Colorado got a lot of publicity when it hired Deion Sanders as its new football coach. It gained additional notoriety when Coach Prime started forcing players to leave the program which resulted in a near complete roster turnover.
Alabama-Birmingham also hired a new coach in Trent Dilfer and he has 51 new players on his roster but because it was at a mid-major the Blazers’ hire, while also an example of thinking outside the box, mainly stayed under the radar in a state where Alabama and Auburn dominate the news.
Whereas Sanders started his coaching career at Jackson State two years ago and at least had some experience at the college level Dilfer came direct from the high school ranks.
After 14 years in the NFL where he won a Super Bowl (35) as a quarterback with Baltimore Dilfer was living in Austin, Tex., and running the Elite 11 quarterback camps when he decided to take the head coaching job at Lipscomb Academy, a small private school in Nashville, Tn.
Dilfer was at Lipscomb four years where the last two years his teams were 26-1, outscoring opponents 1,234-215 in winning two state championships. When the UAB job opened he applied and was hired.
Sanders and the Buffaloes were the talk of college football this week after beating TCU, 45-42, but two nights before Dilfer had quietly won his debut game when the Blazers beat North Carolina A&T, 35-7, behind a standout performance by quarterback Jacob Zeno.
Zeno, a 6-foot-4 redshirt junior transfer from Baylor who was in the program when Dilfer took over, had a night quarterbacks can only dream of. He completed 38 of 41 passes, hitting 20 in a row at one point, for 291 yards and three touchdowns.
The Blazers also ran for 167 yards on 30 attempts in Dilfer’s pro-style offense. Zeno completed passes to 13 different receivers. Five different players had four catches each with Fred Farrier II leading the way with 57 yards. The top rusher was Jermaine Brown, Jr., with 42 yards.
Stopping Zeno and the Blazers’ up-tempo offense will be the challenge Georgia Southern faces at 6 p.m. Saturday at Paulson Stadium.
This will be the second meeting between the two schools with UAB prevailing, 35-21, last year in Birmingham. The Blazers, incidentally, are now in their first year in the American Athletic Conference after 28 years in Conference-USA.
“This week we obviously switch gears,” Coach Clay Helton said at his Monday press conference. “Last week we played a spread option but this week a high tempo.
"They spread the field with a really good quarterback in Jacob Zeno. It’s going to be a great challenge for us this week.”
Zeno was a four-star recruit coming out of high school in Texas and had multiple offers from Power 5 schools including Georgia. He chose Baylor and after two years with the Bears transferred to UAB.
Last year before the season started Coach Bill Clark retired due to health issues and interim coach Bryant Vincent went with a run heavy offense. Zeno played in nine games, starting two and threw for 721 yards and five touchdowns.
When Dilfer was hired it gave Zeno new life. Dilfer was familiar with Zeno from his high school days having had him in Elite 11 camps and from living in Texas at the time.
“I feel like I’m 10 times better than last year,” Zeno said. “Coach Dilfer and Coach (Alex) Mortensen…I owe everything to those guys.”
Mortensen is the Blazers’ offensive coordinator and he, like defensive coordinator Sione Ta’ufo’ou were making their debut calling plays against A&T. Mortensenspent the past eight years at Alabama as a graduate assistant and offensive analyst while Ta’ufo’ou was Dilfer’s defensive coordinator at Lipscomb.