WKU defense cueing in on balanced UAB attack

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt yells during the WKU vs MTSU game on Sept. 13, 2014. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Kyle Williams

After a successful two weeks of preparation for Navy’s triple-option attack, the Hilltopper defense has shifted its attention to a well-rounded UAB squad that’s set to matchup against WKU tomorrow at 6 p.m. in the Hilltoppers’ first Conference USA home game.

The Blazers sit at 2-2 on the season and averaged 507 yards of offense and 41 points through their first three games before dropping a 34-20 decision to FIU (3-3) while racking up just 380 yards this past weekend.

The balanced UAB offense is powered by two rotating quarterbacks in junior Cody Clements and redshirt freshman Jeremiah Briscoe, a committee of running backs in sophomore Jordan Howard and senior D.J. Vinson, and a plethora of athletic wide receivers, led by senior J.J. Nelson.

“Offensively, they’re very productive,” WKU defensive coordinator Nick Holt said. “They have good skill, some really fast receivers and they have two, three good running backs. The quarterbacks are solid players, and when those guys are clicking, they’re good on offense. They’ve had some good outings against some people, so we’ll have our hands full again.”

Holt said the Blazers’ balanced offensive repertoire is similar to that of Middle Tennessee. One particularly similar aspect is the athleticism of the quarterback. MTSU signal caller Austin Grammer tallied 125 rushing yards in the Blue Raiders’ 50-47 overtime win against WKU. UAB’s Clements has rushed for 94 yards and two touchdowns thus far this season.

Another similarity is the running back by committee. MTSU’s Reggie Whatley and Shane Tucker rushed for 74 and 67 yards, respectively, on Sept. 13, and UAB’s attack is more of the same with Howard and Vinson splitting carries. The two have combined for 651 yards on the ground this season.

“After seeing Middle’s quarterback – very athletic obviously – this guy is very similar,” junior linebacker Nick Holt said. “They have a very similar backfield with two really good running backs, so Middle definitely prepared us for UAB, but UAB is a different team.”

Nevertheless, Holt Sr. pointed out that there are several unique factors about UAB, such as its two-tight end schemes and big-play ability.

UAB’s senior tight end Kennard Backman and sophomore tight end Gerald Everett are mainstays in the Blazer offense and add to the already athletic receiving core, highlighted by Nelson, who has a career average of 20 yards per reception.

When UAB played Mississippi State on Sept. 6, the Blazers scored on touchdown passes of 88, 81 and 75 yards.

“They create a lot of big plays,” Holt Sr. said. “What happened with them last week is they turned the ball over, and they had some penalties. They had a couple long plays called back. …They’ll come up here and play really well. We have to be on our game.”