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Know Your Enemy: Previewing The UAB Blazers

CUSA Football Championship - UAB v Marshall Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Our look at all 12 of the opponents that Georgia faces this fall continues with a look at the UAB Blazers.

Location: Birmingham, Ala.

Home Stadium: At long last, the Blazers are released from the venerable Old Gray Lady of Legion Field. The Blazers are set to christen the all-new Protective Stadium, which has a capacity of just over 47,000. Truthfully, it’s a fit that’s just right for a program like UAB and should provide a more intimate feel such as what UCF has done as opposed to just playing at a big stadium that’s cavernous - we’re looking at you, Georgia State.

2020 Record: 6-3. The Fighting Sportscoats bounced back from losses to Louisiana Tech and Louisiana by a combined seven points to beat Rice 21-16 and then go on the road to beat Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia 22-13 for the Conference USA title. That ended up being the end of the season for UAB as its opponent for the Gasparilla Bowl, South Carolina withdrew from the bowl (chickened out?) due to COVID-19 issues.

Head Coach: Bill Clark. The first and last names may be ordinary, but what he has done in Birmingham is nothing shy of remarkable, being there to restart the program when it returned in 2017. Overall, he is 40-22 on the UAB sidelines. To be honest, it’s a bit surprising that he was not in serious running for a prime SEC and ACC job this offseason, but if the program continues to thrive, that’ll come soon.

Notable Alumni: Roddy White, who did some rather notable things with the Atlanta Falcons. Sam Hunt actually played QB for the Blazers and has gone onto do well in country music. But most importantly...the one and only Alexander Shunnarah, yes, that guy all over your town’s billboards, is a UAB alum.

An Offense That’s Been There

Other than running backs and receivers, the core of the UAB offense returns, and it starts with an offensive line returning all five starters than helped to allow the Blazers to rush for 200 yards per game and give up only four sacks. Needless to say, Georgia’s defensive front should get a challenge in this area from a group led by Florida transfer Kadeem Telfort and Sidney Wells at the tackle positions, Colby Ragland and Matthew Treharn at guard, and Andrew Smith at center.

They’ll be providing pass protection for quarterback Tyler Johnston, who started the first eight games, missed two due to injury before returning for the final two games last season, throwing for 843 yards, Most importantly, he had seven to one touchdowns to interceptions ratio.

But there are holes to fill at the skill positions with the top two receivers and top rusher graduating. That’s where a handful that played smaller roles last year will be expected to step up - tight end Hayden Pittman (227 yards) and receivers Trae Shropshire, TJ Jones, and Ryan Davis along with Jermaine Brown moving from running back to the slot position. Dewayne Mcbride, who chipped in to rush for 439 yards and 9.3 yards per carry is expected to step up on a unit that with the returning pieces around should not have much drop-off.

Nothing bashful about the defense

It’s a similar story on defense with nine starters returning. All three defensive line starters return and will be joined by LSU transfer Justin Thomas. In fact, four linemen return on the group that had at least ten tackles for a loss, so this is a group that should be very good up front. At linebacker, West Virginia transfer Charlie Benton should help soften the blow of losing two starters, including two-time first-team all-conference selection Jordan Smith.

Experience is hardly an issue in the secondary. Other than cornerback Brontae Harris, the entire group returns plus Starling Thomas, who missed last year with an injury.

Dressed Up Special

UAB has the luxury in both its placekicker and punter returning. Matt Quinn made 11-of-12 field goals last year and converted all but one extra point with punter Kyle Greenwell coming off a season in which he averaged 40 yards per punt. Brown, who averaged 25 yards per kickoff return, has athleticism that’ll emphasize the importance of kickoff touchbacks.

Bottom line

First of all, history says that a Georgia walkover against UAB is no guarantee. In 2003, the Dawgs sleepwalked through a game against UAB and narrowly won, 16-13.

Assuming that full attendance is permitted, this game may be one of the most anticipated in Athens in quite some time regardless of opponent for one sole reason - that it’ll be the first full-on campus tailgating, gameday experience since November of 2019. It may very well be one of the most anticipated games in a long time in Athens, and the campus will be downright electric.

As for the game itself, it’ll be hard to get a grasp depending on how the Clemson game goes. If Georgia loses there, the Dawgs will be out to make a statement against UAB. If not, there will be understandable Larry Munson-like worrying over if Georgia will come out focused or not.

This UAB team is one that believes it can win and returns lots of guys who believe just that. It’s something that if Georgia does not play sharp from the start, could cause lots of heartburn for Georgia fans.

In the end, Georgia should outtalent and outdepth the Blazers 34-10.

Go Dawgs!