Hightower recorded five tackles, a pass breakup and a quarterback hurry in last year's meeting with Penn State.
Three matchups for the Alabama defense in the Crimson Tide's game at Penn State:
Alabama ILBs Dont'a Hightower, Nico Johnson and CJ Mosley vs. Penn State tailbacks Silas Redd and Curtis Dukes and running back Joe Suhey.
From the UA perspective: WIth the Penn State offense expected to show some regular personnel (two backs or tight ends), we'll probably see more of Alabama's base defense this week, which means more reps for Nico Johnson and strongside linebacker Jerrell Harris. With running lanes tough to come by, look for Penn State quarterbacks Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin to go to Redd and Suhey, the son of former PSU fullback Matt Suhey, in the passing game. Suhey is listed as a running back but he's used more like an H-back.
From the Penn State perspective: At 5'10 and 209 pounds, the speedy Redd has home run ability, while his backup, Dukes (6'1, 237), is more of a banger. Redd rushed for 26 yards on five carries in last year's meeting with UA. PSU's longest run from scrimmage in the 2010 game came from wide receiver Shawney Kersey, who picked up 24 yards on a reverse. The Nittany Lions are expected to have the services of Stephfon Green on Saturday. Green, a fifth-year senior who has rushed for 1,085 yards during his PSU career, left the team in fall camp and sat out the opener last week before being reinstated a few days ago.
Who gets the nod?: It's not just the linebackers Penn State has to concern itself with; UA nose tackle Josh Chapman is a huge concern for the interior of an offensive line that lost its best two players -- Stefen Wisniewski and Doug Klopacz -- from a season ago. Complicating matters for the PSU run game is the questionable status of tight end Andrew Szczerba, who may be out this week after suffering a head injury against Indiana State. Szczerba's position isn't home to great depth. Defensively, Alabama wants to put the game in the hands of Bolden and/or McGloin and Hightower and Johnson will play large roles in making that happen.
Alabama LBs Dont'a Hightower and Courtney Upshaw vs. Penn State offensive tackles Quinn Barham and Chima Okoli.
From the UA perspective: What makes Hightower and Upshaw difficult to handle is that they can go around or through opposing offensive tackles. Penn State really won't have much to go on where the two are concerned because Upshaw played sparingly in last year's meeting after sustaining a high ankle sprain one week earlier and Hightower was still recovering from a knee injury.
From the Penn State perspective: Barham (6'3, 304), a fifth-year senior who started all 13 games at left tackle in 2010, is similar to Alabama's Alfred McCullough in that his body type is better suited for guard, but he's a good enough athlete to get by at tackle. Another fifth-year senior, Okoli (6'4, 293) is a converted defensive tackle who started eight games at right tackle a season ago.
Who gets the nod?: Barham and Okoli are serviceable, but they'll need help to handle Hightower and Upshaw. Alabama has the advantage here.
Alabama secondary vs. Penn State passing game.
From the UA perspective: Every Alabama defensive back who saw action against Penn State a season ago will make the trip to State College, so there shouldn't be any surprises for the Crimson Tide secondary on Saturday. In fact, UA's top three safeties -- Mark Barron, Robert Lester and Will Lowery -- produced four PSU turnovers in Tuscaloosa. Each of Indiana State's three sacks a week ago came from back seven personnel, so it will be interesting to see how effective UA's blitzes are this week.
From the Penn State perspective: Flashback to a year ago and no one would have predicted a quarterback competition between Rob Bolden and Matt McGloin. Prior to last season's meeting with Alabama, Bolden was being billed as the next great Penn State quarterback. A year later, some PSU observers believe McGloin, a former walk-on, should be the starter. Together, the duo passed for 2,908 yards and 19 touchdowns in 2010. But they also combined for 16 interceptions.
Who gets the nod?: PSU wide receivers Derek Moye (6'5, 210) and Justin Brown (6'3, 214) are a pair of big receivers who enjoyed productive seasons in 2010. Moye, who caught three passes for 69 yards against Alabama a year ago, led the Nittany Lions in every receiving category, hauling in 53 passes for 885 yards and eight touchdowns. While Moye and Brown are a formidable combination, UA has four corners who are of starter quality. This is another area that favors the Crimson Tide.