Thursday, September 07, 2006

Week 2:

Bama vs. Vandy

After a good test by the Hawaii Warriors, Bama proved that the loss of all those starters on defense hurt, but only a little.

Why this is a cakewalk:

Did you watch the Vandy/Michigan game? If you did, then I'll just assume that the thought "did Vandy decide to forego live tackling, too?" went through your head several times as well. Wolverine RB Mike Hart piled up 146 yards on 31 carries (4.7 ypc), despite consistent penetration into the backfield. Though Michigan seemed to struggle at times, there was never any real doubt that the 'Dores would head back to Nashville 0-1 and would rightly resume their place as the perpetual doormat of the SEC in a week's time. I get the feeling that KD will be back on his way towards topping Shaun Alexander's all time rushing record this week.

If he only needs 96 yards a game to stay on track, after Saturday he can probably take a few weeks off...

Through the air, Henne passed 23 times, completing 11 (47.8%) for 136 yards and 2 TDs against the Vandy defense, compared to Bama starter Wilson who threw 29 times, completing 16 (55.2%) for 256 yards and 1 TD against a similarly poor Hawaii defense. The passing game for Bama also looks to get another boost as DJ Hall more than likely returns after sitting out the opener. It was initially thought that Hall was on the sidelines because of an ankle injury, but it was later confirmed that he was still under suspension and would play against Vandy if healthy. Given Keith Brown's stellar performance Saturday (he led all receivers with 134 yards on 6 catches and 1 TD), another big play receiver on the field will only serve to increase JP's options on moving the ball down field through the air.

Not even this poor man's Polomalu could keep Keith Brown from catching everything thrown his way.

Defensively, the Tide should shut the Vandy offense completely down. While they gave up a lot of yardage to Hawaii on shovel passes, a lot of that was due to the nickel package remaining on the field most of the game in order to stymie the Hawaii passing attack, taking the middle linebacker out of the equation and leaving that gap open. It was frustrating to watch (or listen to, thank you very much Charter Communications), but it would have been more frustrating if we were giving up 30 yard pass plays while stopping the run. Vandy, on the other hand, was far less successful against Michigan. The 'Dores had only 9 first downs (compared to Michigan's 20) and gained only 144 yards on offense. Vandy QB Nickson completed 11 of his 25 passes for 99 yards, but was sacked five times and lost two fumbles. On the ground, Nickson led Vandy with a pathetic 29 yards rushing on 15 carries (1.9 ypc). If we can't shut these guys out, then it's going to be rough times ahead of the Tide.

Why the unthinkable might happen:
If Bama's first and second teams somehow get ahold of some bad sushi the night before the game, then Vandy has a shot. Otherwise, I'm pretty comfortable calling a 24-0 shutout.


After the close loss to Oklahoma, the Blazers return to Birmingham to face a team that upset them in their final game last season and kept them from being bowl eligible. I see this one as an easy win for UAB but, as always, there's a catch.

Why we'll win:

The East Carolina Pirates opened their season last weekend with a trip to Annapolis, where they fell to Navy 28-23. The good news for UAB is that Navy has been running an option offense for several years now, and first time starting QB Brian Hampton led his team with 149 yards rushing on 34 carries (4.4 ypc). Furthermore, the Pirate D gave up 97 yds on 13 carries (7.5 ypc) to RB Adam Ballard, 62 yards on 8 carries (7.75 ypc) to RB Reggie Campbell, 49 yards on 6 carries (8.2 ypc) to RB Shun White, and 27 yards on 4 carries (6.8 ypc) to RB Matt Hall. What am I getting at? They can't stop anyone on the ground, and that's what we do best. With Sam Hunt displaying an easy grasp of the new Zone Read/Wishbone(ish) offense and ability to run for tough yardage himself, and the depth at running back behind him, there should be plenty of similar stats when I start talking about next week's game.

The bad news for ECU is that Navy attempted only six passes the entire game (and completed only two), and UAB is sure to attempt a few more than that. They can load up the box to stop the run and let Hunt kill them through the air, or play the pass and let us eat them alive on the ground. Either way UAB scoring easy and often should be a lock.

It's going to be deja vu for the Pirates when they see another #3 under center Saturday.

Why you might find me in the parking lot of Legion Field Saturday night screaming in frustration and possibly crying:

Well, Watson is still our coach. Boneheaded things he might do to screw this up for us:

1) Give Williams the start again after he was completely ineffective in Norman because he has "seniority and experience." That flew in the pre-season, but if Williams trots out onto the field for the first offensive series while Hunt sits on the bench then Watson has finally proven once and for all he has no idea what the hell he's doing.

2) Start tossing the ball down field every down and completely ignoring the running game. Watson has a tendency to do the exact opposite of what will work against a given team. In last season's opener at Tennessee, Watson chose to play SEC ball against an SEC power. It almost worked (and several weeks later when everyone realized just how suck ass awful the Vols were, it becamse clearer why), but for a coach to try and play power run and clock control with a poor defense and a deep passer like Darrell Hackney under center against a team with a monstrous defensive front but sketchy secondary and the ability to run the ball all day on you...well, let's just call it for what it is. Stupidity.

3) Leave Corey White on the sideline in favor of Dan Burks, despite his continued troubles with fumblitis. Burks is a power runner. I can't deny that. He can lay a linebacker out like he was a high school JV backup, and he's got some surprising break away speed to boot. But he cannot hang onto the ball and he probably never will. White has proven he's the more reliable back and he's just as solid as Burks when it comes to his rushing abilities. Let the man keep showing why he's #1 on the depth chart whenever you want to run between the tackles.

Of further note is that Larry McSwain is still questionable for Saturday. The pre-season all conference selection and C-USA defensive player of the year didn't make the trip to Norman for violating unspecified team rules, and that absence was felt whenever Adrian Peterson was able to bounce outside. I doubt his absence would lead to any significant improvement in the ECU running game (they rushed for only 76 yards on 25 carries against Navy), but ECU QB James Pinkney completed 24 of his 35 throws for 283 yards and 2 TDs with no interceptions, so a solid pass rush from the D-line wouldn't hurt us, and McSwain would certainly help with that. If I had to guess a score, I'd say UAB 28, ECU 14.

Pick 'em Game Picks:
After going 8 for 12 in week 1 on the strength of some idiotic upset picks, I'm hoping to rebound...with some more upsets. My picks in bold.

Michigan/Central Michigan: Michigan. Duh.

Mississippi State/Auburn: Auburn, though I really wish Nico would quit choosing our rivals' games for this thing, I've already had to pull for Tennessee once!

Notre Dame/Penn State: Sorry Muttonchops, but I'm going with JoePa and the upset here. The Irish got their best press off of a loss last season, and I really don't see them topping ten wins this season, especially after their craptacular performance in Atlanta. The O-line didn't give Quinn the protection he needed, and with Penn State continuing to re-affirm it's "Linebacker U" reputation, it looks like a tough day for him. To make matters worse, first time starter Anthony Morelli threw for 208 yards and three TDs (completeing 16 of 32, 50% completion). This one might get ugly.

Boston College/Clemson: I'm going with BC on this one, but I'm not sure why. Clemson whipped the pants off of FAU, while BC barely got by Central Michigan. I guess I'm going with the Eagles on the faith of their quarterback play.

Colorado State/Colorado: My second upset pick, though after dropping the opener to 1-AA Montana State can the Buffs really be considered a favorite? The Rams ate their cupcake, so the Dan Hawkins humility tour rolls on for another week.

Florida State/Troy: Troy is in for such an ass whipping. Tee Hee.

West Virginia/Eastern Washington: The EWU Eagles are getting paid this year, heading down to West Va. after taking it from Oregon State in week 1.

Alabama/Vanderbilt: See Above.

Florida/UCF: The Gators notch another win as they travel inexorably towards their first defeat at the hands of the Crimson Tide.

LSU/Arizona: Unless Miles has another collapse like he did against UT and UGA, I don't see Arizona getting out of Baton Rouge with a win. They barely got by BYU by putting up 16 points, so I'm pretty sure LSU wins this one going away in the fourth.

South Carolina/Georgia: The Cocks came close last season, but after watching their offensive problems against Mississippi State I doubt they'll put much of a scare into UGA this time around.

Texas/Ohio State: Both destroyed their opener, but Texas will be without starting CB Tarell Brown. The Longhorns go down shooting, but tOSU still notches a quality road win.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Pick 'em results for week one (my picks in bold): 8 of 12

Texas - North Texas: Correct

Ohio State - Northern Illinois: Correct

Tennessee - California: Correct, and I've never felt worse about being right in my whole life. I propose that UT games shouldn't be allowed anymore so I won't have to hope they win anymore.

West Virginia - Marshall: Correct

Alabama - Hawaii: Correct

Florida - Southern Miss: Correct

Oklahoma - UAB: Wrong. Damnit.

Auburn - Washington State: Wrong. I didn't think the Cougars had much of a shot, but I always get upset minded in the first week and the Teagles typically put up a sub par performance in the opener. Oh well.

Ga Tech - Notre Dame: Correct

LSU - La Lafayette: Correct

Arkansas - USC: Wrong. I'm really surprised they took such a beating, too. Maybe Herring isn't the defensive genius everyone thinks he is.

Miami - Florida State: Wrong.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

After watching Ole Miss and Memphis, I'm fairly positive that the Rebels go to a bowl this season, and just 'cause it would be awesome, I'd love to see UAB take C-USA and play them in the Liberty Bowl. Oh man, I would talk so much shit to The Girl if that happened...

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.