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August 26, 2014
FOUR DOWNS: Questions facing Alabama entering the WVU game
The University of Alabama has a lot of questions to answer going into the 2014 season. Many of them will be answered Saturday in Atlanta when the Crimson Tide opens against West Virginia.
1. How will Alabama's quarterbacks play?
The preseason competition between Blake Sims and Jake Coker hasn't produced a clear starter, so it looks like both will play against the Mountaineers. The bigger question is how well they will play in real game situations, and what sort of rotation head coach Nick Saban uses to get both on the field. No matter how it works out, this game should produce some answers.
2. Is the Crimson Tide better equipped to defend against the hurry-up, no-huddle offense?
Alabama lost to Auburn and Oklahoma to end last season, with Auburn relying heavily on its up-tempo attack and Oklahoma using elements of a fast-paced offense. Texas A&M, another team with a high-speed approach, also scored a lot of points against UA. West Virginia may not be on par with those teams in terms of sheer talent, but the Mountaineers want to set a quick tempo. Alabama's defense will get to show what kind of improvement it has made in slowing this sort of offense.
3. What about the kicking game?
The return game should be in good hands with the always-electric Christion Jones fielding punts and kickoffs, but Alabama will debut a new starting placekicker in Adam Griffith and a rookie punter in JK Scott. Both will need to get into a groove early in the season to give the Crimson Tide a boost in special teams, and this game gives them a chance to show what they can do under the lights.
4. Will the freshman cornerbacks live up to their billing?
Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey arrived at UA with a lot of hype as two of the top defensive back recruits in the country, and both have potential to be game-changing players. Neither will necessarily be counted upon to cover receivers on an island from the first snap of the season, but there's a decent chance that they will get to play in nickel and dime situations on passing downs. If they progress, Brown and Humphrey can help Alabama improve its pass coverage.