United Bank Playbook - Alabama Preview

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  • By John Antonik
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  • August 27, 2014 11:54 AM
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West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett attempts a pass during preseason practice earlier this summer.
All-Pro Photography/Dale Sparks photo
Alabama Game Information

Alabama Scouting Report: Link
West Virginia Game Release: Link
WVU-Alabama Game Day Central: Link
2014 Chick-fil-A Game Page: Link
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - Ready or not, here comes the Alabama Crimson Tide.
The 2014 season is upon us with West Virginia meeting the nation’s No. 2-ranked football team at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Classic this Saturday, August 30.
It’s the first time the Mountaineers will be facing a team of this caliber to open a season since 1998 when West Virginia lifted the lid against top-ranked Ohio State in Morgantown.
“I don’t really need to say much about our opponent, as far as what they’ve accomplished over the last few years,” said West Virginia coach Dana Holgorsen. “We’re pretty excited to be in this situation to be able to play a game of this magnitude.”
A close examination of Alabama’s game notes requires multiple highlighters to get through it all, and what Nick Saban has done during his seven seasons in Tuscaloosa is truly remarkable. His teams have won three of the last five BCS national titles and are one of two programs during the modern BCS era (Nebraska being the other) to claim back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2012.
Alabama under Saban has had more draft picks over the last five years (37) than any other school in the country, and since 2008, the Tide have won no fewer than 10 games.
“Coach Saban’s body of work speaks for itself,” said Holgorsen. “They’ve been playing at a very high level here for the last six years. I think he has lost seven or eight games over that span, so they’re an outfit that is tough to beat. Our guys understand that.”
Alabama has won a lot of football games by employing a suffocating defense that doesn’t give up touchdowns and a ball-control offense that chews up yardage on the ground and scores touchdowns when they get into the score zone.
Defensively, Alabama has surrendered just 91 touchdowns over its last 67 games – 36 fewer than the next closest team (LSU) has permitted over the same number of games. The Crimson Tide have held opponents to 10 points or fewer 49 times since the 2007, and have limited offenses to fewer than 300 yards 60 times during its last 94 games.
Thirty times over its last 81 games, the Alabama D has held the opposition to 200 yards or fewer, and, the Crimson Tide have given up just 50 rushing touchdowns since 2005, easily the fewest of any team in the country during that span of time.
Those numbers certainly get your attention.
Offensively, Alabama is 60-1 since the beginning of the 2008 season when it rushes for at least 140 yards in a game, and while doing so, the Alabama ball carriers hold onto the football. In its past 81 games the Tide have turned the ball over just 88 times for an average of 1.09 turnovers per game. Since 2009, the average is an even more impressive 1.03 turnovers per game.
Again, numbers that get your attention.
On Saturday, expect new Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin to rely on a strong running game that features three big-league backs in junior T.J. Yeldon, the first running back in Alabama history to reach the 1,000-yard rushing barrier in his first two seasons in the program, 6-foot-3-inch, 241-pound sophomore Derrick Henry and junior Kenyan Drake. Those three combined to run for more than 2,100 yards and score 25 touchdowns in 2013.
“They have three running backs who they can go to each of them and have the ability to score quickly,” said Holgorsen. “They’ve got big kids up front – three of the five starters coming back.”
Alabama also boasts one of the most potent downfield playmakers in the country in junior wide receiver Amari Cooper, who set an Alabama freshman record with 1,000 yards receiving in 2012 and followed that up with 736 yards last year as a sophomore.
Those four weapons will help Kiffin bring along a quarterback position that is undergoing a change for the first time in three years with the departure of Maxwell Award winner A.J. McCarron.
Indications are senior Blake Sims and Florida State transfer Jake Coker will take snaps under center on Saturday.
“They say they’re going to play both so I would anticipate that happening,” said Holgorsen. “And much like we’re going to do with each of our positions – whichever guy plays better they’re going to play that guy more. I don’t think that is going to change what they’re going to be doing on offense.”
Alabama has another big-time scoring threat on special teams in senior Christion Jones, one of the best punt returners in the country. Jones was an all-SEC specialist last year after averaging 10.1 yards per punt return and bringing back two of them for scores.
“He was an All-SEC, All-American kick and punt returner and they have more than him,” said Holgorsen. “DeAndrew White is one of their receivers who has an ability to score as well. They have a great return game.”
Alabama’s defensive headliners are junior defensive back Landon Collins, a 2013 Thorpe Award semifinalist who recorded 70 tackles and made two interceptions, senior linebacker Trey DePriest, who finished third on the team in tackles with 65 in 2013, junior “Jack” rush linebacker Denzel Devall, who made five tackles for losses and recorded three sacks last season, and senior defensive lineman Brandon Ivory, a 308 pounder who made 24 tackles while anchoring the defensive line in 2013.
“When you think of an Alabama team, and you think of Coach Saban, it’s going to be defense,” said Holgorsen. “Kirby Smart has been their defensive coordinator for a long time. They do a great job of recruiting top-notch talent – big, fast, strong guys – some of the better players in the country each and every year. They lose guys to the NFL every year and then they just replace them with guys who have been in the program and then those guys go to the NFL also.”
Alabama will need to come up with replacements for punter Cody Mandell and kicker Cade Foster in the kicking game. The punting chores are expected to be handled by J.K. Scott, considered the No. 1-rated high school punter in the country last year, while sophomore Adam Griffith is pegged to handle the place kicking duties. Griffith appeared in eight games last year, converting five PATs and hitting one field goal.
“The biggest question mark with them special teams-wise is the punter and the kicker because they’re replacing some good guys that they had last year,” said Holgorsen.
Overall, Alabama returns 13 starters and 51 lettermen from last year’s team that finished 11-2, tied Auburn for the SEC West regular season title and lost to Oklahoma in the Sugar Bowl.
“It’s going to be an exciting week for our fan base to be able to make the trip down to Atlanta,” said Holgorsen. “It’s something we’ve been looking forward to for a long time – not only within the building here, but as a fan base as well. We’re certainly going to do everything in our power to be able to put our best foot forward to be able to come out of there with a victory.”
Saturday’s game will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and will be televised nationally on ABC. Mountaineer fans can follow the Mountaineer Sports Network from IMG broadcast (Tony Caridi, Dwight Wallace and Jed Drenning) on affiliates throughout West Virginia, online for free through leanStream, or via the new streaming application Tunein, now available through iTunes and Google Play Store.
Simply search for “Mountaineer Sports Network inside the Tunein application.