July 21, 2012

Opponent Preview: The UAB Blazers

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With the Urban Meyer Era fewer than 50 days aways from kicking off in Columbus, we at Buckeye Grove- with some help from our friends in the Rivals.com network- have decided to take an in-depth look at each of Ohio State's opponents for the 2012 season. Today, we'll be examining the Buckeyes' fourth opponent of the season: the UAB Blazers. You can see yesterday's preview of the California Golden Bears by clicking here.

One week before it opens its Big Ten season with a game against Michigan State, Ohio State will play its final out-of-conference tune-up game for the conference schedule when it welcomes the UAB Blazers to Columbus.

Like the Buckeyes are with Urban Meyer, the Blazers will be breaking in a new head coach in Garrick McGee. After going 3-9 in 2011, UAB is hopeful that the former Arkansas offensive coordinator will return the Blazers to a bowl game for the first time since 2004.

"This is a team that's been five or six plays away from a winning season the last three years. If you look at Conference USA, there have been a lot of coaching changes in the last year or two," Jack Williams of BlazerSportsReport.com said. "The feeling here is that this a program on the rise. The thought amongst the fan base is that this team has a chance to challenge for the eastern conference division in Conference USA and there are expectations that this will be a bowl team."

If the Blazers are going to meet those lofty expectations, they'll do it riding the arm of junior quarterback Jonathan Perry. The 6-foot-2, 210-pound passer threw for 2,042 yards and 10 touchdowns a year ago, numbers that should only improve in McGee's offense.

"He had a very, very solid spring practice," Williams said of Perry. "J.P has stepped in, proven himself, more and more confident as a leader. He was clearly, clearly separated by the second and third-team quarterbacks."

Despite returning only one starter to its offensive line in left tackle Chris Hubbard, Williams said that he expects the Blazers' passing attack to be one of the team's strong points. And with UAB expected to keep at least three receivers on the field at all times on offense, an Ohio State secondary that lacks much experience behind Bradley Roby and Travis Howard will be put to the test.

"UAB is going to surprise people with their ability to throw the ball. That will be predicated by the offensive line should they be able to stop a potential surge," Williams said. "UAB's got a deep group of receivers and they've got some talent catching the ball out of the backfield as well. I think the passing game will be a strength for UAB this year."

The defensive side of the ball presents more questions for the Blazers, with only four returning starters, led by middle linebacker Marvin Burdette. The UAB secondary, however, will be breaking in four new starters, something that could prove to be beneficial for an Ohio State passing attack that could still need time developing a rhythm in Meyer's system.

"The defensive backfield has been a concern for some time. Cortez Webb will be expected to come in and really compete at safety," Williams said. "UAB's defensive line's not going to out muscle a bunch of folks, but I believe they've got the quickness on the line to cause some problems for some people."

With the Blazers' trip to Columbus coming on the heels of a Sept. 15 visit to Columbia, S.C. to face South Carolina, UAB is prepared to reap the benefits that come along with facing highly-ranked opponents, even if those benefits don't include picking up wins.

"UAB's got Ohio State and South Carolina back-to-back, that's two of their first three games, but it also prepares them well for what they'll be facing for the rest of the season," Williams said. "It is a big deal. It's not a bad drive actually and it's a fast flight also, I'm sure there will be some UAB fans making the trip up. And for a smaller, mid-level program, it's good to get these games on the schedule to cover the expenses of running a division one program."

A kickoff time for the Sept. 22 matchup between the Buckeyes and the Blazers has yet to be announced.

You can follow Jack Williams on Twitter @RepJack.


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