Despite the $450,000 Alabama will pay Western Carolina to make the trip to Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, one has to feel for the Catamounts. The Crimson Tide, coming off its first loss of the season to an SEC newbie no less, will take out all of their built up aggression on this poor FCS school.
Western Carolina only has one win this season—its opener against Mars Hill—but don't expect the Tide to take it easy.
"I don't think that we need to be worried about who we're playing this week as much as we need to worry about how we're playing," said Alabama head coach Nick Saban. "That's the approach that I'd like to take with our coaches, our players and everybody in the organization."
This week's game is all about Alabama putting the past in the past and looking forward to the rest of the season. If the Tide wants to get its national championship hopes back, they can't miss tackles or blow assignments. They have to execute, show effort and play better than they have the last two weeks.
"I think we really have to learn that we don't win around here just by showing up," said center Barrett Jones. "We win by focusing on details, and by executing plays correctly and I think it's really not an effort issue, it's just an issue of execution. We really just gotta get back to doing the little things."
And what better way to hone in on one's fundamentals than playing teams with a combined 3-17 record over the next few weeks before likely heading to the SEC Championship game?
Matchup: No. 4 Alabama (9-1, 6-1 SEC) vs. Western Carolina (1-9, 0-8 Southern Conference), 11:20 a.m. CT, SEC Network
On the line: Alabama has not played up to its standard the past two weeks. It lacked focus and preparation and it cost them. This week's opponent may be Western Carolina, but it's all about the Crimson Tide working out its kinks before next week's Iron Bowl and potentially the SEC Championship game.
When Alabama has the ball… After having more pass plays (34) than run plays (31) for the first time this season against the Aggies last week, and not being balanced on offense (122 yards rushing, 309 yards passing), look for the Tide to bounce back in that respect.
This is also an opportunity for A.J. McCarron—who struggled vs. LSU and A&M, completing 57.4 percent of his passes in those games, and threw his first two interceptions of the season last week—to take a deep breath and lead the offense like he did before November started. And what better team to do it against than the Catamounts, whose defense is giving up an average of 40 points and over 500 yards per game?
When Western Carolina has the ball… The Catamounts have a true freshman at quarterback, Troy Mitchell, who is averaging 126 total yards per game and complete 60.4 percent of his passes. This will be a good opportunity for Alabama's defense, who has been worn out, to re-establish itself and gain some confidence.
This game will provide an opportunity for some young players to get in the game and make plays. Saban said this week that junior cornerback John Fulton (turf toe) is "very questionable" and that true freshman Geno Smith, who he admitted probably could/should have gotten more playing time early, to get on the field and provide the secondary with depth.
Prediction: This game is about Alabama getting back on track, re-establishing its identity, getting healthy and preparing for what's ahead.
Alabama 65, Western Carolina 0
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