Sunday, September 03, 2006

UAB 17, Oklahoma 24

As The Girl put it, we played our hearts out and came away with a moral victory. As I put it, a moral victory is still a loss.

What Went Wrong:
While our defense stymied Peterson and kept him ineffective the first half and came up with some big takeaways in the red zone to keep the Sooners from scoring and us in it, we simply weren't able to score or sustain long drives when we really needed to against the Sooner defensive front. Those problems were exacerbated by a constant breakdown in special teams coverage of kick returns. The Sooners averaged 11.2 yards a return on 6 punt returns (with a long of 27) and 40 yards per return on 4 kickoff returns (with a long of 47). The result was superb starting field position for OU as they routinely started their drives close to their own 40 yard line, while pinning us behind our own ten on several occasions.

Further, the Blazers continued to dig themselves into holes on second and third down with penalties, where we were flagged 11 times for 77 yards versus 5 for 40 yards for the Sooners. We were only 2 for 11 on third down, and much of that was due to penalties bringing up 3rd and long. The first two drives came to 3rd and 12 after a 2 yard false start was accepted on the UAB 5. Dan Burks rushed for 11 yards, bringing up 4th down instead of the 1st down we should have had without the penalty. Our second drive saw similar results as we were flagged for five yards on another false start to make it 2nd and 15. Those five yards were gained back by QB Williams to make it 3rd and 10, only to see us flagged for another five yards on a delay of game penalty to make it 3rd and 15. Corey White caught a screen for 8 yards, but with the penalties it only brought up 4th and 7 instead of continuing the drive. In contrast, our one long, sustained drive was the third, when Sam Hunt was inserted and the Blazers drove 80 yards on 15 plays and ate 7:26 off the clock, all while committing no penalties.

It would be tempting to blame our troubles on a botched call in the fourth, when UAB clearly stripped the ball from OU's return man after a punt, but the refs blew the play dead before the ball was stripped and we were unable to challenge, preventing us from starting a drive from about the Sooner 10 and at least attempting a field goal. While that would have certainly helped, we shouldn't have been in the position to need that break so late in the game.

The final nail in the coffin came when, on 4th and 10, down 24-17, and with a little over two minutes to go and no time outs, Watson chose to punt instead of go for it and let the Sooners run the clock out. While there was no guarantee that we would have converted on fourth, and with the hero of the game Sam Hunt on the sidelines after taking a viscious shot and the ineffective Williams back in, the passing game had still had success against the OU corners and converting the fourth down and driving down the field through the air wasn't completely out of the question.

What Went Right:
It looked like Watson took some advice from little brother Mack and installed the offense that won him a national title last season. While certainly no Vince Young, Sam Hunt ran the Zone Read offense effectively as the Blazers ran for 135 yards (versus 143 for OU). Hunt led all rushers with 65 on 15 carries (4.3 ypc average), followed by Dan Burks (38 on 13, 2.9 ypc), and Corey White (23 on 9, 2.6 ypc). It was also interesting to see the Blazers lining up in the Wishbone on numerous occasions, something I've been clamoring to see from Alabama in order to take advantage of the wealth of backfield talent present at the Capstone. Hunt was also successful through the air completing 9 of 15 for 149 yards and one touchdown. Williams, unfortunately, was mostly ineffective leading two drives that didn't net a first down before being pulled in favor of Hunt. He completed both his passes for 20 yards and rushed once for 5, but if Hunt's performance is any indication he'll be running the Blazer offense as the clear starter for the rest of the season.

On the defensive side of the ball, I was pleased to see the Blazers playing more agressively and coming up with big plays to keep the Sooners out of the end zone. We came away with two picks and two fumble recoveries (should have been three) while only losing one fumble. The biggest criticism that can be leveled at the Blazer D is that they gave Peterson the corners too often. He was routinely shut down while trying to run between the tackles, but was typically successful when bouncing to the outside. His 69 yard run for a score on a screen pass after our briefly taking the lead was a direct result of a lack of coverage to the outside, and we were never able to score again.

Overall I'm pleased with how the Blazers played last night. They ran the ball against a stout defense and dominated time of possession despite coming up short at the end, and if this performance is any indication of the level at which UAB can play then a C-USA title shouldn't be too terribly out of reach. I doubt we'll see another defense that good in conference play (and, save UGA, against our OOC slate), though our D will face better QBs than Thompson along the way. Of course the close loss against opener Tennessee inspired similar feelings in me, so I'm excited to see how we fair against ECU next week to see if this performance was another fluke.


Blogger breadchick said...

Sorry bout your team's loss... I know you've been looking forward to the season start.

3:39 PM  

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