Thursday, August 31, 2006

Week 1 Preview: UAB at Oklahoma

Well, there's really not a lot I can say for week one since neither team has played a down yet. Next week when I've actually seen the Blazers and their opponents in action and have some stats and such to back up my assertions there will be some more in depthery thrown your way. But for now, here's what you get.

Why an upset isn't as crazy as it sounds:
As I've noted plenty of times, the Blazer defense has been the talk of the pre-season, with plenty of talent and experience returning and the inept, incredibly fat, prevent defense fetishist Wayne Bolt banished from the Magic City in favor of new (sort of) DC Rick Christophel. The Blazer defensive front is stocked with talent, experience, and depth while the Sooner O-line is a question mark that's only loomed larger with the dismissal of starting QB Rhett Bomar and O-lineman J.D. Quinn, and the return of Paul Thompson under center. Thompson lost his starting job in last season's opener after a dreadful, turnover laden performance, and hasn't taken a snap as QB since. With Oklahoma closing practice it's difficult to guess what sort of offense new OC Kevin Wilson is installing, but some variation of the spread with a healthy dose of running from Adrian Peterson is a good guess since he came from Northwestern. Adrian Peterson will naturally be the focus of the defensive planning and stopping the run, while certainly cliched, is a key to Blazer success. I don't recall where I read it, but someone made the point that defenses will give up eight touchdowns through the air to the Sooners while trying to hold Peterson to less than 100 yards rushing. While that's a fair assessment, it's my belief that the Blazer D-line, if the Sooner O-line is as weak as it's been made out to be, should be enough to stymie Peterson. After all, even the best running backs need blocking at some point. With the D-line containing the run, the linebackers will be free to play both the run and pass, a necessity since the short passing game is expected to be a priority of the OU offense.

On offense depth, talent, and experience are also a key factor if UAB is to walk away victorious. The backfield is stocked with four senior backs who each have a 100 yard game. The two starters, Burks and White, are power runners, while backups Chaney and Elliott are speed backs. The new look Blazers have made the ground game, field position and clock control a priority, and keeping the Sooner offense (read Adrian Peterson) off the field and deep in their own territory won't hurt their chances of coming home with a big win. Losing deep threat Nick Coon in the pre-season is a negative for the Blazers, but this isn't the "hurl the ball 60 yards three times in a row" UAB of Darrell Hackney. Receivers Willie Edwards and Norris Drinkard have stepped up during the pre-season, as have freshmen wideouts Mike Jones and Sylvester Mencer. For each small modicum of success through the air for QBs Williams and Hunt the chances of an upset grow, especially considering the lack of true playmakers in the OU secondary.

Why UAB will probably lose:
Though I believe UAB's defensive front should be enough to give the OU offense fits, I'm positive the Sooner defensive front is more than capable of shutting the Blazer offense completely down. Linebacker Rufus Alexander led the team with 102 tackles (17 for loss) last season and is on the watch list for the Butkus Award. End Calvin Thibodeaux (why isn't he playing for LSU?) led the team with 10 sacks. That's just for starters on a defensive front that returns plenty of veterans and will continue to emphasize speed and aggressiveness. As much as our game plan will/should focus on exploiting the weak O-line of the Sooners, the OU game plan will focus that much more on penetrating the backfield and shutting down the Blazer offense before it can even get going. I have no doubt that Burks and White can run all over C-USA, but this front won't be looking to give up a ton of yardage to the opening cupcake. I expect UAB to keep it tight for three quarters, but at the end of the day we probably won't be able to score enough to pull this one out. If I had to guess a score, I'd say Sooners 28, UAB 13.

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