By Bill Koch
Enquirer staff writer
Watson Brown's offense was known as Air Watson when he coached at the University of Cincinnati in 1983.
Twenty-one years later, now as the head coach at Alabama-Birmingham, Brown hasn't changed his approach. Blessed with a talented quarterback and athletic receivers, Brown presides over an offense known for producing big plays.
That could be bad news for a UC defense that has allowed six plays of 50 yards or more during its first four games, the kind of plays that have the potential to change the tone of a game instantaneously.
The Bearcats (2-2, 1-0 Conference USA) will have to correct those flaws if they're going to beat UAB (2-1, 1-0) in today's 7 p.m. game at Nippert Stadium.
"These guys are a big-play football team," UC coach Mark Dantonio said. "There's no doubt about that, so we have to guard against that."
UAB's offense revolves around the passing combination of quarterback Darrell Hackney and 6-foot-3 senior wide receiver Roddy White. Hackney passed for 398 yards and three touchdowns last week in the Blazers' upset victory over Memphis. White caught all three touchdown passes and had eight receptions overall for 177 yards.
"They like to do a lot of deep concepts," UC cornerback Daven Holly said. "There's no secret about it. We've just got to shut them down along with the run game."
The Bearcats believe they have the tools to counter UAB's approach. The Blazers have allowed 14 sacks this year and with defensive ends Trent Cole and Andre Frazier, pressuring the opposing quarterback is one of UC's strengths.
"I think they're one of the best defenses in the league," Brown said of UC. "Their two ends have not been blocked by anybody yet."
Last year, the Blazers beat UC 31-14 in Birmingham. Hackney hit White on touchdown passes of 95 yards and 56 yards in that game.
"They really don't have a short passing game," Dantonio said. "Their passing game consists of deep and intermediate routes. (Hackney's) got a tremendous arm to get the ball down the field."
UC will attempt to use a ball-control offense to keep that high-powered UAB offense off the field. The Bearcats have established in recent weeks that they can run the ball with senior Richard Hall and freshman Butler Benton, who gained 127 yards on 25 carries last week against East Carolina. They average 193 yards a game.
"It's effective," Hall said of UC's offensive approach. "It's just different from what we're used to. We're used to that wide-open, run-and-gun offense, but when a new coaching staff comes up with new things, you've got to go with the punches."
Defensively, the Blazers will be without senior free safety Justin Whitmore, who broke his leg last week in the win over Memphis.
His absence could help the UC offense, but the Bearcats understand their first order of business is to keep Hackney from finding White for those long passes.
"He's the guy that we've got to try to stop," Dantonio said of White. "Not try. We have to stop him."
Cincinnati vs. UAB