Alabama’s game against Louisiana-Monroe offers the Crimson Tide two possibilities.
One, Alabama gets to work out some of the kinks that popped up during Bama’s escape from Texas in Austin last Saturday.
Two, it’s another chance to hang an “L” on Terry Bowden, who frustrated Alabama as Auburn’s coach in the mid-1990s.
ULM is 1-1, coming off a 35-7 win over Nicholls State. The week before that, ULM struggled against a common opponent – Texas, which beat the Warhawks 52-10. While Nick Saban says Bowden’s team is improving (and also that he hasn’t forgotten his loss to ULM back in 2007), there’s little chance here that the Warhawks are able to mount much of a challenge to Alabama. The challenges will mostly be of the internal variety.
It seems Terry Bowden was one of the original champions of a full-time, three-wide passing spread offense, and that’s basically what he’s still running at Louisiana-Monroe. What he doesn’t have much of right now is personnel. ULM has struggled in both running (92nd) and passing (89th) but the season is still young. There is plenty of experience at the skill positions, but not much star power. Alabama blasted Utah State but then fell into disarray for at least half its game against Texas, although the Crimson Tide still ranks a respectable 40th in total offense this far and 28th running the ball out of a more conventional-style attack.
Chandler Rogers, a sophomore, split starts last year at the position, but it’s all his now. He has displayed surprising accuracy so far this year (77.3% completion on 44 throws) but he’s already thrown one interception and averages under 9 yards per attempt. He’s a dual-threat quarterback and the team’s second-leading rusher. Rogers is almost identical to Alabama’s Bryce Young in size, but obviously doesn’t have the resume. Garrett Hable is the backup, and is listed at 5’8” on the roster and even that may be generous. He’s a walk-on who started his career at Louisiana Tech.
For Alabama, it’s Bryce Young, and just turn on any tape and you’ll understand why that simple introduction is enough to end any comparison discussions before they really start. Either Jalen Milroe or Ty Simpson would be an instant starter at ULM, even if they waited to switch teams until the morning of gameday. Young is averaging a ridiculously low 6.1 yards per attempt at the moment, pointing to issues at receiver and offensive line, but he’s not part of the problem. Advantage: Alabama
Aside from Zach Martin, a backup currently listed fifth on the ULM depth chart, no other Warhawk running back with measurable carries is averaging 4 yards per tote. Malik Jackson has 21 carries for 75 yards (3.5 avg.) and 1 touchdown so far. Andrew Henry and Isaiah Phillips also figure to play, but both are struggling, too.
For Alabama, Jase McClellan and Jahmyr Gibbs have far superior production numbers, and Roydell Williams is a more talented back than anyone on the ULM roster. Trey Sanders and Jamarion Miller should also get plenty of playing time in this one. The best thing that can be said about Louisiana-Monroe’s group is that they have plenty of game experience, but the raw skills are lacking in comparison with Alabama’s group. Advantage: Alabama
Here’s where things get a bit tighter. Louisiana-Monroe counts five seniors among the top nine on the depth chart, and several are graduate transfers. Fred Lloyd Jr. came from South Florida. Tyrone Howell is a refugee of Kansas State. Boogie Knight came in from Akron. The production is there, too – Lloyd, Jevin Frett and Alred Luke all have big per-catch averages, and for the most part, Warhawk receivers have size commensurate with the receiver groups of much larger schools. Zach Rasmussen and Rylen Green will split tight end duties, and both have catches.
Were it not for the fourth quarter of Bama’s win over Texas, we’d be tempted to give this category to ULM. But Traeshon Holden and Ja’Corey Brooks stepped up under fire and gave hope that maybe the recruiting projections weren’t far off. Alabama needs more from Jermaine Burton, and Kobe Prentice needs to continue to develop. The return of Cameron Latu immediately stabilized the tight end unit, although Robbie Ouzts had an uneven game at H. This is the tightest comparison on the board, but Alabama gets the benefit of the doubt. Advantage: Alabama
Louisiana-Monroe is 55th in sacks allowed and 82nd in tackles for loss allowed, and the offensive line may be the biggest overall weakness on this side of the ball. Three positions are settled – Victor Cutler at left tackle, Peyton Dunn at left guard and Keydrell Lewis at right tackle – but center and right guard are in flux. Zarian McGill is the new center, while Elijah Fisher and signee Tellek Lockette continue to battle for the open guard spot. ULM is carrying several transfers, but all are depth players. Alabama has its own issues at center and left guard, but the rest of the unit – tackles J.C. Latham and Tyler Steen and right guard Emil Ekiyor – have shown good continuity.
Alabama needs more from C Darrian Dalcourt, and left guard is still a battle between Javion Cohen and Kendall Randolph. This may be the week that Cohen reclaims the spot. Expect to see some of Seth McLaughlin at center, Tyler Booker at guard and Amari Kight and Damieon George Jr. at tackle in this game. The principal difference in the two units right now has been Alabama’s superior ability to open up holes in the running game. Advantage: Alabama
Both teams run three-man fronts with flexible edge rushers and a nickel alignment in the secondary as a base formation. ULM has decent stats against the run (43rd) but has struggled against the pass. The line is probably the strength of this unit; the pass defense was horrendous in 2021, so any improvement this year will be welcomed.
UConn transfer Caleb Thomas anchors the line at noseguard, while Quincy Ledet Jr. will start at the off-tackle spot. Seth Mason and Anthony Campbell continue to compete for the interior DE spot. There is surprisingly good depth here – three full teams of players, and there is reasonable quality even back to the third unit, where UCF transfer Tyrese Black and Louisiana Tech transfer Garrett Guirlando reside. Ledet and Thomas both are thick, but short, barely clearing the six-foot bar. Campbell and Mason have more typical FBS-school size at end.
For Alabama, the line has been stalwart thus far in the season, with D.J. Dale in the middle flanked by Byron Young and Tim Smith. Justin Eboigbe is coming off his best game in crimson and will rotate along several slots. Jaheim Oatis and Jamil Burroughs are the other principal backups, and Jah-Marien Latham ought to get some time in this game as well. This is a respectable unit Alabama will be facing, one which is probably a step above the typical Sun Belt team, but it still pales in comparison to what Alabama can field. Advantage: Alabama
Here’s where the size issue really shows up. Quae Drake will start at Edge, and he goes about 6’1”, 230. Zach Woodard and Tristan Driggers are the starters inside and both hover in the 6’1”, 210 range. All three were originally enrolled in other programs; Woodard is from Jacksonville State. All three of the backups – Carl Glass, Michael Batton and Jackson Bailey – were also transfers. All six will play, and competition is still fierce for the three slots.
Alabama got a fine performance from Jaylen Moody at weakside linebacker against Texas; he’ll be joined by Henry To’o To’o inside and Dallas Turner and Will Anderson Jr. outside. Chris Braswell and Quandarrius Robinson provide depth off the corner, while Deontae Lawson and Kendrick Blackshire should see time at inside linebacker. ULM is on the small side but is still productive; however, the Warhawks have no one like Anderson off the edge and probably don’t have an analog to either of the Tide’s inside linebackers, either. Advantage: Alabama
Surprise! More transfers. Former Kansas Jayhawk Deuce Mayberry will start at one cornerback spot across from Lu Tillery, while Jabari Johnson operates as the nickel corner. Keydrain Calligan and Tavier Williams hold the safety spots for now. Four of these spots are filled by different starters than the ones ULM employed in 2021, but given where the Warhawks finished last season in pass defense (125th), they have nowhere to go but up.
Alabama continues to rotate cornerbacks and settled on Ga’Quincy McKinstry and Terrion Arnold after a quarter of play against Texas. Khyree Jackson and Eli Ricks should also see time in this game. The safety group of Jordan Battle, DeMarcco Hellams, Brian Branch and Malachi Moore has been solid thus far and should continue to be. Kristian Story and Devonta Smith will probably make an appearance in this game, too.
For the most part, Alabama’s pass defense has been on point so far, with a couple of isolated long completions over Jackson notwithstanding. This one isn’t particularly close at all, mostly due to Bama’s advantage in the middle of the field. Advantage: Alabama
Both teams have strong kicking games, but the difference is going to be in returns and coverage. Calum Sutherland is as good as any SEC placekicker Alabama will see in 2022, and punter Devyn McCormick has a good leg. Alabama will start James Burnip at punter while Will Reichard continues to be a bona fide sniper as a placekicker. Louisiana-Monroe doesn’t return punts or kickoffs particularly well, and coverage could be an issue due to a general lack of athletes. Advantage: Alabama
Alabama wins in straight-8 fashion, leading all categories. Alabama’s DL has a strong edge over the ULM offensive line, but the gap is a little closer between the ULM D-line and Alabama’s blockers. Still, Bama wins both.
The betting line for this game is significant, and Alabama is particularly strong in weeks following close or sloppy wins, as the next game turns into “correction time.” ULM has done a nice job attracting transfers to the program recently, but none are elite-level. The chance that Louisiana-Monroe will be able to significantly slow Alabama down is fairly small, and the chances that the Warhawk offense will suddenly come alive against Alabama’s defense may be smaller still.
Expect to see a lot of players down the depth chart playing in this game, and look for Alabama to get a jump start on the conference schedule by fixing what it needs to fix.
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