Alabama Crimson Tide vs. West Virginia Mountaineers Complete Game Preview
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Game week is finally here.
No more empty Saturdays pondering the days until college football season is here. This Saturday, Alabama will hit the Georgia Dome turf for some real, live football against the West Virginia Mountaineers.
Two years ago when this game was scheduled, it looked like a doozy, with the Mountaineers looking like a team on the rise under Dana Holgorsen after putting up 70 against Clemson in the Orange Bowl.
Not so much anymore. West Virginia proceeded to lose 14 of its next 25 and come stumbling into 2014 looking for answers.
Nick Saban, though, had plenty of good things to say about the Mountaineers on Thursday, the day before the Crimson Tide started putting in West Virginia-specific work.
“They’re a very explosive team, have a lot of team speed, scored a lot of points on a lot of people last year,” he said. “I think when they played well defensively they were a pretty good team. When they didn’t…
“They got a lot of players back on defense, and watching their spring game they looked very good on defense. It’s going to be a real challenge for us as all first games are, but it’s also a great barometer to see where you are. So we’re looking forward to it.”
Here’s everything you need to know:
Date: Saturday, Aug. 30
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT (3:30 ET)
Place: Georgia Dome in Atlanta, Georgia
Radio: Crimson Tide Sports Network, MSN Radio
Spread: Alabama by 26-27 points, according to Vegas Insider.
Alabama Keys to Victory
Navigate the unsettled quarterback situation
Nick Saban wouldn’t totally commit on Monday to using both quarterbacks against West Virginia. He said there is no decision yet, but if history is any indication, Saban will at least want to get a look at how each player performs on that type of stage.
That could disrupt the offensive rhythm. The rest of the team will have to adjust on the fly to have success on that side of the ball.
Stay in control
Against Oklahoma to end last season, Alabama got away from its formula of jumping out to a big lead and then suffocating its opponents on defense and in the run game. The Crimson Tide will need to dictate this game on offense and defense with its talent disparity and keep West Virginia from having any chance in the second half.
West Virginia Keys to Victory
For an Alabama team that was beaten up to end last season in a similar, neutral-site environment, confidence will be key on Saturday. West Virginia can rattle that confidence quickly.
It’s unclear how the Crimson Tide would respond to an early deficit now that key leaders like AJ McCarron and C.J. Mosley are gone. It could get Alabama to play on its heels, something the Mountaineers could take advantage of.
Rattle one or both quarterbacks
Depending on what Alabama does under center, the Mountaineers should want to get in their heads as soon as possible. It’s both players’ first time playing in meaningful game action, and West Virginia should test their mental mettle as soon as possible.
Alabama Players to Watch
No players on the field will be under a more intense microscope than Sims and Coker. Fans will be hanging on their every snap, likely overanalyzing each throw and catch or miss. Their play will also significantly impact the style of game Alabama wants to play, especially after halftime. It could be guns blazing in the passing game or a slow, punishing run game.
The sophomore linebacker from Auburn, Alabama could turn into a nasty player for Alabama on defense and will likely get some sort of role from Week 1. Foster was listed as “or” options at both middle linebacker spots on Alabama’s official depth chart. His athleticism will also be key in slowing down a spread-out speed attack like West Virginia boasts.
West Virginia Players to Watch
The Mountaineers have a Florida State transfer of their own under center. Trickett was named West Virginia’s starter over the summer and is looking to improve in his first year as a full-time starter. He’ll look to replicate the success that Oklahoma’s Trevor Knight had against Alabama, running the up-tempo offense fluidly and keeping the defense on its heels.
Travis Bell and Terrell Chestnut
West Virginia lost starting cornerback Ishmael "Icky" Banks to a three-game NCAA suspension for academic issues, Dana Holgorsen said Monday on the Big 12 coaches’ teleconference. Bell and Chestnut are the two that Holgorsen tabbed to replace Banks. They’ll be tasked with lining up against Alabama’s deep and talented receiver corps, headlined by star Amari Cooper.
What They're Saying
Nick Saban noted West Virginia’s potent offense last year, despite the team’s struggles as a whole: "We think this is going to be a very, very challenging game for us as a team. We certainly have a lot of respect for what these guys were able to do. They scored a lot of points last year in games that they weren't successful in winning, but they certainly were successful in being able to move the ball and score points on people."
Amari Cooper said Alabama is preparing for a defense they don’t see very often: "They play a pretty weird defense to me. I've never went up against that type of defense. They play an odd defense with three-down linemen and two guys have to come for a receiver to be hot. So it's something we are going to work all this week, and we will get use to it."
Clint Trickett is happy to be out from under the cloud of a quarterback competition, per Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):
"Absolutely not," Trickett said, laughing. "I cared so much about it that it kind of ate me up from the inside. ... My competitiveness now is as an offensive unit instead of just me as a quarterback. Now we're completely focused on competing against the defense, which is the way it should be."
Dana Holgorsen is looking to put inconsistencies at quarterback and on defense behind him, per Jon Antonik of WVUSports.com:
“I don’t anticipate those dynamics ever happening again in the next 30 years of coaching - or however long I am fortunate to be able to coach,” he said. “You had three new coaches that have never been with us before. We had the issues at the quarterback position that have been very well documented. You had six or seven skill kids that have been in the program for their first year. That’s just a dynamic that is not good.”
Alabama 35, West Virginia 7
This one should be ugly, with both teams breaking in new starting quarterbacks and all of those season-opening jitters. Still, Alabama has the superior team on both sides of the ball, and talent will win out in this one. The Mountaineers could catch Alabama’s defense off guard and hit a few big plays, but even if the Crimson Tide’s quarterbacks put in a substandard outing, their running game should carry them through just fine on offense.
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