In some ways, Alabama Coach Nick Saban is predictable. One of those ways is preparing for Kent State the same way he would for Ohio State.
In years past when Alabama had one of these cupcake games on the schedule, a reporter covering one of Saban’s press conferences during the week might venture a question along the lines of “Who are some of the young players who might get a lot of playing time this week since you are playing a nobody?”
No one has asked that question in a few years, and Saban has pointed out this week that teams from the Mid-American Conference (MAC) have a history of pulling upsets on teams from the Power Five conferences. He has also said that those upsets are in part because those MAC teams have good players and good coaches and in part because the Power Five teams that were beaten did not have a proper respect for the opponent.
Saban said, “The focus is obviously to respect our opponent and certainly do everything we can to be the best team that we can be. I think we have a lot of work to do in terms of the improvement that we can make and consistency in execution. I think the last game sort of proved that in terms of the way we played in some parts of the game and the way we played in others. That's certainly the focus and the point of emphasis for this week.”
No disrespect, but Alabama should be able to play a number of backups when the Crimson Tide hosts Kent State in Bryant-Denny Stadium at 11 a.m. Saturday (SEC Network).
The Golden Flashes were representative in their first game of the year, a 33-13 loss at Penn State. The next week Kent State lost in four overtimes to North Carolina A&T, 39-36, in a home game. Last week the Flashes got their first win, defeating Monmouth, 27-7, at home. It was the first time Kent State had held an opponent to under 10 points since 2013.
Kent State was picked to finish last in the MAC East in preseason polls.
The 2011 Alabama national championship team opened that season with a 48-7 win over Kent State after Bama jumped out to a 21-0 first quarter lead.
Saban, an illustrious alumnus of Kent State who was a good football player on a MAC Conference championship team under famed coach Don James, was asked if he was instrumental in arranging this game, which will provide a big paycheck to his college.
Saban said, “I'm happy to play any Mid-American Conference school in terms of the tradition that that league has and the number of upsets that they've been able to effectively have against good teams over the years. It's a quality league that has a lot of good coaches and does a really good job. The fact that it's my alma mater, we were looking for a game, they needed a game. It was helpful to them and it was helpful to us. I guess it was good for everybody.”
One would expect that it will be good for a number of Alabama players who do not ordinarily receive a great deal of playing time.
A reasonable question would be whether freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts will get any significant rest time in this game. Certainly backup quarterbacks Blake Barnett, who started the opener against Southern Cal, and Cooper Bateman, who was thought to be the front-runner going into the season, could use game experience. But Hurts doesn’t have that much game experience, either, and Saban may want him to get as many snaps as possible.
Soph Damien Harris has taken over the No. 1 job at tailback. Although Bo Scarbrough might be listed as No. 2, two freshmen – Joshua Jacobs and B.J. Emmons – have been effective in limited opportunities and might see more action this week.
We know that two wide receivers – ArDarius Stewart and Rob Foster -- are “questionable,” which in this game almost certainly means they will not see action. Saban has said that Cam Sims has done well in practice and would likely move into the rotation, and he is one that could be assumed to have a starting role. Saban also pointed to freshman Trevon Diggs, who has had work at wide receiver, but has also been used in the secondary and who has been both a kickoff and punt return man. Freshman T.J. Simmons has seen limited action to date.
Alabama has a new center this year in Bradley Bozeman, and he may fall into the same category as Hurts in needing as many game reps as he can get at this important position. But Bama might also want to get junior J.C. Hassenauer, last year’s backup, some playing time.
Korren Kirven, a former defensive lineman who has been a backup offensive tackle since last season, would seem a possibility for playing time this week.
A true freshman tight end, Miller Forristall, has been impressive in very limited time (and he started against USC).
The defensive line has good backups who have seen playing time and ends Da’Shawn Hand and Dakota Ball and nose tackle Josh Frazier could get a lot more against Kent State. Bama fans, no doubt, hope to see more from true freshman defensive lineman Raekwon Davis (6-7, 315), who has drawn rave reviews from Tide players.
Some Tide linebackers have seen playing time in all games on special teams, but might have an opportunity on defense this week. The include true freshmen Mack Wilson and Terrell Hall, newly-scholarshipped Jamey Mosley, Keith Holcombe, Christian Miller, and Anfernee Jennings.
Backup secondary players who have had limited playing time prior to this week include Shyheim Carter, Aaron Robinson, Deionte Thompson, and Hootie Jones.
There is no limit on the number of players who can dress for the game, and others may have opportunities on offense, defense, or special teams. And speaking of special teams, transfer placekicker Andy Papanastgos might get to work.