COLLEGE GAME PREVIEW

CFB Preview: ULM at No. 12 Alabama

The Sports Xchange

September 24, 2015 at 2:33 pm.

Sep 19, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Kenyan Drake (17) pushes away Mississippi Rebels defensive back Kailo Moore (13) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Rebels defeated the Tide 43-37. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

Sep 19, 2015; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide running back Kenyan Drake (17) pushes away Mississippi Rebels defensive back Kailo Moore (13) at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Rebels defeated the Tide 43-37. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

KICKOFF: Saturday, 4 p.m. ET
GAMEDATE: 9/26/15
SITE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Alabama
TV: SEC Network
SERIES: It may be startling, but Alabama and ULM stand 1-1 in the young series, and Alabama’s 43-7 win in 2006 was later vacated because of rules issues. The Warhawks won the last meeting, 21-14 in 2007 in Tuscaloosa.
RANKINGS: Alabama 12th

KEYS TO THE GAME

During Alabama’s championship seasons, the offensive identity was clear: Run the ball and hit teams over the top with play action.

Through three games of this season, Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban still isn’t sure what exactly the Tide’s offensive identity is.

“I think we need to continue to develop that,” Saban said as the Tide began preparing for Louisiana-Monroe. “I thought we had some identity in the first game and were moving in the right direction, and then in the last two games, we’ve been scattered. We need to have some certainty in what we’re going to do.”

With the Tide falling behind 19 points in the third quarter against Ole Miss, there was more of a need to pass the ball to catch up. The Tide threw the ball nearly 60 times.

But one of the sequences that illustrated the Tide’s lack of identity was the team’s second to last drive in its 43-37 loss to the Rebels. Down six with at its own seven-yard line with 3:01 remaining, the Tide called two straight passing plays without giving running back Derrick Henry a touch.

The second of the two plays resulted in an interception and ultimately ended the game.

The old Alabama would have likely handed it to Henry, who had 73 of his 127 rushing yards in the second half. He only had 10 carries in the second half.

“I think our players had tremendous energy in this game,” coach Nick Saban said, “but we have to learn to channel our inner energy and focus into the right places so that we get better execution on a more consistent basis. That starts with me.

“It starts with us as coaches in terms of doing a better job through the course of week in preparing guys to be able to go out there and execute better, so that’s really where it starts.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Warhawks

–QB Garrett Smith is in his first season as a starter for the Warhawks. The redshirt freshman is 49-of-62 passing for 576 yards in two games with five touchdown tosses against only one interception.

–WR Rashon Ceaser is ULM’s big threat in the passing game with 23 catches in just two games for 250 yards and two touchdowns. Throw in last season’s finale and the senior has 31 receptions for 388 yards over his last three games.

–NT Gerrand Johnson anchors the middle of ULM’s 3-4 defensive front. He had two tackles-for-loss in the first half of the win over Nicholls State, the fourth time he has had multiple tackles-for-loss in the last five games.

Crimson Tide

–QB Jake Coker will start against ULM, according to coach Nick Saban, as long as he does the things he needs to do in practice. Coker is 51-of-91 passing for 628 yards and five touchdowns but also has thrown three interceptions.

–RB Damien Harris has only 17 carries for 90 yards in two games, but this could be the kind of game to get the freshman more opportunities. He also has two receptions but for only four yards.

–S Ronnie Harrison saw some playing time in the Tide’s dime package against Ole Miss and, like Harrison, could see extended time if things go right against ULM. A freshman, Harrison has three tackles and been credited with a quarterback hurry.