Tuscaloosa, AL (SportsNetwork.com) - The top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide take a break from FBS action this weekend, as they welcome FCS foe Chattanooga to Tuscaloosa for the home finale at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Nick Saban's Crimson Tide are in a familiar place, as they are closing in on another SEC crown. The team moved one step closer to that goal with last weekend's 20-7 victory at Mississippi State, setting up a showdown with instate rival Auburn on Nov. 30 for the SEC West crown. With the win over the Bulldogs, Alabama is now 10-0 on the season and 7-0 in SEC play.
While there is still work to be done by Alabama in terms of its conference workload, Chattanooga has already completed its run to a share of the Southern Conference crown, its first since 1984. Russ Huesman's fifth season with the Mocs has certainly been a memorable one, as Chattanooga is 8-3 overall, including a 6-2 mark in SoCon action. They currently rank 23rd in the most recent Sports Network FCS Top 25 poll. Due to a 17-14 overtime loss last weekend at Samford, the Mocs' six-game win streak came to a close. Now, Chattanooga needs Elon to beat Samford next week to get the conference's automatic bid to the FCS playoffs, its first since 1984.
Huesman recognizes the challenge his team faces in Tuscaloosa.
"Alabama plays so hard and they are fundamentally sound," said Huesman. "They have great players. If you put those three together, you have a chance to be elite. They are where they're supposed to be and play hard. They are well coached and extremely athletic. They don't give up points to just anybody. We have our work cut out for us."
The Mocs' offense is predicated on the run this season, with the team churning out an impressive 223.3 yards rushing per game, on 5.0 yards per carry. The team has scored 24 times on the ground, compared to 16 times through the air.
Dual-threat quarterback Jacob Huesman has been responsible for a good portion of that production, accounting for 894 yards and nine TDs rushing and 1,637 yards and 16 TDs passing the ball. Keon Williams (687 yards, 5.9 ypc, nine TDs) was able to move the chains as well early on, but he has been sidelined with an ankle injury since late October.
The passing attack, which generates 155.1 yards per game is not the primary mode of travel for UTC, but tight end Faysal Shafaat (33 receptions, 308 yards) has shown the ability to get in the end zone (six TD catches).
The Chattanooga defense has played well for the most part this season and the numbers certainly reflect that. The Mocs are yielding just 17.8 ppg, while showing a particular skill against the pass, giving up a mere 148.6 ypg (second nationally). Overall, the team is allowing just 319.3 ypg (11th nationally).
Senior linebacker Wes Dothard has made plays all over the field, leading the team in tackles (81), with 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and two interceptions. Junior defensive end Davis Tull is the player to watch along the line. He has 51 total stops on the season and is the school's all-time sacks leader (26.5). He has 15.0 TFL and 9.0 sacks this season and is one of 20 players nominated for the 2013 Buck Buchanan Award (top defensive player in the FCS).
The Crimson Tide didn't look particularly dominant last weekend in Starkville, but remained on course to play for another national title, its fourth in the last five years, with the win over MSU. The victory over the Bulldogs was, however a record-setting day for veteran QB AJ McCarron, who with 187 yards passing and 12 rushing, became the school's all-time leader in career total offense (8,146), passing John Parker Wilson.
McCarron is the right man for the job in Tuscaloosa, as he has seen and done it all over the course of his career. His senior season has been more of the same, as he has completed an impressive 67.8 percent of his passes, for 2,228 yards, with 21 touchdowns against just five interceptions.
Making Alabama even more tough to defend is the team's balanced attack both in the passing game (238.2 ypg) and one the ground (207.5 ypg). A deep receiving corps is led by wideouts Christion Jones (33 catches, 318 yards, two TDs) and Kevin Norwood (29 catches, 409 yards, five TDs).
Tailback T.J. Yeldon has done most of the damage on the ground, rumbling for 1,022 yards and 12 TDs on 6.2 ypc. Kenyan Drake adds more explosiveness to the backfield with 584 yards (7.6 ypc) and seven TDs on the year.
A revolving door of talent keeps Alabama among the nation's elite defenses and this year has proved to be no different. The Crimson Tide rank first in the nation in scoring defense (10.2 ppg), third in rush defense (91.1 ypg), ninth in pass defense (181.7 ypg) and fifth in total defense (272.8 ypg).
Leading the charge is All-American linebacker C.J. Mosley, who paces the team with 79 total tackles, including 7.0 TFL and one forced fumble. Safeties Landon Collins (43 tackles, one INT) and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (40 tackles, two INTs) are active in the secondary, while tackle Ed Stinson (31 tackles, 1.5 sacks, one fumble recovery) and end A'Shawn Robinson (28 tackles, 6.0 TFL, 5.0 sacks) are playmakers up front.
Saban is very aware that this game represents Senior Day for a special group of players that have achieved a great deal of success over the last few years.
"This game is senior day for a very, very successful class of seniors who have contributed a tremendous amount to the program here over the last four or five years, whatever their career spanned, in terms of their record, how they represented The University of Alabama, the football program and the success that they have had, and hopefully, we have had some success in contributing to their personal development, academic growth and ability to be successful in developing a career, as well as, helping them develop and improve as football players."