The Alabama Crimson Tide (9-1) face a 3-8 FCS team on Saturday in the Western Carolina Catamounts.
Here are the three keys.
By Steve Wright
Playing without Tua
Obviously this is a sad, sad key. Tua Tagovailoa may go down as the best college football player never to win the Heisman Trophy after a dislocated hip ended his season – and likely his college career – in the Mississippi State game. The only positive here is that the Crimson Tide get to play a glorified scrimmage against WCU to fully bed Mac jones into the offense.
Alabama may be down, but this is still a one-loss team and Jones is still capable of piloting the school to a CFP berth. Watch for Nick Saban to get his new starter a full four quarters of work here.
Defensive line health
Tua is not the only Crimson Tide player expected to miss this game. It is unlikely that defensive linemen Raekwon Davis, Phildarian Mathis or DJ Dale will suit up against Western Carolina. This is a mixed blessing as – so long as the injuries aren’t serious – it will give extended playing time to younger players who will be needed in the defensive line rotation against Auburn and (hopefully) beyond.
Avoid any more injures
Western Carolina are not good. The only limitation on the score here will be the sharpness of Jones and the his ability to quickly adapt back into the system. He will still be throwing to the best WR corps in the country – and the Alabama defense is going to have to step up down the stretch – but the result of this game is as forgone now as it was with Tua.
With all that said the Crimson Tide simply can’t afford any more injuries to key players. Expect the team to be focused with plenty of backups getting time down the stretch in this one.