Alabama Crimson Tide: Western Carolina Catamounts

An analysis of three key plays in Alabama's 49-0 win over Western Carolina on Saturday at home -- and what those plays mean moving forward for the Crimson Tide:

Hitting the ground running

Dave Martin/Associated Press

Instant analysis: Bama 49, WCU 0

November, 17, 2012

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- No. 4 Alabama got the relief it needed on Saturday, trouncing Western Carolina 49-0. After back-to-back weeks of bruises and beatings, the Crimson Tide were all smiles at home.

Quarterback AJ McCarron played pitch-and-catch for a quarter and a half before heading to the sidelines. His one touchdown pass was enough to set a school record for the most passing touchdowns in a single season (21). He was a perfect 6-for-6 passing for 133 yards.

Alabama tallied 460 yards on offense, 300 coming on the ground. Starting tailback Eddie Lacy led the team with 99 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries.

The UA defense, coming off allowing a season-high 29 points to Texas A&M a week ago, surrendered only 163 yards of offense.

Game ball goes to: McCarron set a school record on Saturday, but the game ball goes to his backup Blake Sims. The former wide receiver/running back came on midway through the second quarter and ran the offense well. He carried the ball eight times for 70 yards, in addition to completing two passes.

Stat of the game: McCarron only had to throw the ball six times, but his 29-yard touchdown pass to Christion Jones in the second quarter set an Alabama single-season record for touchdown passes in a season with 21. The junior finished a perfect 6-for-6 with 133 yards and the lone score. He has a chance to add to the mark next week against Auburn.

Unsung hero: With the amount of depth Alabama has, it’s not every day the Tide have a player who shows up on the stat sheet for both offense and defense, but Brent Calloway did just that on Saturday. The redshirt freshman rushed seven times for 52 yards, and he also recorded three tackles on special teams.

What it means for Alabama: The romp over Western Carolina was the cupcake the Crimson Tide needed. After back-t0-back games against Texas A&M and LSU, Alabama needed a weekend to get its house back in order. Starters got rest, backups got experience and plenty of points were scored.

What it means for Western Carolina: Coach Mark Speir already got what he wanted out of the matchup against Alabama -- new video editing equipment. It was the Catamounts' only money game of the season and Speir knew just what he wanted to do with the paycheck. The $475,000 payoff was a drop in the bucket for Alabama, but a needed boost for a Western Carolina football program in need of revenue.
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- The time to wallow in the past is over. And the University of Alabama (9-1,6-1) is no longer No. 1 in the standings, but that doesn't mean the season is over. Saturday's game against Western Carolina (1-9) marks the beginning of a new chapter for the Crimson Tide.

"There's nothing you can do about what's happened in the past but you can affect things that happen in the future and the best way to do that is to look forward," UA coach Nick Saban said Wednesday.

The Catamounts aren't the challenge that is Texas A&M, LSU or Georgia. Alabama will likely deal with the Bulldogs in the SEC championship Dec. 1 in Atlanta. But, as Saban put it, "every moment is a new moment.

[+] EnlargeT.J. Yeldon
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonFreshman RB T.J. Yeldon will be looking Saturday for redemption from two fumbles in the past two weeks.
"It's a different challenge and there's got to be a certain amount of something that comes from you because you want to accomplish something of significance and if it doesn't come from you that's because you're satisfied with being pretty average."

If Alabama hopes to get back into the national championship hunt, it must first do its part. The missed tackles, blown assignments and general lack of execution in the past two weeks must be repaired starting Saturday around noon. Otherwise, "pretty average" might be all people think about when the season is over.

"The focus for our team is to improve," Saban noted. "We haven't played as well the last couple of weeks. We need to play better fundamentally. We need to not focus on what's happened in the past and look forward and try to get things corrected so that we can play better in the future and not worry too much about who we're playing but remembering how we need to play."

The opponent is Western Carolina but the real objective is being better than the Alabama team that showed up the past two weeks.

Five storylines

Alabama players to watch
1. QB AJ McCarron:
His body language is right, and so are the words he's saying. The junior quarterback has been the face of Alabama's struggles in the past two weeks, throwing two interceptions and failing to play with the consistency to which fan have become accustomed. While he's likely out of the Heisman race for good, that's not important. For now, his job is getting the offense back on track.

2. RB T.J. Yeldon: The freshman tailback hasn't lost his burst, or any of the skill that has made him a star on the Alabama offense, for that matter. But he has done something in the last two weeks that no running back, no matter how talented, is allowed to do with Saban: He has fumbled the football. His drop against LSU wasn't solely his responsibility -- McCarron didn't deliver the ball in the proper place -- but his fumble against Texas A&M was. Will Yeldon recover from the back-to-back mistakes, or is this a sign of things to come?

"It comes down to the same thing -- carrying the ball correctly," Saban said on the subject. " ... We have every faith, trust and confidence in him that when he does it correctly he’s not going to fumble."

3. CB Geno Smith: With John Fulton likely sidelined with a turf toe injury, it's time for Smith to step up. In fact, Saban said Wednesday that, looking back, he might have put more on his freshman cornerback's shoulders sooner had he seen an injury to Nick Perry coming.

"We’re a little bit thin in that area, no doubt," Saban said. "Geno has made nice progress this year, and to be honest with you, I wish we could have played him [more]. He’s played some, but now that he needs to play you always sit back and wish maybe I’d have played him more somewhere along the line so he could have gotten a little more experience."

Smith has performed well in a backup role, but now that he's being asked to do more, we'll see just how ready the rookie is for the spotlight.

Western Carolina players to watch
1. QB Troy Mitchell:
The true freshman has eight rushing touchdowns and a 60.4 completion percentage when he drops back to pass. He's averaging 126 total yards per game.

2. LB Courtland Carson: The 6-foot-0 junior is second on the team in tackles (93) and first in tackles for loss (5).

3. WR Jacoby Mitchell: The 6-foot-1 senior leads the team with 40 receptions for 400 yards and three touchdowns.

Key matchup
Alabama 1s versus Alabama 2s:
Sure, we could single out a matchup of a wide receiver against a specific defensive back, or look at how an interior rusher will perform against a center or guard, but this game isn't about that. This game is about Alabama reestablishing its identity, getting out to an early lead and figuring out what the backups are capable of.

By the numbers
That's Alabama's average per rush on designed running plays against Texas A&M, the second lowest average this season. The Tide averaged 3.2 yards on such plays in the second half, their lowest for any half this season.

2: McCarron entered last weekend without throwing a single interception in more than 290 pass attempts. He left having thrown two picks, one coming in the red zone. It was his first career interception in 88 red-zone attempts.

516.3: To say Western Carolina's defense is lackluster would be an understatement. The Catamounts are giving up an average of 40 points and 516.3 yards of offense per game.


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