Tuscaloosa, AL – A loss last week cost the Alabama Crimson Tide the top spot in the all national polls, and they will attempt to take their frustration out on FCS foe Western Carolina this Saturday.
Western Carolina has had a rough go of it this season to say the least. After winning their opener against Mars Hill (42-14), the Catamounts have lost nine straight contests. Saturday's matchup is their season finale.
For the first nine games, Alabama looked like the unquestioned No. 1 team in the nation, but last week the Texas A&M Aggies went into Tuscaloosa and took it to the Tide. Alabama got down 20-0 after one quarter, and even though it climbed back in the game, a late interception in the red zone sealed its fate as the team was saddled with its first loss of the season, 29-24.
"No matter how you cut the mustard, whether we won both of the last two games or lost both of the last two games, I don't think we've executed as well as a football team," head coach Nick Saban said of his team's recent play. "We need to look forward in a positive way to what we want this football team to be remembered as. There are a lot of things moving forward that we can accomplish."
These two squads have met two times before in 2004 and 2007, with Alabama taking both decisions by a combined score of 104-6.
Western Carolina boasts a rather modest offense (25.7 ppg), and it has shown near perfect balance by gaining 176.6 ypg rushing and 176.4 ypg passing.
Troy Mitchell is the team's starting quarterback, and while he's completed more than 60 percent of his passes, he has been largely underwhelming otherwise (832 yards, four TDs, four INTs). Eddie Sullivan saw action in six games, but he hasn't performed much better (916 yards, four TDs, six INTs).
While he's limited under center, Mitchell can make plays with his legs, as he is second on the team in rushing (427 yards) and has eight touchdowns. Darius Ramsey (502 yards, two TDs) is the Catamounts' top tailback.
Jacoby Mitchell leads the team in all major receiving categories with 40 receptions, 400 yards and three touchdowns.
Western Carolina's downfall this season has been its porous defense, which gives up 40.0 ppg.
Rock Williams has a team-high 105 tackles despite only playing in eight of the team's 10 games. Big plays do not come very often for this unit, as it has registered just 12 sacks and five interceptions.
The Tide's offense (37.0 ppg) has rolled with very little issues this season thanks to the play of its quarterback, but the signal-caller ran into some trouble against Texas A&M last week.
A.J. McCarron did his best to bring his team back by completing 21-of-34 passes for 309 yards and a touchdown, but he also threw a pair of interception, including one in the red zone late in the fourth quarter, to snap his school-record streak of pass attempts without a pick at 292.
"I just think that as a quarterback, you are always going to get a little bit more credit than you deserve when things go well and maybe you get a little bit more of the blame when things don't go as well," Saban said. "I think he needs to break through and continue to improve and not be satisfied where he is."
Despite the slip up, McCarron's season has been rock solid, as he's completed 66 percent of his passes for 2,158 yards with 20 touchdowns to just the two interceptions.
Eddie Lacy (771 yards) and T.J. Yeldon (754 yards) have split the work load in the backfield and the results have been fantastic. The two have combined for 19 total touchdowns.
McCarron's most trusted receiver is unquestionably Amari Cooper, as he has caught 38 passes for 608 yards and six touchdowns. He recorded his second- career 100-yard game against A&M last week.
Johnny Manziel and the Aggies offense were able to poke holes in the Alabama defense, but the unit has still been top-notch this season, ranking first in the nation in scoring defense (11.0 ppg) and second in total defense (247.8 ypg).
A defense filled with playmakers is headlined by C.J. Mosley (83 tackles, four sacks, two INTs), Robert Lester (three INTs), Vinnie Sunseri (47 tackles, two INTs), Dee Milliner (two INTs, 16 PD), and Adrian Hubbard (eight TFL, four sacks).