Previewing Middle Tennessee State in its meeting with Alabama
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Alabama football will return to Tuscaloosa, as head coach Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide will host Middle Tennessee State at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 3:30 pm on SEC Network.
Alabama was bumped to No. 2 in the college football rankings, after its convincing 35-17 win over Wisconsin last week. It looks to work out some kinks on offense, defense and special teams, before it starts conference play against the Mississippi Rebels.
Listed below is a breakdown on the Blue Raiders.
Middle Tennessee State: 1-0, (0-0 in C-USA)
Rick Stockstill is in his tenth season as head coach of Middle Tennessee State.
The Blue Raiders finished last season at 6-6, securing key wins against Southern Mississippi, Western Kentucky and University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB).
Preseason hype has Middle Tennessee State as the team to beat in Conference USA, but its journey will go through Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Junior Austin Grammer and sophomore Brent Stockstill both bring play making abilities to the table at quarterback. Grammer completed 65.4 percent of his passes for 2,557 yards with 17 touchdowns and 12 interceptions in 2014. He played sparingly in the Blue Raiders’ 70-14 win over Jackson State last week, totaling 15 passing yards on two of three completions.
Stockstill looked confident against the Tigers, completing 25 of 31 pass attempts for 364 yards and four touchdowns. Grammer, unlike Stockstill, gives Middle Tennessee State a run threat.
The junior totaled six rushing touchdowns and 442 yards on 124 carries.
Jordan Parker, Shane Tucker and Jeremiah Bryson will anchor the run game, in absence of Reggie Whatley. Tucker, a sophomore, had the most productive season last year, accounting for eight rushing touchdowns and 486 yards (5.01 average) on 97 carries. Parker, a senior, chimed in with 546 rushing yards and two scores in 2014. He had 68 yards and a touchdown last week. Bryson, a senior, finished with six rushing scores and 221 yards last season.
Marcus Henry exited the Raiders’ program, after catching 40 passes for 527 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. This year’s receiving corps will be led by senior Ed’Marques Batties.
Batties logged 474 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 45 catches in 12 games last season. He put in good numbers against Jackson State last week, totaling eight catches for 123 yards and two scores. Shane Tucker brought in 25 passes for 351 yards and four touchdowns in 2014. He had two catches for 45 yards and a score against Jackson State.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders’ are anchored by junior linebacker T.T. Barber. Barber registered 72 tackles, 7.5 tackles for loss, a sack and two interceptions last season. He collected three tackles with one for loss, a sack and a quarterback hurry last week.
Cavellis Luckett, a junior, is another dynamic linebacker. He recorded 57 total tackles, three tackles for loss and two sacks in 2014. He led the team in tackles with six last week.
Senior defensive back Kevin Byard captains Middle Tennessee State’s secondary. He led the group in interceptions (6) and totaled 66 tackles with three for loss last season.
Middle Tennessee State’s offense resembles Ole Miss.
The Blue Raiders want to get the ball on the perimeter and allow its leaders to work in space. It has a run game, unlike Mississippi, yet the Blue Raiders prefer airing it out. Middle Tennessee State averaged 31.6 points per game last year.
Saturday’s matchup presents a good challenge for Alabama’s secondary and defensive line, in which a consistent pass rush, physicality and ball skills must take ownership.
Austin Grammer and Brent Stockstill aren’t Chad Kelly, and Middle Tennessee State’s receivers can’t compare to Ole Miss’s Laquon Treadwell, Cody Core and Evan Engram, but the schemes do similar. A solid performance in all phases for Alabama this week will help against Ole Miss.
* Bolded names are impact players
Stephen M. Smith is a senior analyst and columnist for Touchdown Alabama Magazine and SB Nation. You can “like” him on Facebook or “follow” him on Twitter, via @ESPN_Future.