There is much to be curious about a football team in its first game of the season, and Alabama followers certainly had some questions answered in the Crimson Tide’s 52-6 win over Southern Cal in Arlington, Texas, last week.
The challenge this week is probably more than most expect. Western Kentucky doesn’t have the depth of players that Alabama has, but when the teams square off at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday (ESPN2) in Bryant-Denny Stadium the Hilltoppers will come in like a Big 12 team, slinging the football.
Last week the most anticipated aspect of Alabama would be quarterback, and that’s still something of a question mark this week with Coach Nick Saban playing it close to the vest. Last week he said that it was down to two on a starter, Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett, and that true freshman Jalen Hurts would continue to be developed.
Barnett got the start and it was obvious that Bama Quarterbacks Coach Lane Kiffin had done a good job of developing Hurts, who ignited what had been a stagnent offense.
This week Saban keeps the mystery, saying only that there MAY be some changes. So does Hurts start? We’ll find out Saturday.
We’ll also want to see if Alabama can find a way to get wide receiver Calvin Ridley the ball. He has been held in check with double teams both by Clemson in last year’s national championship game (6 catches for 14 yards) and last week against USC (2-9).
For those who thought tight end O.J. Howard, coming off an MVP performance against Clemson (5 catches, 208 yards, 2 TDs), might pick up where he left off, it looked like most other Howard regular season games until he snagged a 40-yarder late in the contest against USC. Surely we’re not going to have to wait until this year’s national championship game before Howard has another breakout performance.
Bo Scarbrough started last week’s game at tailback, but never got untracked with 11 carries for 36 yards, but Damien Harris broke off two long runs and had 9-138. Bama’s offensive line had some issues in that game and will face another capable defensive line Saturday. But overall, Alabama should be expected to have a big rushing day against the Hilltoppers.
Not only was it satisfying to see Ryan Anderson and Tim Williams live up to expectations as regular starters at the outside linebacker spots, but a pleasant surprise at the position was the play of No.1 sub Anfernee Jennings.
We had been tipped off that Shaun Dion Hamilton would start at middle linebacker (with Reuben Foster starting at the other inside spot and Foster backed by Rashaan Evans), and Hamilton turned in a very solid game.
We didn’t know exactly how the right cornerback and nickel spots would be handled, only that Minkah Fitzpatrick would be at one of those spots. He started at nickel with Anthony Averett at corner. Averett was beaten on the second offensive play of the game, but after that was very effective in coverage and with good open field tackles.
One of the things to look for this week will be how far back Alphonse Taylor has come from a spring demotion to third team and a summer incident that resulted in him being suspended for last week’s game. He started 15 games last year at right guard. Ross Pierschbacher, who started all 15 games last year at left guard, was on the right side against USC, with Lester Cotton at left guard. If Taylor comes back, does Pierschbacher move back to his left guard spot? He spent all spring and most of fall camp at center before Bradley Bozeman (last year’s backup right guard) took over snapping duties.
On the defensive front, which was magnificent against USC, a new man will be eligible this week, but it’s not known whether he gets playing time. Raekwon Davis, a 6-7, 315-pounder, was just ruled academically eligible. Although Alabama has more depth than most in the defensive line, Saban wants more.