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By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 15, 2018
Games against teams like The Citadel have become a necessary evil in top-level college football. Top teams can’t play challenging games every week, because football is an emotional sport at the college level, the repercussions of a loss are too severe, and sometimes, the starters just need a break.
And thus, here is The Citadel, a 4-5 team in what used to be called Division-IAA, coming to Tuscaloosa with an option offense, very little size, questionable athleticism, and about as much chance of winning this game as a trucker would have of contacting aliens from outer space via his CB radio.
Previewing this game is also difficult, because there’s nothing to really break down. Alabama will win comfortably. Bama’s primary goals here are twofold: Get no one hurt, and limit the amount of exposure the starters will get, so that they’re well-rested when rival Auburn hits the field next week.
The Citadel runs an option attack, and we’re not talking about a modern-day, HUNH spread-option. We’re talking about the kind of football they used to play when Coke and Golden Flake sponsored the Sunday afternoon highlight show. There are 124 teams ranked in FCS, and The Citadel’s passing attack is ranked 121st. The rushing offense is 7th; the total offense, 65th. Alabama will counter with its multiple, pro-style spread attack that is averaging nearly 540 yards per game.
The Citadel has started a new quarterback the last two games, Brandon Rainey, and he’s averaging 202.5 yards per game – rushing. Rainey took over for Jordan Black, who completed just 44.1% of his passes and threw more interceptions (4) than touchdowns (3) during his tenure as the starter. Rainey has thrown for just 88 yards in his two games, but he’s completing 62.5% of his passes. It’s the rushing statistics that just explode off the page: 7.1 yards per carry from the quarterback position, 2 touchdowns, 2 wins. Whether he can duplicate that against Alabama’s front is another matter entirely, but Alabama would have preferred Black remain the starter.
Alabama will play Tua Tagovailoa for probably the first half of this game; despite Nick Saban’s frustration with media who continue to ask him about Tagovailoa’s knee health, the chief concern here is not how Tua plays, but rather if he remains healthy enough to play the following week.
Jalen Hurts appears to be not in the mix as the backup, thanks to an ankle injury that has been slow to heal. As a result, Mac Jones should get a lot of work under center and should also get in the game early enough to get some work as a passer, not just a hander-offer. We’ll have to wait and see what Rainey brings to the table before dismissing him as a statistical anomaly, but even if he runs the ball well against Alabama, there’s no question Tagovailoa is better. Advantage: Alabama
Eight players have double-digit carries on the season for The Citadel, and another four players have run the ball at least once each. Already third on that list is the new quarterback, Rainey, and the former quarterback, Black, is second.
The leading rusher, Lorenzo Ward, has decent size at 5’10” and 210 pounds, but while he’s scored 7 touchdowns on the year, he’s averaging just 4.1 yards per carry, a very average figure for an option team. Grant Drakeford, Clay Harris, Dante Smith and Rod Johnson have been the backups to this point. Drakeford is the only one of those to do any real damage, but he played sparingly two weeks ago and not at all last week.
Alabama will counter with Damien Harris, Josh Jacobs, Najee Harris and Brian Robinson Jr. All four are expected to see action, along with possibly Ronnie Clark and Jerome Ford. As one would expect, there’s a size issue throughout the Bulldog roster. Advantage: Alabama
The Citadel has a single receiver with double-digit catches, Raleigh Webb. Webb, who has caught 16 passes for 368 yards (23.0 avg.) and 2 touchdowns has SEC size (6’2”, 210) but he needs help. The second-leading receiver is a running back, Drakeford, and Curt Nixon is the next-most prolific receiver on the team, with 4 catches for 50 yards.
Alabama seems to have its full health back this week, as DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III have both had a solid week of practice. Add in Jerry Jeudy and Jaylen Waddle, along with tight end Irv Smith Jr., and this isn’t a fair fight. Expect to see plenty of reserves appear in this game for Alabama. This isn’t a close call. Advantage: Alabama
Given the offensive style the Bulldogs have chosen to run, they’re able to get away with playing smaller linemen across the front. The Citadel puts a premium on speed and quickness for its offensive line, which means, again, that we’re comparing apples and hand grenades here. Tyler Davis, Haden Haas, Prince Howard-Whitaker, Jon Barrett Lewis and Drew McIntyre will start for the Bulldogs; Haas, at 6’3” and 290, is the only one approaching SEC size. Two players come in below 260 pounds.
Alabama will start Ross Pierschbacher at center, with Alex Leatherwood at right guard and Jedrick Wills at right tackle. The left side is up in the air due to injuries. It’s almost a given Lester Cotton will start at left guard, as Deonte Brown is nursing turf toe. Jonah Williams will probably start at left tackle, but seeing Matt Womack there instead wouldn’t surprise us.
The Citadel has done well in its division, ranking 7th in fewest sacks allowed and 5th in tackles for loss allowed. But the level of competition has driven those numbers, over and above whatever ability the Bulldogs have. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama vs The Citadel Defense Preview