A lot was hanging in the balance last week when Alabama went to Oxford to play Ole Miss. Had Alabama lost that game, there was concern that the Crimson Tide’s mindset would have been in jeopardy for at least next week’s game against Auburn, and maybe even this week, as well.
Austin Peay is 7-3 at the FCS level, a solid team with good balance. The Governors rank in the top 20 in several offensive and defensive categories within its division. They’ve played one FBS team so far in 2022, losing in the opener to Western Kentucky by a respectable 38-27 score.
As we take a look at this matchup, we’ll be doing something different here from our usual preview article. This is an experiment that TideFans.com might carry forward to future matchups against FCS opponents, since the assumption is that Alabama is better across the board, and it’s difficult to convey what being highly ranked in FCS categories really means in the scope of a matchup against a team like Alabama.
Here’s our short-format (but still extended) preview of Alabama-Austin Peay:
Austin Peay has found a way to use six (!) different quarterbacks in 2022 and has also had a wide receiver attempt a pass. The Governors have settled on Mike DiLiello, a dual-threat transfer from MTSU, who has a thick build. DiLiello leads the team in rushing touchdowns and is the team’s third-leading rusher, but his passing skills aren’t above average and he throws too many interceptions. The Governors obviously have decent depth behind him, but only one bench player has reached double digits in pass attempts. Expect to see a lot of zone-read and RPO action up front. For Alabama, it’s the same Bryce Young show as usual. Advantage: Alabama
Austin Peay has good depth here, with three running backs splitting the load. The team focuses on its ground game and all three rushers, C.J. Evans (Mobile), Josh Samuel (Jacksonville State transfer) and Jevon Jackson (freshman from Decatur) have Alabama ties. Evans will get most of the work but he is by far the smallest of the three and isn’t an inside threat against a team like Alabama unless it’s off misdirection. Alabama used a lot more of Jase McClellan than usual last week, thanks to an ankle injury to Jahmyr Gibbs. Even if Gibbs is healthy, we don’t expect to see much of him this week. Roydell Williams, Trey Sanders and Jamarion Miller should all see time. Advantage: Alabama
Drae McCray is tiny but good enough that he could find a role at a lot of SEC schools, maybe even Alabama. He has caught 63 passes (nearly double the team’s No. 2 receiver, James Burns) for 929 yards and 9 touchdowns. Austin Peay will use him all across the formation, even at running back. He’s probably the best player the Governors have on offense. The Governors have five receivers with double-digit receptions and two more at 9 and 8, respectively. What they don’t have is a lot of size. Only one receiver, Joshua DeCambre, is taller than six feet. Most are slot types. Alabama has a big edge at tight end although APSU’s starter, Jordon Goco, is 6’7” and a matchup problem in the red zone. It will be interesting to see if Kendrick Law continues to get more snaps for Alabama this week. Ja’Corey Brooks has emerged as the team’s go-to receiver, while Jermaine Burton finally gave a glimpse of what he could bring to the offense against Ole Miss, when he plays with physicality. Austin Peay’s problem is it has only one McCray. Advantage: Alabama
For the Governors to put up such capable rushing and receiving numbers, it’s a bit shocking their OL metrics are so bad. Austin Peay ranks 109th out of 123 FCS teams in sacks allowed and 107th in tackles for loss allowed. A general lack of size is a haunting issue for the Governors in this one; projected starter Isaiah Wright weighs 252 pounds and another starter, Harrison Wilkes, clocks in at 260. No starter is over 300 pounds. Alabama continues with its same lineup, and the line is coming off perhaps its best or second-best performance of the year a week ago. Advantage: Alabama
The Governors use a three-man front as a base set. Again, size is an issue, but not at the nose, where Ray Horton (6’2”, 331 pounds) is a boat anchor. Kwame Sutton is the team’s most disruptive down lineman, recording 7.5 tackles for loss and 4.5 sacks, but he’s playing tackle at 235 pounds. Overall, Austin Peay doesn’t get much of a pass rush, ranking 66th in sacks, but they are very productive recording tackles for loss (13th overall). Alabama is coming off a strong performance against Ole Miss. Byron Young put up some fine pre-Draft tape, while D.J. Dale and Jamil Burroughs played well, too. Advantage: Alabama
Antoine Williams is probably on about the level of former Alabama starter Demarcus Waldrop. Whereas Waldrop was a smaller linebacker with some situational value, though, Williams is the bellcow of the Governor defense. His 81 tackles give him the clear lead in that category, and he leads the team with 11 tackles for loss. He’s also the only player besides DL Kwame Sutton with more than 2 sacks on the year. But he weighs 196 pounds and won’t be able to plug the middle consistently. Neither Josh Rudolph nor Darryl Rogan are dynamic enough to register as difference-makers. Alabama used Deontae Lawson a lot more in place of Jaylen Moody last week, and it will be interesting to see how that rotation continues. Dallas Turner is coming off a sloppy game that included one critical penalty and another that should probably have been called. He needs to clean things up. Advantage: Alabama
Both teams start five DBs in what is now their base packages. If there’s a place where Austin Peay can match up with bigger teams, it’s here. The Governors rank 16th in FCS in interceptions, 6th in pass efficiency defense and 12th in raw pass defense. Korey Chapman, a Hoover product, is a force in run support and has also picked off 2 passes. Three different Governor DBs have 3 INTs. There’s a lot of competition in this unit and seven different players have logged starts. Alabama is hoping to get Eli Ricks back this week, although given the nature of the game and the fact Ricks went into concussion protocol, Terrion Arnold and Khyree Jackson might split cornerback duties this week opposite Ga’Quincy McKinstry. Alabama is better across the board, but there’s not a significant size differential here, and the Governors play with sound technique. Advantage: Alabama
The Governors are as good as any FBS team in the return game, both punts and kickoffs. Kam Thomas averages more than 13 yards every time he fields a punt, and he has returned one for a score. The actual kicking game, though, isn’t as strong. Placekicker Maddux Trujillo has been erratic, 11 makes and 8 misses, and those misses have come from a variety of distances. Matt Rigney is decent, not great, as a punter. If Alabama keeps playing like it did against Ole Miss, the Tide won’t give up anything to any of its remaining opponents. Punter James Burnip had a stellar day in Oxford, while PK Will Reichard continues to add to his impressive legacy. Alabama has been solid in both returns and coverage. Austin Peay has struggled a bit covering kickoffs and especially punts. Advantage: Alabama
As expected, Alabama leads in all eight categories, and the OL-DL cross-matchups are both completely in Alabama’s favor, by significant margins.
Austin Peay plays with good technique and discipline across the board, and this will be a good tune-up for Auburn week because Alabama can’t just go out there and mess around. The Crimson Tide should be able to run the ball at will; if it struggles to do so, Austin Peay could make things uncomfortable for awhile due to its secondary, which would probably rate mid-pack or better in FBS if the Governors played up a division.
Avoid injuries, get the game to the backups quickly, and get ready for a rejuvenated Auburn program next week. Those are the goals.
Austin Peay 10
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN