In the words of Jay Jenkins “Young Jeezy,” time waits for no man. It feels like it was just yesterday when the Alabama Crimson Tide headed to Atlanta to take on Virginia Tech in the season opener. A blink later an it’s the final home game for the fan base and the seniors of the Crimson Tide. Bryant-Denny Stadium will be as loud as ever this Saturday as the fans will honor the senior class along with cheering Alabama to victory. ESPN 3 will air the matchup between Alabama vs. Chattanooga at 2:00pm ET.
For Alabama, they learned a valuable lesson in Starkville last week. After dominating LSU 38-17 two weeks ago, the Crimson Tide was caught looking ahead to Auburn and forgetting that they had to take care of Mississippi State first. Give the Bulldogs defense a ton of credit, their front four on the line really challenged Alabama and make it difficult for the Tide to run the ball in the first half. Despite just one sack of AJ McCarron, Mississippi State got pressure on him nonetheless. He didn’t have a clean pocket to work with for the majority of the game and the pressure forced him to throw the ball before he was ready to.
Alabama had four turnovers (two interceptions & two fumbles) against the Bulldogs, but the Tide’s defense bailed them out. Mississippi State possessed the ball in the redzone five times, but only scored once on a botched play. The Crimson Tide gave up just 197 yards of offense (53 yards rushing), four third down conversions and forced two sacks. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix got his second interception of the season in picking off Tyler Russell.
Though the Bulldogs defense kept the game interesting, the offense just couldn’t get it going. Some people argue if Dak Prescott would have played, the game would have been even closer and Mississippi State probably would have pulled out the upset.
As for Chattanooga, the Mocs will enter Bryant-Denny Stadium posting an 8-3 (6-2 in conference) record coming from the Southern Conference. Head coach Russ Huesman will have his players ready and prepared to give Alabama a fight Saturday. Jacob Huesman has had a productive season under center this year for Chattanooga. He’s completing 68.3 percent of his passes for 1,637 yards, 16 touchdowns, five interceptions with a quarterback rating of 143.5.
The one thing that impresses many people about Huesman is he doesn’t make many mistakes with the football. He understands his reads and scans the field well. He’s not afraid to go through his progressions and locate his second or third option. Though Alabama’s defense didn’t face Dak Prescott, they will face the dual threat in Huesman. As a runner, Huesman leads the team with 176 carries for 894 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns.
Mocs’s running back, Keon Williams has 116 carries for 687 yards (5.9 yards per carry) and nine touchdowns. At six feet, 215 pounds, Williams is a physical back. He has speed and vision to with it. He’s not afraid to take hits and run in between the tackles. It will be up to Chattanooga’s offensive line to give him a chance to at getting to the perimeter and opening up the game a bit.
Don’t let the fact that Chattanooga is an FCS school fool you. They have a lot of physicality on this team, especially at the wide receiver position. Like the Crimson Tide, the Mocs use its tight ends for more than just blocking. At 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, Faysal Shafaat is the leading receiver on the team. He’s amassed 38 receptions for 308 yards and six touchdowns. Alabama can’t afford to lose sight of him in coverage. With his size, he will pose as a matchup nightmare for linebackers and safeties.
As a running back, Marquis Green is the second leading receiver on the roster. At 5-foot-7, 175 pounds, Green is excellent with catching the ball in space and making quick moves to get downfield. He has 28 receptions for 269 yards and three touchdowns. Though he is physical at 6-foot-5, 225 pounds, Chattanooga has yet to use Marlon Anthony to his full potential. Thus far, he has just one reception for eight yards. The Mocs must get Anthony involved in the offense early and often if they want to at least tussle through the first half with Alabama.
Offensively, Chattanooga comes into this matchup scoring 28.7 points per game. Alabama is No.1 in the nation defensively, surrendering just 10.2 points per game. Defensively, the Mocs allow 17.8 points per game, while the Crimson Tide averages 38.8 points per contest. For running backs TJ Yeldon (164 carries for 1,022 yards and 12 touchdowns) and Kenyan Drake (77 carries for 584 yards and seven touchdowns), the purpose is still ball security. Though both backs have been productive on the ground this season, both combined have six lost fumbles. They must hold the ball high, tight and with two hands in this matchup with Chattanooga.
Despite Kevin Norwood (29 receptions for 409 yards and five touchdowns) leading the way, look for Kenny Bell, Amari Cooper, Christion Jones and others to have a chance to shine in this game as well. Even after his first multi-interception game since Texas A&M (2012), AJ McCarron is still considered by many ESPN analysts to be in the top five of the Heisman race. So far, he’s completing 67.8 percent of his passes for 2,228 yards, 21 touchdowns, five interceptions with a quarterback rating of 162.2.
McCarron will have to put on a show against Chattanooga’s secondary if he wants to remain in the conversation for another week.