Published September 19, 2012
| Sports Network
Tuscaloosa, AL – The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide will try to continue their dominating ways as they entertain the Florida Atlantic Owls on Saturday evening.
For the second consecutive week, FAU will face a top-10 opponent from the SEC. The Owls hung tough with Georgia last week, having tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs pulled away from there to post a 56-20 victory.
"I was confident coming into the game, you could see signs all week in practice," head coach Carl Pelini said. "The speed, execution, the assignments -- the mistakes are going away. We can be pretty good. I think our offense made a jump this week."
Alabama started the season ranked No. 2 in the AP Top-25, but following a 41-14 beat down of nationally-ranked Michigan in the opener, it promptly shot up to the top spot. The Tide has held on to that position by notching back-to- back shutout wins over Western Kentucky (35-0) and Arkansas (52-0), marking the first time they've accomplished that feat since 1980. In its last 17 quarters dating back to last season, Alabama has outscored it opponents by an incredible 167-14 margin.
This game marks the first meeting between these two teams.
Despite Pelini's feelings that his offense is picking up steam, it has yet to prove so on the scoreboard. The unit averages just 14.7 ppg and 335.3 ypg in the early going this season.
Graham Wilbert has been efficient, albeit unspectacular, under center, completing nearly 68 percent of his passes (53-of-78) for 569 yards with four touchdowns against only one interception.
Although he has yet to start a game, William Dukes leads the team in receiving with 12 catches for 162 yards. Byron Hankerson has shown flashes of excellence, catching nine balls for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
Damian Fortner is coming off a career-high 81 yards against Georgia, also adding his first-ever rushing touchdown. He now leads the team with 123 yards rushing, although Martese Jackson (110 yards) isn't far behind.
The FAU defense did a solid job holding the Georgia offense in check last week during the first half, but the Bulldogs exploded after the break, resulting in an astounding 713 yards of total offense, leaving the unit with a total defensive yield for the season of 472.7 ypg.
Linebacker David Hinds (28 tackles, two forced fumbles) and safety Jeremy McKnight (27 tackles, INT) are the most active members of the defense. The team doesn't get much pressure on the quarterback, recording just two sacks through three games.
The Alabama offense has been a well-oiled machine thus far, averaging 42.7 ppg. The unit has scored on all 12 of its trips to the red zone, 11 of which have been touchdowns.
The Crimson Tide is a running team first and foremost, compiling 118 rushing attempts through the first three games for 560 yards. T.J. Yeldon (191 yards, two TDs) and Eddie Lacy (126 yards, SEC-best four TDs) have had an equal split in carries with 30 apiece. Freshman Kenyan Drake has just eight touches, but he has made the most of them with 91 yards and a pair of scores.
A.J. McCarron has played mistake-free football in the early going, tossing seven touchdowns to zero interceptions. He has also completed nearly 65 percent of his passes (36-of-56) for 607 yards.
Game situations have rarely dictated the need for many passes down the field, but McCarron knows he can trust Kevin Norwood (seven catches, 159 yards, two TDs), Christion Jones (six catches, 121 yards, two TDs) and Yeldon (six catches, 91 yards) in the receiving game if need be.
Widely considered to be the nation's most dominating group, the Alabama defense has picked up where it left off in 2011, as it is permitting just 4.7 ppg and 210 ypg while creating an FBS-best 12 turnovers (six interceptions, six fumbles).
"I think it's a consciousness and awareness as much as anything," head coach Nick Saban said in regards to winning the turnover battle. "When you start getting a lot of turnovers, everybody is focused on that and you continue to be able to create plays ... I think your mindset has a lot to do with it."
The unit makes plenty of stops in the backfield with 21 tackles for loss and eight sacks, although the production is spread around with no player recording more than one sack.
A few top performers on the defensive side of the ball for the Tide include C.J. Mosley (19 tackles, sack, INT, FF), Nico Johnson (14 tackles, FF), Vinnie Sunseri (nine tackles, INT, FR), and Deion Belue (nine tackles, two TFL, INT, FF).