The UAB Blazers will open their 2021 college football season against the Jacksonville State Gamecocks on September 1. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 pm (ET) at the Crampton Bowl.
Line: UAB -16.0, Over/under 51.5
Series: UAB 3-2. The Blazers have won each of the last three meetings. These programs have not met since 2005. This is the first time the teams are meeting on a neutral field with the other five contests being held in Birmingham.
The UAB Blazers, 6-3 overall in 2020, are coming off their third straight C-USA division title and second conference crown in the last three years. The Blazers are 34-16 since 2017 under head coach Bill Clark.
UAB returns 17 starters from last year's squad.
Senior quarterback Tyler Johnston III leads the eight returnees on offense. Johnston, who missed parts of the last two seasons, completed 58.8% of his passes for 857 yards, seven touchdowns and one interception in five games a season ago.
While UAB lost all-time leading rusher Spencer Brown to graduation, the Blazers return two quality backs in sophomore DeWayne McBride (439 yards, four TDs, 9.3 avg.) and junior Jermaine Brown (250 yards, one TD, 4.0 avg.).
Tight end Hayden Pittman (19 receptions, one TD) and wide receiver Trea Schropshire (14 catches for 320 yards, two TDs) are the UAB's top returning receivers. RaJae’ Johnson-Sanders, Garrit Prince (team-high four touchdown receptions), A.J. Davis IV, Penn State transfer T.J. Jones, Tejhaun Palmer and incoming freshman Fred Farrier II are also players to keep an eye on.
UAB returns nine starters from a defensive unit that was one of the best in the nation. The Blazers, who were fantastic against the pass a season ago, ranked 15th in the nation in scoring and eighth in total defense. Their base defense is a 4-2-5.
Leading tackler Kris Moll (59 tackles, two sacks) moves from linebacker to safety and the Blazers' top linebacker from a year ago, Jordan Smith, was selected in the fourth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
However, 6'7" Alex Wright (17 tackles, three TFL, one Sack) and 6'6" Kelle Sanders (2.5 TFL, 0.5 sacks) are freakish athletes and are slated to take over at the Jack position. Antonio Moultrie, who was fourth on the team a year ago with 33 tackles, moved from defensive line to SAM, but that still leaves the Blazers with a solid trio of linemen -- Tyree Turner, Mi'Carlo Stanley and LSU transfer Justin Thomas.
About Jacksonville State
Jacksonville State, an ASUN member, is ranked No. 8 in the AFCA FCS Top 25 as the Gamecocks return most of their roster from last year's squad that went 10-3 and reached the quarterfinals of the FCS tournament. JSU claimed its ninth OVC crown and sixth in the past seven years this past spring.
Senior quarterback Zerrick Coleman, who did not play this spring due to injury, will once again be under center. The 6'3" former Clemson backup is a dual threat who is tied for first in career passing touchdowns (61), second in passing yards (7,491) and second in total offensive yards (8,260) in program history.
JSU returns three solid running backs, led by Josh Samuels (773 yards, eight TDs) and Uriah West (667 yards, eight TDs), that produced over 1800 yards and 19 touchdowns. Ahmad Edwards (17 receptions for 284 yards, three TDs) Michael Pettway (18 catches for 239 yards, two TDs) and Dave Russell (26 receptions for 352 yards, three TDs) lead a solid group of receivers. The Gamecocks also have the entire offensive line intact.
JSU operates out of a 4-3 setup but uses multiple looks. The Gamecocks return their top two tacklers from a year ago in safety Nicaro Harper (92 tackles, three INTs) and linebacker Marshall Clark (85 stops).
Meanwhile, DJ Coleman (55 tackles, nine sacks, 17.5 TFL) and Umstead Sanders (55 tackles) lead a solid group of defensive linemen. Outside linebacker Jaylin Swain (55 tackles, three sacks) joined Harper, Coleman and Clark as 2021 preseason All-ASUN selections.
JSU held opponents to 17.6 points and 92.9 yards per game a year ago.
I expect this to be an outstanding contest but I believe that UAB (-720 money line has too much talent overall and will prevail in the second half. However, I'm taking JSU to cover as UAB won each of its last two season-openers against FCS teams by a total of 15 points. The Gamecocks are an experienced team and have lots of talent on both sides of the ball.
While I believe this game will be a defensive battle, I am going to pass on the over/under as there's always a grey area and both teams like to run the ball and rely on their defense.
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UAB 28, Jacksonville State 20