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The Schedule Gets Tough From Here on Out for the Crimson Tide

Cedric Mason - Touchdown Alabama Magazine

Three of the next four teams Alabama plays could all very well enter the games ranked. LSU, Mississippi State, and Auburn are all immensely talented teams and each have improved from their disappointing 2016 seasons. On top of that, two of those games – Auburn and Miss State – are away from home. An SEC Championship Game matchup with an elite Georgia Bulldogs squad also looks probable. With a bye week set for this week, the team gets a much needed chance to rest before the gauntlet begins.

LSU’s dynamic duo is on a roll, and, despite losing to Troy at home, it appears the Tigers are surging at the right time.

Mississippi State’s quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald, has the Bulldogs playing at an elite level. He has 1,179 yards and 11 touchdowns to seven interceptions. On the ground he has added another 561 yards and 9 scores on 81 runs. Not to beat a dead horse, but the one thing that has been a thorn in Alabama’s side is a dual-threat quarterback with a gunslinger mentality.

Though Auburn’s season has been a series of extreme ups and downs, there’s no denying the observable improvements over last year. After a 2016 season plagued with a year-long question mark at quarterback, Jarrett Stidham has been what the Tigers needed. Despite porous-at-best pass-blocking, Stidham has managed to throw for 1,728 yards, eight touchdowns, and three picks. Running back, Kerryon Johnson, leads the conference in touchdowns with 14 – also good enough for fifth in the NCAA.

Alabama has had some less-than-stellar outings this year, but they’ve shown very few deficiencies on both sides of the ball. With a much tougher slate of games ahead, slow starts will be one of the bigger factors to watch. Against Tennessee, the Tide scored a few minutes into the first quarter but were kept out of the endzone until the 4:48 mark of the second. In the game against Texas A&M, they followed an eerily similar pattern and ultimately won by just eight points. However, where Alabama will be tested the most is in the trenches, particularly defensively.

After losing run-stuffing playmakers like Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson to last years draft, and a few more guys to the injury bug this year, many thought Jeremy Pruitt’s defense would take a hit in the run defense department. Seven weeks into the season, however, Alabama still sits atop the nation in rushing yards given up per game at just 68.1. However, they have not played many teams with elite-level running games. That is about to change.

Derrius Guice and Kerryon Johnson are two of the premiere backs in the conference, if not the entire league, and Nick Fitzgerald is on track to record his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season as a quarterback. And if the Tide find themselves in Atlanta come December, it appears Georgia will be their challenger. All Georgia has is a duo of super studs in Nick Chubb and Sony Michel, who have already accumulated 1,180 yards and 14 scores combined.

Systematically, Alabama’s defense is at its best when defending the run. But, the teams ahead heavily lean on their run games for offensive success and tend to find it. Ole Miss’ Jordan Wilkins 100-yard outing against the Tide is something worth noting, even if it was just an outlier. For the rest of the year, the it appears the Tide will go where ever their line takes them.

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