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2019 Tennessee Football Opponent Preview: UAB Blazers

This will not be an easy game.

NCAA Football: Boca Raton Bowl-UAB vs Northern Illinois Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers

Head Coach: Bill Clark (11-3, 36-18 overall)

Conference: Conference USA

2018 Record: 11-3

It’s crazy to think that the UAB football program didn’t exist two years ago.

The program - along with the bowling and rifle programs - was shut down prior to the 2015 season based off of claims that the university couldn’t afford to keep the program(s) afloat due to increasing costs. That didn’t last long, however, as public outcry and $27 million in independent fundraising brought the program back to life.

And boy, did it came back with a fury.

Play resumed in 2017 and the Blazers immediately became bowl eligible after winning eight games. The following year, they defeated Middle Tennessee State University to win their first conference championship (Conference USA) in school history.

Now, they’ll turn their attention to the Tennessee Volunteers on November 2.

Coaching: Head coach Bill Clark has been with the program since 2014, but enters his fourth season as head coach after the two-year program’s two-year hiatus.

Clark’s ascension began at Prattville High in Prattville, Alabama, where helped the Lions win two Class 6A national championships. He then went on to become the defensive coordinator at South Alabama and the head coach of Jacksonville State before joining the Blazers.

Clark was named the CBS Coach of the Year and the Conference USA Coach of the Year in 2017 and won the CBS Coach of the Year award again in 2018 after recording a school-best 11 wins and clinching the conference championship.

Bryant Vincent returns as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach after putting together the best offensive season in program history. Vincent’s 2018 offense set records for total points (418), total touchdowns (53), rushing touchdowns (32), total yards (5,680) and rushing yards (2,818).

The defense is in good hands as well with David Reeves running the show for the third year. Reeves’ unit smashed all kinds of records in 2018, including finishing ninth in total defense (299.2), set the school record with 48 sacks and 111 tackles for loss, and led the nation with three shutouts.

Offense: Outside of junior running back Spencer Brown, this offense is going to look a lot different player-wise in 2019 than it did in 2018.

A.J. Erdely, the team’s leading passer from 2018 is no longer on the roster, but redshirt sophomore Tyler Johnston III - who took over for Erdely last year - still is. He will compete with freshmen Dylan Hopkins and Bryson Lucero for the starting gig.

As mentioned earlier, Brown returns as the starting running back and is an absolute monster. He’s on the Maxwell Award Preseason Watch List for the second straight year after compiling 2,556 rushing yards and 27 total touchdowns in first two seasons at UAB.

The wide receiver group will be missing its top four producers from 2018, leaving plenty of questions at the position. It will be up to a mix of freshman and reserve players to carry the load this year.

Things don’t get much better for the offensive line, either. Clark will look to replace four starters from a year ago, but 12 of the current 19 offensive linemen on the roster are upperclassmen, so it may not be as difficult a task as it seems. Regardless, the offensive line is all about chemistry so the Blazers need to get this figured quickly in order to allow plenty of time for familiarity amongst the group.

Clark was able to reel in some JUCO transfers in the form of a couple offensive linemen and a receiver, which should help with the 2018 departures.

Defense: Just like the offense, the defense will be replacing a lot of players in 2019.

Gone are Jamell Garcia-Williams, Tre Crawford, and Quindarius Thagard - the three leading sack leaders from 2018. Those three players combined for 21.5 of the team’s 44 sacks last year.

But Clark has plenty of replacements in the form of talented freshman and JUCO transfers, including defensive tackle Tony Fair, who should find himself on the field early and often.

Four of the top five linebackers from 2018 are gone, too. Fitgerald Mofor will lead the way, with the rest fighting for playing time during fall camp. Kristopher Moll, who played nickel back last year, may end up switching to inside linebacker.

Brontae Harris, who was graded as one of the best corners in the nation, returns to lead the secondary. If Moll stays at nickel, then the position will be in good hands with those two and Starling Thomas, who is considered as a major up-and-comer.

The safety position is not in very good shape and that’s evidenced by two former running backs (Jarrion Street, Trey Whitmore) converting to DB over the offseason. Veterans Dy’jonn Turner and Will Dawkins will provide balance, but the position is thin on paper.