  

Offensively, the Miners again should be able to move the ball through the air and on the ground.  Last time, Donald Buckram carried 28 times for 164 yards.  I'd expect to see UTEP continue to work Donald back into the offense, but not at the expense of a passing attack that is playing lights out right now.  UAB has the nations 100th ranked pass defense.  You have to go with the hot hand.  And, right now Trevor Vittatoe is as hot as they come.  With Atwater out, I'd expect to see Evan Davis and Pierce Hunter attack the middle of the field.  That will open things up for Kris Adams deep.  It won't be easy on the road.  But if Trevor keeps up his level of play and if the defense continues to gel, the Miners should be able to escape from Birmingham with the win.