By: Michael Hanich | Sports Editor
The South Alabama Jaguars (1-2) will take on their second away game this Saturday just one week before they start Sun Belt Conference play. The Jaguars will be facing off against the UAB Blazers (2-0), who have surpassed many obstacles to get to where they are now. In December 2nd of 2014, the Blazers had their football program, along with the rifle and bowling programs, in order to save money. This was a very controversial move from the UAB President.
Over seven and a half months later, the football was reinstated back after millions of dollars donated to bring the program back. After a two-year hiatus, not only have the Blazers been successful but they have accounted for a 21-8 record in 2017, 2018, and two games into the 2019 season. This includes last season where the Blazers won the C-USA Conference Championship and their bowl-game with a 11-3 record.
This season, the Blazers are looking to repeat as one of the most productive teams in the nation outside of a major power five conference. They look to do so with their defense that currently ranks 45th in the nation in points allowed per game (19.5) and their returning starting sophomore quarterback Tyler Johnston III.
The Jaguars’ defense will have to face another high-power quarterback this week when they play in Legion Field in Birmingham. On Tuesday, Jaguars safety D.J. Daniels was asked on the main keys in preparation for UAB, he responded “We’re going to continue what we’re doing. We are coming into the game with the same right gameplan. We come in with every other plan to come in to win, play our technique, working our fundamentals and taking away what they like to do most.”
That is taking away the run game of the Blazers and limiting Johnston. The Jags’ defense has done well on limiting star offensive players like Nebraska Cornhuskers quarterback Adrian Martinez. The defensive line led by defensive end Jeffery Whatley and nose tackle Jordon Beaton will need to be huge in order to down the Blazers’ efficient running game. Whatley has accounted for 10 total tackles, four tackles for loss, and one sack in three games. Beaton has accounted for seven tackles and three tackles for loss this season.
Offensively, the Jaguars are looking to be more efficient as more physical. On Monday’s press conference, head coach Steve Campbell “the things that got us the first two weeks (turnovers and penalties), didn’t get us this week. Now we’ve got to be more physical and more violent.” This includes the offensive line dominating the line of scrimmage, the running back bursting through the second level of defense, and the passing game getting deeper.
Missed opportunities on the offensive side of the ball plagued the Jaguars. The Jaguars find themselves in the lower half of the nation in every major statistic excluding rushing yards per game where they rank 43rd with an average of 194 yards. Senior running back Tra Minter was banged up last against Memphis but has been practicing this week. Jared Wilson and quarterback Cephus Johnson will be the leaders of the offense against this stout Blazers defense.
South will need to build the passing offense by mixing routes with sophomore Jalen Tolbert coming alive last week against Memphis. Kawaan Baker and Cade Southerland have been suppressed by efficient man coverage schemes. Mixing up the schemes will help them contribute to the offense and get Johnson the confidence to build the passing offense.
The game will be broadcast on the NFL Network at 2:30 pm.