TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — We’re just two days away from Alabama’s home opener vs. Western Kentucky.
The Crimson Tide and the Hilltoppers meet Saturday inside Bryant-Denny Stadium at 3:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2. We’re still breaking down the matchup from every angle. Here are five things worth tracking when the two squads take the field:
5. How Alabama starts the game
It’s always interesting to watch how a team like Alabama comes out at the start of this type of matchup.
“We had a little better practice today,” Saban said Wednesday. “I thought the energy and enthusiasm was a little bit better. We’ve been a little sluggish for a couple days this week and we certainly need to pick up the tempo. The team did a better job of that today.”
Western Kentucky has the type of explosive offense that could make this a competitive game for a while. Alabama is going to win. But Western Kentucky could put some points if the Crimson Tide doesn’t come out ready to play.
4. Alabama’s secondary in its dime set
We didn’t see much of Alabama’s dime package against Southern Cal, but Western Kentucky really likes to spread out teams. During the open viewing periods of practice, we’ve seen Marlon Humphrey and Anthony Averett at the cornerback spots. Hootie Jones comes in at safety opposite Eddie Jackson. Ronnie Harrison slides from safety to money (Alabama’s sixth defensive back) with Minkah Fitzpatrick working at star (Alabama’s fifth defensive back).
The game offers a good opportunity for Alabama’s dime unit to get some work before facing SEC teams that run spread offense. We’ll also get a look at Alabama’s pass rushers in these sets. Alabama has some of the best pass rushers in the country, so it’s always intriguing to see how opposing teams game plan to slow them down.
3. The atmosphere
This game has the makings of a runaway victory for Alabama. Plenty of Alabama fans have been known to leave early if the game is out of reach. Saban knows that, so he challenged the fans to create a good atmosphere for the players.
“We’re excited to have a home opener in our stadium. I know our players are always excited to play in Bryant-Denny,” Saban said. “We have great fans. It’s a great atmosphere. But I think this is another one of those fastball teams that’s going to go fast. They’re going to mike and check and try to communicate at the line of scrimmage and get signals from the sideline. I really do think it’s a huge advantage for our team if their offense has to work against noise and has to go on silent and it helps us with the snap count indicator. I’ll be harping about that all week long so hopefully our fans will respond to that.”
Will fans be loud and stay through the entire game? Or will the stadium be half full if the game becomes a blowout?
2. Young players seeing more snaps
If Alabama gets up big, we’ll see a lot of the backups in the game. Young players to watch for on offense are freshman running backs B.J. Emmons and Joshua Jacobs. Both received carries against Southern Cal, but they should have bigger roles in this game. Defensively, safety Trevon Diggs, inside linebacker Lyndell “Mack” Wilson and outside linebacker Anfernee Jennings are a few players to watch.
Players who don’t play in the first two or three weeks typically redshirt barring some special circumstance.
1. How the quarterbacks are managed
Both Blake Barnett and Jalen Hurts are going to play on Saturday. It’s unclear who is going to start, or how the rotation will look. But it wouldn’t be a surprise if the coaching staff treated this like a scrimmage and put a lot of pressure on the quarterbacks to see who responds the best under difficult circumstances. Both players struggled early on before settling in as the game went on against Southern Cal.
The coaching staff may be looking for the player who can start fast and remain consistent throughout the game on Saturday.