The Citadel preview: Tide’s goals are to limit injuries, exposure

DEFENSE

The Citadel plays a hybrid three-man front that, technically, has been a 2-5 for most of 2018, with linebackers coming down to fill the defensive end roles. That works to some extent in FCS; it won’t work against Alabama. Somehow, rush defense has held point at 45th in FCS, but the Bulldogs rank 104th in pass efficiency defense and 108th in raw pass defense. This despite ranking in the top 25 in both tackles for loss and sacks.

It’s a high-risk, high-reward defense, the style of which is dictated by available personnel. Alabama brings in its famed 3-4 over/under that has shut out two SEC opponents back-to-back and which has developed into one of the premier defenses in the country.

DEFENSIVE LINE
Ken Allen and Joseph Randolph have been the regulars; they’re tackles who are predictably on the smaller side, but the difference between them and large-school tackles isn’t nearly as dramatic as the difference in The Citadel’s offensive line versus an FBS contender.

You have to stretch to call Aaron Brawley a defensive lineman – he’s listed as a linebacker, and 215 pounds on the team’s roster – but he has 7 starts on the year and is the only player that has been a regular presence as a stand-up end. Making matters worse, Allen has been largely ineffective in regards to being a playmaker. But Randolph has picked up the slack, recording 13 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. He’s 6’3”, 270 and can be disruptive.

Alabama will start Quinnen Williams in the middle flanked by Raekwon Davis and Isaiah Buggs. Phidarian Mathis, Johnny Dwight and LaBryan Ray form the second unit, and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Tevita Musika and Stephon Wynn Jr. get work this week, either. Alabama can’t sleep on Randolph, but Bama has multiple players better than him, and the supporting cast is much stronger on the Tide’s side. Advantage: Alabama

LINEBACKERS
This is probably the strength of The Citadel defense. Starters Noah Dawkins, Willie Eubanks III and Russell Hubbs have all been solid in coverage, can make plays behind the line of scrimmage and can get after quarterbacks. Predictably, all three are on the smaller side of average for big-time collegiate linebackers, but none of them are complete lightweights. The fourth starting position goes to Destin Mack when The Citadel doesn’t need a nickel safety. He’s a hybrid defensive back in his own right.

Alabama’s group continues to improve each week, and a large part of the reason Alabama has pitched two shutouts the last two games is improvement from Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson inside and Christian Miller and Anfernee Jennings outside. Alabama has a significant size advantage all the way across, and arguably more athleticism. This is the closest call on the board other than special teams, but Bama still holds. Advantage: Alabama

DEFENSIVE BACKS
The Citadel has struggled in pass defense in 2018, to be kind. Only one player, Aaron Span, has yet to be benched at any point in the year. Phil Barrett, Chris Beverly, Khafari Buffalo and Sean-Thomas Faulkner round out the regular group. It is probably not an accident that the two most successful players in the back end, Span and Buffalo, are also the two biggest. Both top 6’2” on the charts, and Buffalo in particular has a knack for the big play.

Alabama will start Saivion Smith and Patrick Surtain II at the corners, with Xavier McKinney, Deionte Thompson, Jared Mayden and Shyheim Carter the safety group. Alabama’s group will spend most of its day in run support, and the Tide excels at that. If Bama’s offensive staff can isolate receivers against The Citadel DBs not named Span or Buffalo, things could get ugly. Advantage: Alabama

SPECIAL TEAMS
Bama’s Mike Bernier was one of the keys to the win over Mississippi State, and he has quieted down the panic surrounding the punting position. Placekicker Joseph Bulovas had another one of those moments where you think he’s turning the corner, banging through a 49-yard field goal against State.

As for The Citadel, punter Matthew Campbell has been nothing short of fantastic, averaging 44 yards per kick and helping the Bulldogs rank 14th in net punting in FCS. The Citadel is the very definition of mediocre in both return units.

Placekicker Jacob Godek is 8-for-9 on the year on field goal attempts, missing his shortest kick attempt on the season – a 21-yarder in the second game of the year – while hitting both his attempts from beyond 40 yards out.

Alabama will get plenty of opportunities to make a difference with its superior punt return unit, but the kicking advantage goes to the Bulldogs and thus, the category as well. Advantage: The Citadel

OVERALL

Alabama leads in seven categories, The Citadel in one, and you don’t have to have read the above preview to guess which category that is. Alabama strongly controls both OL-DL cross-matchups.

This game basically comes down to Tua’s health and whether the new Bulldog quarterback is some kind of superhero. If Tua stays healthy and Brandon Rainey does what most quarterbacks do when facing an Alabama defense, Bama will have the game in hand by halftime.

Alabama might not get as many possessions as usual thanks to the style of offense The Citadel runs, and thus, the score may not be to Alabama fans’ liking. But it’s still going to be a whole lot to not very much. The real issue of win or loss will be determined by the postgame injury sheet.

Alabama 45
The Citadel 7

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Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN

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