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As far as his approach goes, UAB quarterback Jacob Zeno said not much changes for him this week.
“I prepare every week like I’m going to be the starter, always getting extra film in, extra reps,” Zeno said. “The reps I don’t get in practice, I get after practice. You know you’re one hit away, that was my mindset throughout the whole season, as if one hit happens, I got to be the guy. Unfortunately, that happened.”
That’s his approach and he’s sticking to it. However, truthfully, this week is different. This time, he’ll take the first snap for UAB. When pressed, Zeno admits, there are some subtle differences heading into Saturday’s Conference USA game at FAU.
One difference comes in the film room.
“I always watch a lot of film,” Zeno said. “I’d say the difference this week is that I watch it more with [offensive coordinator Darrin Hinshaw]. In previous weeks, I didn’t really do that. Now, getting with Coach Hinshaw, I have the opportunity to see and feel what he thinks about what he’s seeing on film.”
On the field, Zeno is getting the bulk of the first team reps. Bryson Lucero is getting increased reps. Damon Stewart, who has spent most of the regular season working with the scout team, is also getting some reps with the regular offense.
“I have the time to work with the receivers,” Zeno said. “I’m in the flow with the offense, I’m getting the reps. That’s going to help Saturday. Previous weeks I was getting minimal reps and getting put in the game. This week, I have all the reps. It’s going to be fun.”
Until last week, Zeno’s game day appearances were basically scripted. His longest time on the field came in the season opening blowout of Alabama A&M. Zeno threw nine passes, completing five, with a 4-yard touchdown pass to tight end Terrell McDonald and an interception. He got one series in the first half of two other games and didn’t play in three others.
The script changed this past Saturday when UAB starting quarterback Dylan Hopkins was injured while picking up a first down on a third down scramble. Zeno quickly became the quarterback expected to finish the game.
“This time last year, I was sitting at the house in the portal,” said Zeno, who transferred to UAB from Baylor. “I want to thank God for allowing me to have this opportunity. I could have easily not been here, if Coach Vincent and Coach [Bill] Clark had chosen not to recruit me. For me to have the opportunity to get back on that field, it was good.”
Obviously, it wasn’t all good. Zeno seemed slow with his decision making, at times, and his goal line interception ended the Blazers chance to take a late lead.
“I was just trying to be too aggressive,” Zeno said of the interception. “We had the ball in field goal range, I tried to be too aggressive and threw the ball. I could have checked it down, could have run the ball, could have done all these other things. That’s on me. I’ve learned from it and now it’s on to FAU.”
Before he started working on FAU, though, Zeno studied the film from last week.
“I saw a lot of things I could have done differently, a couple of pulls to run the ball,” Zeno said. “That comes with it. First game in however long, that’s the longest I’ve ever played in college. Now, I’ve learned from that and I’ll be better this week.”
Time will tell if the extra work and the game plan tailored to his strengths will pay dividends. Vincent expects Zeno will get better with each rep. He said that Hopkins improved with each rep this year and he came into the season with plenty of experience.
“We’ve seen throughout the season, from game 1 to game 2 to game 3, you started see Dylan really get in a rhythm and really get comfortable,” Vincent said. “I think that’s the same with any quarterback. The more reps that he gets and the more game experience that Zeno gets, I think the better he’ll be and the more comfortable that he’ll get.”
It appears, at least outwardly, that Zeno is calm heading into what should be his first college start.
“There’s no time to be nervous, to be anxious, to be scared,” Zeno said. “This is what I love to do. I love to play football. God blessed me with this amazing talent. It’s my job to go out and use it. I’m going to keep watching film, getting extra time out here with the receivers and just go out and do it on Saturday.”
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