Alabama v Middle Tennessee W2W4

After completely and thoroughly demolishing the Wisconsin Badgers, the Tide returns to Tuscaloosa this week for their season opener against Middle Tennessee.  Alabama’s big bunch of beautiful beasties on the defensive line feasted on Badger bones last week, limiting a usually potent set of running backs to a woeful 39 yards rushing.  This Alabama defense is perfectly suited to stuff power running games like Wisconsin, LSU, Arkansas and Georgia.  With big bodies like A’Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, DJ Pettway, Darren Lake and Daron Payne, Bama’s front four is going to dominate the line of scrimmage and they more than dominated Saturday night.

The real question in 2015 is how Alabama has adjusted to defend the spread no huddle attacks that teams like Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn…..and Middle Tennessee employ.  If you want a reason to tune in this Saturday afternoon, look no further than the matchup between Alabama’s defense and Middle Tennessee’s offense.  FYI – the Blue Raiders rolled up over 600 yards of offense last week in a 70-14 win over DII’s Jackson State.

This week, Alabama’s running game should once again be able to dictate terms throughout the game so the score and the victory should never, ever be in doubt.  Saturday will be an opportunity for Jake Coker to continue acclimating himself to the offense.  Saturday should be an opportunity to see more young guys on offense and defense.  And Saturday should be an opportunity for JK Scott and Adam Griffith to get back on track and gain some much needed confidence for the rest of the season.  But, most importantly, the Middle Tennessee game should give us a glimpse of how the Tide will defend the spread attacks this season.  Let’s take a look at what you should be watching for while Alabama is making these Middle Tennessee Raiders blue…..

Alabama on Offense

Bama fans couldn’t have asked for much more out of the offense in the 2015 opener against Wisconsin.  Mistake free football from their starting QB?  Check.  A dominant performance by their offensive line?  Check.  Good health and great results from their running backs?  Check and check again.  Aside from a few too many offensive penalties, the trip to Dallas accomplished everything you could ask for short of a trip to the JFK museum or a visit with little Debbie.  Saturday should be an opportunity to build on last week’s success and it will be another chance for Jake Coker to grow into his role as the leading man for Nick Saban’s offense.

Middle Tennessee’s defense is led by defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix.  You may remember Nix from Ole Miss or from when he was the architect of some pretty salty Southern Miss defenses.  Nix is known for bringing a wide variety of blitz packages and is seen as a very aggressive play caller.  Nix’s teams are usually at or near the top of the conference rankings in tackles for loss and he isn’t afraid to blitz anyone, including the ball boys!  But, unless the ball boys deflate all the footballs, Alabama should dominate and manhandle the Blue Raiders all afternoon long.

What You Need:  Jake Coker will be your 2015 quarterback.  Get used to that.  After evaluating the film from Saturday, it was clear that Coker is the guy.  The stats will say that Cooper Bateman had a nice game but, honestly, he missed some open receivers because he locked in on his primary receiver, even when he was covered.  Coker showed a command of the offense by working his progressions from his primary receiver all the way to his check down or outlet.  Middle Tennessee will be a chance for Coker to build off of Saturday’s successes and the Raiders’ one on one press coverage will give him several opportunities to work on his long downfield passes.

You Wreck Me:  I could not have been more impressed with the offensive line as their play against the Badgers was dominant. From the middle to the left side, Ryan Kelly, Ross Pierschbacher and Cam Robinson looked like a well oiled machine that had been playing together for years.  We’ll be looking for more consistency out of the right side of the line, specifically at right guard.  Alphonse Taylor didn’t have his best game last week so look for Bradley Bozeman to get reps with the first string this week.

You Found Me:  It was great to see OJ Howard get into the Fray (see what I did there?) last week both as a receiver and as a blocker.  Lane Kiffin found a way for Howard to contribute as a blocker which is the key to keeping OJ on the field this season.  We’ll be watching this week to see if Howard continues to be used as a wham blocker across the formation, as that has been the only time in his career that he’s been effective as a blocker.  If he continues to be effective, Howard could be primed for a huge year.

In Too Deep:  Calvin Ridley, Ardarius Stewart and Robert Foster each got loose down the field for an easy touchdown but Coker under threw them each time.  Who will be the first wide receiver to haul in a bomb?  Our money is on Stewart because he has the moves and strength to elude press coverage.  MTSU will be blitzing and that will leave our receivers in plenty of one on one situations.

Young Guns:  True freshmen Damien Harris and Lester Cotton each got into the game late against Wisconsin and we are excited to see what they can do this week.  Harris is a particular Lighthouse fave – insert man crush here!

Final Offensive Thoughts

Look for Alabama to dominate the line of scrimmage once again this week as they continue to assert their power running game on their opponents.  Kiffin will make sure that Coker doesn’t have a chance to regress this week but it will be essential for Coker to play a mistake free game once again.  At times he’ll be under heavy duress and we are still concerned that Jake doesn’t quite process things as quickly as he should.  So, we’ll be watching closely to see if he’s able to speed up his decision making process in the face of the blitzes.  We also want to see how creative Kiffin is in using Kenyan Drake and Derrick Henry on the field at the same time this week.  Will Kiffin be vanilla or will he give Ole Miss a glimpse of this dynamic duo in the backfield together?  Honestly, we just wanna see how many different ways Kiffin will get Drake will the football!  Shake N Drake, baby!

Alabama on Defense

Alabama’s defense was completely dominant against Wisconsin but, honestly, they should have been.  Anyone that wants to get in a phone booth and slug it out with this bunch is going to get their asses handed to them…along with their teeth and a few severed limbs.  But, this week MTSU will be employing the dreaded hurry up, no huddle offense that has given Alabama fits in the past.  We didn’t get to see much of Rashaan Evans or Tim Williams last week but this week we suspect these two cats will see the field quite a bit.  Bama will be in their nickel and dime packages throughout the evening so Minkah Fitzpatrick and Reuben Foster will be counted on to have a great game.  Additionally, the Tide’s corners-turned-safeties will be challenged in a way that Wisconsin didn’t challenge them in the passing game so our eyes will be on Eddie Jackson to see if he can do a little more in coverage.  We expect the game to be a runaway but it will be interesting to see both the personnel the Tide uses and the amount of substitutions that take place on the fly.  Here are a few other things to keep your eyes on…

Push it Real Good:  Bama’s girth across the line of scrimmage should take away MTSU’s running attack which is their favorite offensive weapon of choice.  They have three very good backs so we think the Blue Raiders will look to throw to them quite a bit.  Look for quick, three step drops in an effort to get the ball out quickly.  It will be interesting to see what kind of interior push Robinson, Reed, Pettway and Allen can generate with the ball coming out so quickly.  With the Blue Raiders’ QB being 6’0, look for several more batted balls at the line of scrimmage.

Speed Racer:  Alabama will likely be going small across the front which should put Jonathan Allen in favorable situations as a defensive tackle.  Also, the Tide used Reggie Ragland as a speed rusher from the outside so don’t be surprised if you see him taking a bunch of snaps as a defensive end.  Oh, and we are REALLY interested to see how much Evans will play during this game.  He’s perfectly suited to this type of attack so in this game we should get to see how much Bama intends to use him this season.

Foster, Australian for Badass:  Reuben Foster is THE key player on Bama’s defense when they face a spread attack.  Foster is playing the CJ Mosley role in the defense and he’ll be on the field a ton this week.  We could not have been more impressed with him last week and we can’t wait to see what he can do this week.  With Foster staying on the field throughout the game, better get the paramedics ready…

Wake Up Call:  Wisconsin effectively utilized their backs in the passing game last week and, with the strength of MTSU’s offense being their backs, we suspect the Blue Raiders will throw a ton of quick passes to their backs in the flats.  We’ll see if the Tide adjusts, as they did last week, to MTSU’s plans.

Alabama on Special Teams

It’s pretty simple – Adam Griffith needs to hit his first field goal attempt.  And, JK Scott needs to crush is first punt, a la the 2014 version of JK Scott.  I can tell you that they both had their struggles three weeks ago in the scrimmage and they once again struggled last week.  While it’s not time to go all Chicken Little, it is time to pay closer attention to their performances.  For what it’s worth, Griffith seems to be driving the ball pretty well so his issues may have more to do with timing than it does with his health.  Regarding JK Scott, we frankly have no idea what’s happening there.  Typically it’s the drop of the football that determines a boom or a bust but you wouldn’t think that his drop would change much year after year.  Odd to say the least.

However, it was great to see Cyrus Jones confidently attack his punt returns and there seemed to be a couple of opportunities for him to break off a little sumpin sumpin in the return game.  Will this be the week?  Maybe so…

Lastly, if you go to the game, keep your eyes on Tony Brown (#7) on the kickoff coverage team.  He’s consistently forcing the action at the opposing 10 yard line – something we’ve never seen before on kick coverage!

Game Prediction

Alabama should dominate both lines of scrimmage and that’s where all games are won.  The Tide’s running game should be hitting on all cylinders, allowing Jake Coker to take leisurely shots down the field whenever he wants.  The beauty of last week’s game plan was the fact that so many offensive players made contributions instead of relying completely upon Amari Cooper’s incredible ability to dominate the game.  Alabama should spread the love around even more this week in an effort to keep everyone involved and in tune with the offense.

Defensively, Alabama’s size and speed should be on display against MTSU and they should completely overwhelm the Blue Raiders’ offense.  It will be interesting to see which players Alabama uses to combat the spread attack and how many different blitz schemes we use.  More than likely, the Tide will rely on winning individual match ups instead of using schemes to beat the Blue Raiders as they’ll want to save some of their defensive creativity for Ole Miss.  In the end, Bama’s talent, speed and strength will be waaaay too much to overcome.

Alabama 48    MTSU 10

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