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Previewing Louisiana-Monroe in its matchup against Alabama

Cedric Mason- Touchdown Alabama Magazine

Alabama had the right energy, but failed to channel it in last week’s 37-43 loss to Ole Miss at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Crimson Tide’s head coach Nick Saban address the media this week on how he expects to start senior quarterback Jacob Coker against Louisiana-Monroe.

Alabama does face Georgia at Sanford Stadium (Athens, Ga.) on Oct. 3, but the Crimson Tide isn’t overlooking the Warhawks. Listed below is an in-depth breakdown on Louisiana-Monroe.

Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks: 1-1, (0-0 Sun Belt Conference)

Todd Berry is in his fifth season as head coach at Louisiana-Monroe. His finest work came in 2012, when the Warhawks achieved an 8-5 season, but Berry is also known for pulling upsets.

He got the better of former Arkansas head coach John L. Smith in 2012, pulling a 34-31 victory over the No. 8-ranked Razorbacks on Dec. 8, 2012. Berry wasn’t at the helm in 2007, but the Warhawks snatched a 21-14 win over Alabama in Saban’s first year as head coach.

Louisiana-Monroe enters Saturday’s contest averaging 30.5 points per game and 6.44 yards per play. It has moved the chains on nearly have of its third down situations (46.67 percent).

Freshman quarterback Garrett Smith commands the offense under center. He’s completed 49 of 62 passes (79.0 percent) for 576 yards with five touchdowns to one interception.

The Warhawks average a little under four yards per carry rushing (3.86).

Freshman Ben Luckett is its main tailback; however, Louisiana-Monroe doesn’t have a dynamic ground game. Luckett has averaged seven yards per carry in two games, but has totaled just 84 rushing yards and a touchdown on 12 carries.

Senior wideout Rashon Caesar was the Warhawks’ big play threat last season. He totaled 872 receiving yards and three touchdowns on 77 catches. Caesar has 23 receptions for 250 yards and two touchdowns this season. He is averaging 125.0 yards per game.

Ajalen Holley is Caesar’s compliment on the opposite side. The junior caught 57 passes in 2014 for 863 yards and seven touchdowns. He leads the team in yards per catch (14.82) and is second in receiving with 11 receptions for 163 yards and two touchdowns.

Defensively, Louisiana-Monroe is anchored by defensive lineman Gerrand Johnson and linebacker Michael Johnson. The former totaled 92 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks last season. He has 11 tackles with two for loss this year. The latter chimed in with 83 total tackles, 16 tackles for loss and eight sacks in 2014. He has 16 tackles so far this season.

Junior defensive back Mitch Lane captains the Warhawks’ secondary. He finished second on the team in tackles last season (91) and recorded 4.5 tackles for loss with three interceptions.

Lane has eight total tackles this season.

Keys to win for Alabama

  1. Establish the run game

Summary: Junior running back Derrick Henry is tied with LSU’s ball carrier Leonard Fournette for the most rushing touchdowns (7) and is averaging 6.85 yards per carry. He has totaled 370 rushing yards; however, Henry was underused for much of Alabama’s matchup against Ole Miss. A heavy dose of Henry early and often will continue to settle Jake Coker into the offense.

2. Consistency on the offensive line

Summary: Senior center Ryan Kelly has been dominant, but sophomore left tackle Cam Robinson and right tackle Dominick Jackson have struggled. Redshirt freshman Ross Pierschbacher and sophomore Bradley Bozeman are fresh faces on the line, yet Alabama needs to develop some continuity. Alphonse Taylor has shown flashes at right guard, but needs to increase his production. Opposing defenses have generated pressure to Jake Coker and Cooper Bateman, despite recording few sacks. Attention to detail will be imperative.

3. Constant pass rush (defensive line)

Summary: Alabama’s defensive front has put in five sacks thus far.

Batted balls and quarterback hurries are important, yet Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart want to create more negative plays. Defensive end Jonathan Allen leads the group with three sacks. A productive outing Saturday gives Alabama confidence going into next week.

4. Better execution in the secondary

Summary: Alabama’s secondary was decent against Mississippi, aside from a couple of plays.

It was tested by Joel Stave against Wisconsin and Chad Kelly last week. Facing the football remains a lingering issue. The Crimson Tide is position to make plays most of the time, but needs to face the ball. Tackling in space was an area of concern against the Rebels.

Senior defensive back Geno Smith missed a few tackles, and redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey has to improve his ball skills in press coverage. Safety Eddie Jackson is leading the group in tackles (14) and is tied for the team lead in interceptions with one.

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.

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