By Steve Irvine
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. ---- If nit-picking is your style, the UAB defense didn't start the 2014 football season off very well. That can be overlooked, though, considering the way the Blazers played on that side of the ball over the following 58 minutes and 29 seconds of the season opener of a 48-10 season-opening win over Troy at Legion Field.
The Blazers forced a key turnover on the Trojans' second offensive drive, shut Troy down following two UAB turnovers to begin the second half and kept the Trojans off the scoreboard in the final 30 minutes. Troy, which averaged 555.9 yards in total offense per game last season, managed just 272 yards on 68 offensive plays with only 71 of that coming on the ground.
"That was not the start that we wanted defensively," said UAB head coach Bill Clark. "We worked on their tempo, but sometimes it still gets you a little bit. We didn't get aligned properly on that first drive but, after that, we played very well, very sound and tackled well against a good offense."
For the record, Troy gained 41 yards on its opening offensive play and the scoring drive was a cat-quick five-play, 75-yard effort that culminated in a 1-yard scoring run by Jordan Chunn. After that, Troy managed 197 yards on 63 plays, which averages out to 3.1 yards per play.
"When you first step on the field, the game feels like it's going a 100 miles per hour," said defensive end Diaheem Watkins. I kept telling our defensive line it's about to slow down. When the game slowed down we became the better team."
That began on the next series when linebacker Jake Ganus not only stuffed Troy running back Jordan Chunn on 3rd-and-2 but he also knocked the ball loose. Linebacker Kalen Jackson recovered the ball on the Trojans 42-yard line.
"Every day, every practice, every play, it's the same," Ganus said. "That's what the coaches demand. If you are not getting to the ball every play, it's doesn't matter what drill it is, what period of practice it is, then it is a loaf. And we do not have loafs on this defense."
It certainly wasn't a one-man show for the Blazers during the rest of the half. Sacks by Diaheem Watkins and Chris Walton ended a promising drive late in the first half and the Blazers stiffened in the final seconds of the half before Troy settled for a field goal to end the first half.
Perhaps the best work by the defense, however, came early in the second half with UAB holding a precarious 24-10 advantage. UAB's offense turned the ball over on the first play of the second half but Troy's following drive sputtered near midfield. Three plays later, the Trojans got the ball back at the UAB 47-yard line after an interception thrown by Blazer quarterback Cody Clements. Troy quickly went 3-and-out after middle linebacker Harris Gaston knocked down Troy running back Khary Franklin for a 3-yard loss on a third down pass plays.
UAB's defense not only made sure Troy never threatened afterwards but also set up a short touchdown drive by stuffing the Trojans on a 4th-and-1 late in the third quarter. Cornerback Jimmy Jean burst into the backfield to make the tackle on the short-yardage play with Gaston helping keep Chunn short of the first down.
Ganus was the team's leading tackler with seven stops and 10 other players had at least three tackles. Watkins, who was next with six tackles, had a team-best two sacks and the other sacks came from Jackson and Chris Walton.
"Yes, it is just one game, but I've never played like that in my life, let alone a team play like that," Ganus said. "That just goes to our coaching staff and all the hard work they have put in as well as the hard work we have put in through them."