By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Nov. 14, 2012
Any time Alabama hosts a Division-IAA school, it’s hard to find good things to say about the chances of the opponent.
In regards to Western Carolina, it’s nearly impossible.
The Catamounts are 1-9 this season, beating Division-II Mars Hill in the opening week and dropping nine straight games since. Western Carolina has the second-worst rushing defense in D-2, the third-worst overall defense and none of its other rankings conjure anything to suggest competency. While the Catamounts rank 6th in – what else – punting, the next-highest ranking is for its pass defense, 33rd. After its rushing offense (38th), nothing else ranks above the 50s.
In other words, this game should be a cakewalk for Alabama. If it’s not, Alabama either is in trouble for Auburn week, or the Crimson Tide decided ahead of time to play the scout team almost exclusively.
Western Carolina and Alabama both operate from the same basic offensive formation – three wideouts and a tight end, with a single running back behind. Alabama started the year in more of an Ace look with an H-back, but now uses that formation mostly situationally. The principal difference between the two teams is that the quarterback is essentially the featured rusher in WCU’s spread-option look.
On top of everything else Western Carolina has going against it, the Catamounts will start a freshman at quarterback, Troy Mitchell. Mitchell is smaller than Alabama’s Phillip Ely, but he has completed 60.4 percent of his passes this year. He’s 81-of-134 for 832 yards, 4 touchdowns and 4 interceptions while splitting the position with sophomore Eddie Sullivan (91-of-164, 55.5%, 916 yards, 4 TD, 6 INT), who will probably also play in this game. Alabama counters with A.J. McCarron (157-of-238, 66.0%, 2,158 yards, 20 TD, 2 INT), but the question is for how long before he yields to Ely or Blake Sims. Given that McCarron is nursing multiple injuries, he’ll play a half of football if that. Advantage: Alabama
Remember Brandon Brooks? Then you’ll have a good idea of what Darius Ramsey looks like for Western Carolina. Only 5’7” and around 170 pounds, Ramsey will have to hope the Tide defense loses focus if he is to make big gains against Alabama. He’s scored only 2 touchdowns this year and has amassed just 502 yards on 106 carries (4.7 avg.). The Catamount QBs have combined for 673 yards, while Ramsey’s backup, the much larger Michael Johnson, averages around 5 yards per carry and is the team’s preferred choice around the goal line. Alabama will start Eddie Lacy, but don’t look for Lacy – or T.J. Yeldon, for that matter – to stay in the game long. It’s theoretically possible for both players to get to 1,000 yards this year, but they’ll need good games the rest of the way in. In this one, look for a healthy dose of Kenyan Drake, Blake Calloway and Ben Howell as Alabama seeks to rest the starters. Advantage: Alabama
There is but one playmaker among the Catamount wideouts, and he doesn’t even start. The starting trio of Spearman Robinson, Jacoby Mitchell and Deja Alexander usually find themselves on the receiving end of shorter passes. Mitchell, with 400 yards receiving, has traveled the most distance. At 6’4”, he is also the only receiver of above-average size. But top backup Karnorris Benson has caught 19 passes for 349 yards, an 18.4-yard clip, which will give Alabama’s defensive backs something to watch. The tight end combo of Conner Orr and Nate Stevenson isn’t much of a concern. Alabama may end up resting stars Kevin Norwood and Amari Cooper for much of this game, so get ready to watch Christion Jones and Kenny Bell run routes with Marvin Shinn, Cyrus Jones, Danny Woodson Jr. and Nathan McAlister. The tight end group of Michael Williams, Brian Vogler, Harrison Jones and H-back Kelly Johnson figure to be frequent targets, as WCU’s linebackers aren’t likely used to having to cover tight ends of their caliber. Advantage: Alabama
Left tackle Josh Wineberg weighs a whopping 260 pounds. He’s a freshman, to boot. So is left guard Tyler Philpott and right tackle Matt DeGraffinreed. Center Quevalas Murphy and right guard Ryan Moore are veterans pushing 310 pounds, and reserve guard Teddy Rhoney has good size and can play multiple positions. But it doesn’t take long to find the real weak spot on the Catamount offense. Alabama will start Barrett Jones at center with Chance Warmack and Anthony Steen at guard and D.J. Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio at tackle. Expect to see quite a bit of the second-team line – tackles Kellen Williams and Austin Shepherd, guards Chad Lindsey and Arie Kouandjio and center Ryan Kelly. There’s no point even discussing how far apart these two teams are. Advantage: Alabama
In addition to having problems matching Alabama’s defense physically with its offense, the Catamounts run a finesse 4-2-5 scheme that has size issues. Alabama counters with its 3-4 over/under scheme, which had a bad day against Texas A&M but still ranks in the top 10 in all five major defensive categories.
The Catamounts have a 235-pound defensive tackle, and Alabama’s starting outside linebackers are bigger than all but one starter on the WCU defensive line. Brian Johnson and John McBeth will start at the ends, while Eric Banford and Bevans Robbs will start at tackle. Pete Balthrop Jr. is the aforementioned 235-pound tackle. The Catamounts have only one player over 270 pounds on the line, reserve tackle Rainey Ala. Alabama will start Jesse Williams in the middle flanked by Damion Square and Ed Stinson at the ends. Quinton Dial, Jeoffrey Pagan, D.J. Pettway and LaMichael Fanning will all see plenty of time at end, while Brandon Ivory, Darren Lake and perhaps even Wilson Love will play at tackle. Chris Bonds and William Ming are also likely to see action if Alabama empties the bench. Advantage: Alabama
Surprisingly, Western Carolina’s linebackers aren’t that far off average size/height numbers. Courtland Carson and Rock Williams will start, backed up by Randy Pressley and Nathaniel Sedergren. Carson and Williams are the team’s top two tacklers. The Crimson Tide will field Xzavier Dickson and Adrian Hubbard at its outside positions, with Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley and Trey DePriest rotating in the middle. Expect to see plenty of the reserves, namely Denzel Devall and Jonathan Atchison outside and Tana Patrick, Reggie Ragland and Tyler Hayes inside. Dillon Lee should also see time inside, with Anthony Orr a possibility at outside linebacker if he’s healthy; Orr did not dress for Texas A&M. Carson and Williams do a decent job at the Division-IAA level, but Alabama is on another plane. Advantage: Alabama
WCU will start three safeties, Trevor Taylor, Ace Clark and Sertonuse Harris. Jaleel Lorquet and Elijer Martinez will start at the corners. This group represents the strength of the Catamount defense, not only as pass defenders but also in run support. Taylor in particular has good instincts and is active on the perimeter. Alabama will start Deion Belue and Dee Milliner at corner, with Robert Lester, Nick Perry, Vinnie Sunseri and Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix rotating at safety. Last week was a tough one for the Tide secondary, but the one bright spot was the emergence of John Fulton as a viable option at third cornerback. Unfortunately for Fulton, he suffered a turf toe injury against Texas A&M and will almost certainly miss this game. Look for Geno Smith, Bradley Sylve and possibly Jabriel Washington and walk-on Ranzell Watkins to get snaps in this game. Landon Collins and several walk-ons are in the mix for time at safety. This category isn’t necessarily close, but it’s not a walkover like the line comparisons are. Advantage: Alabama
Punter Clark Sechrest is a good match for Alabama’s Cody Mandell. And that’s where the similarities end. WCU placekicker Richard Sigmon has hit only half his kicks this year, has a long of 40 yards and has missed kicks in every yardage split. Alabama’s Jeremy Shelley and Cade Foster look like Jan Stenerud by comparison. Alabama also holds a solid edge in the return games as well. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama leads in all eight categories, to the surprise of absolutely no one. The OL-DL matchups aren’t remotely close.
Alabama is going to win this game by several touchdowns, provided the starters play any snaps whatsoever. It’s hard to imagine a scenario that would make this game close, unless there comes a horrifically large number of injuries, or Alabama decides to let its walk-ons play this one from the outset – and even then, the Tide would be favored.
A game like this exists for the following reasons: rest the starters, get some early work in for Auburn, let the practice players play in an actual game and give the scalpers a day off.
W. Carolina 0