This time last year, Trent Dilfer was in the process of coaching Lipscomb Academy to a second consecutive TSSAA Division II-AA state football championship.
Along the way, the Mustangs demolished the likes of Goodpasture (52-0), Knox Catholic (42-0) and Battle Ground Academy (77-0).
Dilfer is now in his first season guiding the UAB Blazers, who are still in search of their first victory over a Bowl Subdivision member after losing the past two weeks to Georgia Southern (49-35) and Louisiana (41-21). UAB's test this Saturday night (7:30 on ESPN2) will be top-ranked Georgia inside Sanford Stadium.
"I got what I asked for," Dilfer said this week in a news conference. "It can't get any harder than this."
Georgia is the first No. 1 team the Blazers will have faced since implementing a football program in 1996.
Dilfer has been synonymous with football at all levels, having been drafted by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as the sixth overall selection in 1994 out of Fresno State. He wound up quarterbacking the Baltimore Ravens to a 34-7 rout of the New York Giants in Super Bowl XXXV, but he is best known by many for his nine-year broadcasting career with ESPN after his playing days were over.
He has been reminded of his 13 seasons as an NFL player this week while preparing for the Bulldogs, who have won 36 of their last 37 games and are seeking a third consecutive national title.
"It looks very much like getting ready for the Baltimore Ravens, or getting ready for the Rams, or the Chargers, or whoever you're playing that week," Dilfer said. "You have really good players who are really well-coached. They know what they're doing, and they know what you're doing. They can adjust, and they finish.
"People talk so much about height, weight, speed, measurables and all that. All that is true, but a great player finishes, and they have finishers."
Georgia finished last week's 24-14 downing of South Carolina by scoring 21 straight points, but the Bulldogs are looking to improve their starts. In their three games this season against UT Martin, Ball State and the Gamecocks, the Bulldogs have tallied just 10 first-quarter points.
Providing Georgia its biggest challenge so far have been seemingly endless injuries.
"We have the longest injury list we've ever had since being here," Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart said. "I think that's a trend across college football. You very rarely hear me talk about our guys being injured or, 'Woe is me.' I don't think it's something that you can control. We practice how we practice, and for a couple years we've been really fortunate to not have very many injuries.
"I always hear about other teams, and this year it seems to be a theme. I know Shane (Beamer) had a lot at South Carolina. We certainly have more than we've ever had, so that becomes a hurdle. We've got to do a good job overcoming that, and we've got to be very resourceful as coaches in how we use the players we do have."
Redshirt junior receiver and preseason All-SEC selection Ladd McConkey has yet to play this season due to a back injury and is likely out again this week, according to Smart. Junior safety Javon Bullard is questionable for the UAB pairing with the ankle injury he suffered against Ball State, while junior tackle Amarius Mims is expected to miss most of the regular season with a severe ankle sprain that will be accompanied by tightrope surgery.
Smart is impressed with the Blazers offense headed by Alex Mortensen, the son of former ESPN analyst Chris Mortensen who spent the past six seasons as an analyst at Alabama. UAB's lone victory so far this season was a 35-6 thumping of North Carolina A&T, a Championship Subdivision program.
Dilfer, of course, is just impressed with the Bulldogs in general.
"They've allowed 24 points this year, and we allowed 24 points in the first half of our last game," Dilfer said. "We've got our work cut out for us."
The Bulldogs have snagged six interceptions through three games after compiling 12 in 15 contests last season. ... Georgia's first road game next week at Auburn will be televised by CBS at 3:30 p.m.
Contact David Paschall at [email protected].