November 19, 2009

Matchup: Alabama vs. UT-Chattanooga

"We had to play somebody," said Nick Saban when asked about playing the UT-Chattanooga Mocs, perhaps a sign of the level of enthusiasm and intensity surrounding this weekend's game. While the strength of the opponent may not inspire much excitement, the game will serve as Senior Day for a class of Crimson Tide players who have experience quite a bit during their run in Tuscaloosa but have ultimately left the team in better shape than it was in when they arrived. Will the I-AA Mocs have any opportunities to test the resting Tide?

When Chattanooga runs
With SEC-level talent at the quarterback position, the Mocs have chosen to focus their offense around the passing game this season, with the ground game largely taking a back seat. Since losing senior starter Bryan Fitzgerald for the season earlier in the year, freshman Chris Awuah has become the featured back leading his squad with 454 yards and four touchdowns. Awuah's game relies on speed and quickness rather than breaking tackles, meaning he may have a tough time breaking through to the secondary against a stout Tide defensive front.

When Chattanooga passes
Tennessee transfer B.J. Coleman has completely changed the identity of Mocs on offense in his first season at Chattanooga, taking the team from a physical, ground-based offense to a high-flying passing attack. Coleman has had plenty of strong targets to throw to, including freshman Blue Cooper who has amassed 817 yards and 7 touchdowns receiving this season. With five of their top receivers holding a yards-per-catch average of over 10 yards, the Mocs' receiving corps has specialized in shaking defenders and making plays after the catch.

When Alabama runs
Despite being in the midst of a Heisman campaign, Mark Ingram won't receive any special treatment this week according to Nick Saban meaning Ingram may need to get his yards early in the game if he wants to bulk up his stats. Expect to see plenty of playing time for freshman sensation Trent Richardson as well as perhaps an expanded role for Roy Upchurch. The Mocs have improved greatly overall on defense from last season but they have struggled at times defending the run against some of their stronger Southern Conference opponent, which doesn't bode well for their impending matchup with this former SoCon member.

When Alabama passes
Coming off one of his strongest efforts of the season in a 192-yard, two-touchdown performance against Mississippi State, Greg McElroy appears to be peaking late in the season and will likely look to get the Tide's first string off the field quickly with some quick downfield strikes. As for dealing with pressure, McElroy may find get a few grass stains on his jersey this week thanks to JUCO transfer defensive end Josh Beard, who leads the FCS in sacks with 12 this season.

Special teams
The Crimson Tide should find itself at a major advantage athletically when it comes to kickoff return and coverage teams, leading to the possibility for big plays on special teams. Few kickers have had more impressive seasons than Leigh Tiffin but Chattanooga's Craig Camay has been more than adequate hitting 16 of 18 from the field and kicking five successfully recovered onside kicks.

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