08 September 2011
The University of Alabama football practiced outside on Wednesday, after spending the first two practices of the week inside the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility. The weather in Tuscaloosa has been pretty crappy all week, which should prepare the Tide for the weather in State College, Pennsylvania on Saturday. I think the actual National Weather Service prediction is probably not "crappy", but it might as well be.
Here's what you need to know:
Bama is pretty healthy. Kevin Norwood was in black on Monday after rolling his ankle against Kent State, but he has been back in white for the last two days. He might be a bit limited on Saturday, but he is expected to play.
Otherwise, the only person other than the quarterbacks to be in black was Dee Hart. And he's already started running. Coach Saban indicated at the open of fall camp that Dee might be able to practice again some time in October. I don't know if he'll be cleared by then, but if he's ready to play by week eight, I wouldn't be shocked to see him play. Having said that, I still expect that we'll see him redshirt.
Darius Hanks is out again this weekend. He has to sit for the first two games of the season due to an NCAA rule regarding his redshirt and how it was used. The good news is that Duron Carter is at practice now and is fully participating. He had a private workout on Saturday, which was his final tune-up. He's practiced in pads all three days with the team this week, and should get his first playing time this Saturday. How much playing time? I don't think anyone knows at this point. If he does play, it won't be his first action in a Big 10 stadium.
If you think that the quarterback battle was decided against Kent State, then think again. Coach Saban has been quiet about how the Tide will use its quarterbacks this coming weekend. Most everyone that watched the game came away with the feeling that A.J. McCarron played better, which means it's unlikely that Phillip Sims will overtake him for the starting role. Neither guy played particularly well, though, with each throwing two interceptions. McCarron looked more comfortable, though, which should come as no surprise given that it was his 14th game. I expect we'll see both guys play Saturday, but I doubt we'll see the three possession rotation that we saw against Kent State.
Coach Saban announced on Wednesday that Bama will start the same offensive line that it started against Kent State. That means we'll see, from left to right, Barrett Jones, Chance Warmack, William Vlachos, Anthony Steen, and D.J. Fluker. On Monday we saw Cyrus Kouandjio take the first unit snaps at left tackle with Barrett Jones back at right guard for the first time this season. I think we'll probably see Cyrus get a few snaps, but I don't think we'll see anywhere near the number of line combinations that Bama used in week one. There was some clear experimenting going on, which you can do against Kent State. Needless to say, you can't do that against Penn State.
Otherwise, I expect we'll see the same units this weekend that we saw last Saturday.
I'm not sure what is going on with Chris Jordan. I expected that he'd be the primary backup to Dont'a Hightower, but he never played on Saturday. Instead we got a glimpse of the very bright future of Trey DePriest. He was extremely impressive in his debut, and I am betting we see a lot more of him as the year progresses - and not just on special teams.
Bama has been practicing wet ball drills in anticipation for bad weather. The Tide has also been practicing with simulated noise to prepare for the large crowd that awaits them in State College. Beaver Stadium seats a whopping 106,572, and they are expected to have another one of their "white-outs". Hopefully that will go about as well for them as it did for Georgia in 2009. Bama has been working heavily on its hand signals on both sides of the ball, so the Tide should be prepared.
We got out of the Kent State game pretty much what I expected we would... we saw that Alabama has a lot of talent and a lot of depth. This weekend we get to find out whether or not Alabama has a good football team. The season certainly doesn't hinge on this game, as Bama could still win the SEC with a loss on Saturday - and that would likely still see the Tide play for the BCS Title. I don't think we'll have to have that discussion, though, as I think we'll see a lot of what we saw last year. That means a lot of Trent Richardson, and a lot of Bama defense.
I doubt we'll see Bama make it three games in a row holding an oppent to negative rushing yards, but I think we will see the Tide defense impose its will. A game between Alabama and Penn State coming down to defense and the running game? What college football fan with any sense of history would want it any other way?
I'm heading north early Friday morning, and I'll see if I can get some pictures of what I am told is one of the nation's most beautful settings for college football. Hopefully I'll also bring a win back with me.
Bama will practice again on Thursday, with a walk-through on Friday before catching the charter to State College. Both of those practices will be completely closed, but we'll let you know if we hear anything.
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