CFN Preview 2013 - UAB Blazers
UAB RB Darren Reaves
UAB RB Darren Reaves
Posted Jul 16, 2013 2013 Preview - UAB Blazers

UAB Blazers

Preview 2013 

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By Richard Cirminiello

Head coach: Garrick McGee
Second year: 3-9
Returning Lettermen
Off. 23, Def. 20, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 24
Ten Best UAB Players
1. RB Darrin Reaves, Jr.
2. PK Ty Long, Jr.
3. WR Jackie Williams, Sr.
4. TE Kennard Backman, Jr.
5. SS Calvin Jones, Sr.
6. DE Chris Rabb, Soph.
7. LB Patrick Bastien, Sr.
8. WR Jamarcus Nelson, Jr.
9. QB Austin Brown, Soph.
10. S Jake Ganus, Soph.
2013 Schedule
8/31 at Troy
9/7 at LSU
9/21 Northwestern State
9/28 at Vanderbilt
10/5 Florida Atlantic
10/12 at FIU
10/26 at UTSA
11/2 Middle Tenn
11/9 at Marshall
11/16 at East Carolina
11/23 Rice
11/30 Southern Miss
Garrick McGee made progress in his first season as the UAB head coach; just not the kind of progress that's readily detectable in the standings.

McGee knew the magnitude of the challenge he was taking on when he left the Arkansas staff for Birmingham. The Blazers reside in the heart of SEC country, without the history, facilities or fan base to even attract second-tier recruits from the region. Oh, and the team hasn't even had a winning record since 2004, a disturbing trend likely to continue for at least the next season or two.

So, why did McGee to take on a rebuilding job that has all of the markings of a coach killer? Because he believes in his process and his ability to coach up kids, mantras that have resonated since his arrival. UAB won as many games in 2012 as it did in 2011, three, but the team did play with more competitiveness. The offense went from 81st nationally to 50th, while the D rose from 114th to 84th. It was a start, something the Blazers can build upon this fall.

If McGee and his assistants are to continue pushing the rock uphill in 2013, it'll have to come from the offense and the special teams. The D's problems may be here to stay. Leading the offense will be the backfield combo of QB Austin Brown and RB Darrin Reaves, both of whom surprised as underclassmen last fall. Reaves, in particular, ran toward the end of 2012 as if he plans on becoming the most dangerous back to ever play for the school. On special teams, ace kicker Ty Long and P Hunter Mullins form one of the better kicking combos in Conference USA.

The UAB football program is the proverbial marathon, and by no means a sprint. McGee is patient, knowing that there are no overnight solutions for solving what ails the Blazers. He and his assistants will continue to recruit the kids that want to be in Birmingham, fine-tune an offense with potential and hope that an elusive winning season can be parlayed into bigger and better things down the road.

What to watch for on offense: A big year from TE Kennard Backman. Complementing the Blazers' speed on the outside will be Backman, an underrated tight end that head coach Garrick McGee feels has a future playing on Sundays. The 6-3, 258-pound junior scratched the surface of his potential in 2012 by making 23 grabs for 235 yards and four touchdowns. Backman can be a quarterback's best friend, with his athleticism and sure hands crossing over the middle of the field.

What to watch for on defense: Chris Rabb to fit in nicely at defensive end. Sure, the sophomore is only 5-10 and 220 pounds, the equivalent of a safety playing at the line of scrimmage. However, desperate times call for desperate measures. And UAB desperately needs more from its pass rushers. Rabb is explosive off the snap, often getting around the edge before opposing tackles can get out of their stance. He led the team with 3.5 sacks in 2012, an output that could be doubled in 2013.

The team will be far better if … the offensive line can keep the pocket clean. UAB will only go as far as the offense can carry it this fall. The D won't win games for this program in 2013. RB Darrin Reaves is an emerging star, but balance is being sought by the coaching staff. And the best way to support the development of QB Austin Brown is by keeping him from scrambling for his life. The Blazers ranked 116th nationally in sacks allowed, a level of futility that just cannot be repeated.

The Schedule: Just get through the first half. Five of the first seven games are on the road, and while there's no chance to hang around with LSU and beating Vanderbilt would be a major upset, Troy, FIU and UTSA are all going to be winnable and getting Northwestern State and Florida Atlantic at home will pad the win total. It'll take something special to beat either Marshall or East Carolina in the back-to-back November road games, but the Blazers might come up with a winning record if they can win two out of three home games against Middle Tennessee, Rice and Southern Miss.

Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Darrin Reaves. One of the biggest surprises of Conference USA in 2012, Reaves is set to spearhead the offensive attack in 2013. He came out of nowhere to become a rarity in Birmingham, a 1,000-yard rusher, despite only starting half of his team's games. Reaves is an instinctive and efficient runner, using a 5-10, 210-pound frame to shed tacklers. He's also a gifted receiver out of the backfield, catching 41 passes for 302 yards and a touchdown.

Best Defensive Player: Senior SS Calvin Jones. Jones enjoyed a successful second season in green and gold, collecting 71 tackles to rank third on the team. The one-time junior college transfer is only 5-10 and 187 pounds, but he plays much bigger than his measurements. Jones is tenacious in pursuit of the ball, and he wraps up nicely in the open field. On a team that needs all of the run defenders it can get, No. 11 will masquerade as a linebacker whenever it's needed.

Key players to a successful season: The defensive linemen. The UAB defense is not going through any kind of an overnight transformation anytime soon. But it sure can be more effective if the linemen can simply attack the pocket with greater frequency. The Blazers have been one of the nation's worst teams in sacks over the past few years, heaping enormous pressure on the back seven. Out of Chris Rabb, Connor Boyett and Diaheem Watkins, at least one of the ends has to provide a more consistent presence in the backfield.

The season will be a success if ... the team can reach five wins for the first time since 2009. After back-to-back three-win campaigns, the Blazers need to exhibit the types of gains that actually reach the standings. And the newly watered-down Conference USA could be just what this program needs to take another step forward. UAB is not winning at LSU or at Vanderbilt in September, but taking half of the other 10 games on the slate is a reasonable goal for 2013.

Key game: at Aug. 31 at Troy. This short two-hour trip to Troy could reveal plenty about the 2013 UAB team. The Trojans have won the last two games in the series, but the Blazers feel as if they've narrowed the gap on their in-state rival. For an unsure squad, such as UAB, an opener could set the tone for the season ahead. And with a trip to Baton Rouge waiting in the on-deck circle, the Blazers would love to pocket their first win of the new year right out of the gate.

2012 Fun Stats:
- Passing yards per game: UAB 308.8 – Opponents 244.6
- Interceptions: UAB 6 – Opponents 13
- Sacks: UAB 20 - Opponents 42
- 2013 UAB Preview | 2013 UAB Offense
- 2013 UAB Defense | 2013 UAB Depth Chart