Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Game Preview: Alabama - West Virginia

The 2014 college football season has arrived and for the Alabama Crimson Tide, like so many times since 2008, that means a trip to the Georgia Dome to participate in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.

Having clashed with Clemson in 2008, Virginia Tech in 2009, and Virginia Tech once again in 2013, the Crimson Tide will now tangle with Dana Holgorsen's West Virginia Mountaineers.

Betting Line: Alabama -26 (as of 8/27)

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West Virginia Mountaineers

While the No. 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will enter the Georgia Dome this Saturday with confidence and the expectations of yet another special season, the West Virginia Mountaineers are likely just searching for the right ingredients to guarantee a winning season.

After going 4-8 in 2013, 2-7 in the Big 12, and losing six of their final seven contests, the Mountaineers can only get better in 2014. While West Virginia does return starting quarterback Clint Trickett, the Mountaineers are still searching for a significant remedy on the defensive side of the ball. Giving up an average of 33.3 points per contest, West Virginia ranked 100th in the nation in respect to scoring defense in 2013.

On the positive side of life in respect to Saturday, West Virginia runs a high octane/air raid offense, the type of offense that has been known to give Alabama fits in recent years. Catching the Crimson Tide off guard will likely be a way for the Mountaineers to combat the fact they're simply not as talented, one-on-one, as Alabama.

Alabama Crimson Tide

The biggest talk around the Alabama program is the quarterback situation and rightfully so. Nick Saban, at least at the time of publication, has yet to confirm that Blake Sims will get the starting nod against West Virginia, but several reputable media outlets seem to think Sims is the man.

As was the case in the 2011 season opener when AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims juggled time, expect both Blake Sims and Jacob Coker to be utilized in a similar fashion against the Mountaineers.

In respect to the other aspects of the Crimson Tide when it comes to week one, Alabama's offensive line, though shaken up a tad due to injuries in preseason camp, should be quite formidable against WVU. However, chances do exist that UA's line could be in for a minor makeover during the first month of the season.

As was the case in 2013, the Tide secondary is once again a question mark, most notably the cornerbacks. Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve will get the start against West Virginia, and like most things, the proof will be in the pudding as to how long they're able to maintain those starting roles in the weeks to come. Alabama hasn't had a true lockdown corner since Dee Milliner in 2012.

Game nuggets

-West Virginia starting cornerback Ishmael "Ickey" Banks will miss the contest against Alabama due to suspension. Banks had 32 tackles and two interceptions last season.

-Per Nick Saban, linebacker Trey DePriest has been suspended for the contest against West Virginia due to a minor NCAA infraction. DePriest's suspension is only for one game.

-Per Nick Saban, offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin will coach from the field.

-Jacob Coker stands between 6-foot-5 and 6-foot-6, while Blake Sims is only 6-feet tall. While many differences between Coker and Sims have been discussed, the issue of height, especially while standing in the pocket looking over the offensive line, is something that hasn't been discussed very much in the media, if at all. Will Sims have issues seeing downfield while standing in the pocket? It is certainly worthy of conversation and observation. As a point of reference, Johnny Manziel is also listed at 6-feet tall.


While Alabama does have some questions, they're the type of questions that 99% of all teams in major college football would love to have.

Although West Virginia is a respectable opponent, and they should have a better season than the 4-8 campaign of 2013, the Mountaineers are simply light years away from Alabama when it comes to individual talent.

The Tide is almost a four touchdown favorite and that seems about right.

--- Alabama 38 West Virginia 10 ---

Friday, August 22, 2014

Alabama Analysis: New faces highlight Tide special teams

With the departure of kicker Cade Foster and punter Cody Mandell, the Alabama special teams unit will undergo an extreme makeover this season.

Prominent players

H - Cooper Bateman or Alec Morris
K - Adam Griffith
LS - Cole Mazza
P - JK Scott
KR/PR - Christion Jones

Potential kick/punt returners (In addition to C. Jones)

Chris Black
Tony Brown
Marlon Humphrey
Cyrus Jones
ArDarius Stewart
DeAndrew White

Departures from 2013

K - Cade Foster
KR/PR - Dee Hart (Transferred)
P - Cody Mandell
H - AJ McCarron

-New holder
-New kicker
-New punter

Does that qualify as an extreme makeover? Well, in the world of special teams play, it certainly does.

For the time being, which is obviously subject to change, it appears that either Cooper Bateman or Alec Morris, both backup quarterbacks on the Tide roster, will replace AJ McCarron as the holder on field goal and extra point attempts.

In respect to kicker, Cade Foster has graduated, which means Adam Griffith will take the wheel in 2014. Kicking in spot duty last season, and most noted for his "Hail Mary" against Auburn which was returned 109-yards for the game-winning touchdown, the job is Griffith's to lose.

The Alabama punting department will meet the same fate as the field goal unit. Due to the graduation of Cody Mandell, freshman JK Scott will take over the skyscraping duties. Scott, per reports, has garnered high praise from head coach Nick Saban, and like Griffith in respect to field goal duties, the job at punter is Scott's to lose. Prior to Scott's arrival, backup quarterback Alec Morris did the punting during Alabama's spring game.

When it comes to the return game, Christion Jones is the man, but don't assume it will stay that way. This unit always has a chance to be shuffled simply based on in-game production. If (big if) Jones were to have various issues in regards to catching the ball and/or fielding/returning treacherous punts or kickoffs, a change would certainly be made. Wide receivers Chris Black and DeAndrew White are the most viable options in the return game to complement Jones, as well as freshman defensive back Tony Brown.

Many times in college football, the special teams unit is essentially invisible until a costly mistake is made. Lack of fundamentals within the group always has the potential to change the complexion of a game.

Speaking in general terms, as well as for Alabama, not every kickoff or punt has to be returned for a touchdown, and not every 50-yard field goal has to split the posts. Take care of the basics and “routine” plays, and let the offense/defense take care of the rest.

Don’t be a hero, just execute the fundamentals.

Unit rating: 8/10