After a tough stretch of a grueling SEC schedule, Alabama finally catches a break before the Iron Bowl as they host an FCS opponent, Austin Peay. This will be the first time these two teams have faced each other, and the Crimson Tide hopes it will be more of a glorified practice and tuneup game before facing their in-state rival, Auburn. Ideally, in these spots against lesser competition, Alabama gets to showcase their younger players and the future of the program in the second half, and they will hope to do some of the same Saturday.
Here are some key things to look for against Austin Peay:
To be a successful football team, you must win the turnover battle. Very rarely can you lose this battle and expect to win football games, especially in the SEC. Through 10 games, Alabama has a -5 turnover margin with 12 turnovers lost and seven turnovers forced. While giving up 12 turnovers isn’t that bad, the seven turnovers forced puts them tied for fewest in the nation. This stat is very uncharacteristic of a Nick Saban team, but there have been a lot of uncharacteristic qualities in this year’s Crimson Tide football team. Saturday will be an excellent spot for the Alabama defense to force some turnovers against a lesser-quality team and try to regain some pride.
Transfer wide receiver Tyler Harrell made his Alabama debut last month against Mississippi State catching a 12-yard pass late after the game was already in hand. Last week against Ole Miss, he lined up for one snap to run a decoy route on a screen pass to Cameron Latu. Earlier this week Saban was asked about Tyler Harrell and had this to say about Harrell.
“He’s healthy now. He’s learning. He’s getting lots of reps,” Saban said Monday. “The guy’s got really good speed, which I think could help us on offense. I think we need to find ways to try to use him in certain situations that could be helpful to giving us some explosive, vertical plays down the field, which there’s been a lack of recently. But he’s making really good progress.”
With these comments from Saban and a game that is almost certain to be a blowout, there should be plenty of opportunities to get Harrell some game reps and see what he’s got.
After another inconsistent game from the offensive line and the run game, Alabama will hope to make the most of this opportunity of playing a lesser opponent to dominate up front and get the run game back to its Alabama standard. Despite it being late in the season, the Crimson Tide would love to be able to establish the run game to offer balance to the offense and to release some of the weight off Bryce Young’s shoulders. With Jahmyr Gibbs nursing a twisted ankle, Alabama could lean more on some of the younger running backs to carry the load and give Gibbs some added rest going into Iron Bowl week. If this is the case, we could see a lot of Jace McClellan as well as Alabama’s future at running back, freshman Jamarion Miller.
The Alabama defense has actually been a fairly solid unit all season long but has been overshadowed by a lack of forced turnovers, penalties, and the inability to close at the end of games. After getting pushed around the past few weeks, this would be a great time to pitch a shutout and unleash some frustration on Austin Peay. Saturday should be an easier task than previous weeks for the Crimson Tide, but Austin Peay does have a solid quarterback in Mike Diliello, who isn’t afraid to take off and run the ball. Diliello should prove to be a good warmup test for next week against Auburn.
This has obviously not been Bryce Young’s ideal season thus far, as he has had to deal with inexperienced receivers, a lack of run game, and a shoulder injury that at times appears that he still is not 100% recovered from. Despite all the adversity, Young has continued to be the same guy as if Alabama was still undefeated and on their way to a national championship. No matter what the situation he is put in, he continues to be cool, calm, and collected as he does everything in his power to give the Tide a chance to win each and every Saturday. Young never quits no matter the situation or opponent and, being the competitor that he is, he will want to finish the season strong and add some more highlights for the NFL scouts. The ideal situation for him this Saturday would be to treat this game as a tuneup for Auburn, put up some big numbers early, and rest the second half to let some of the younger, future quarterbacks get some meaningful snaps, but this season nothing has gone according to plan.
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