Revisiting three questions for the Alabama Crimson Tide following its 49-0 win over Western Carolina.
Fresh off a three-touchdown performance against WCU, Eddie Lacy will play a large role in determining UA's final destination.
Why play a game like this?
TRips Friday: Because Alabama needed a seventh home game and Western Carolina's softball field needed new dugouts.
While I'm quite certain of the former, the latter may not be accurate in terms of exactly how WCU will use its appearance fee. Put it this way, though, winning in Tuscaloosa isn't on the list of objectives for one of the worst teams in the Football Championship Subdivision.
According to the Catamounts' depth chart for UA, they'll start eight true freshman against Alabama. That's more than a lot junior college teams.
For the Crimson Tide, this week has been about rest and recovery; a needed break from the physical grind of five straight weeks of SEC play and a chance to salve the psychological wounds wrought by last week's loss to Texas A&M.
Alabama will return to its winning ways Saturday. The question is, will the Crimson Tide return to the mistake-free, turnover-margin machine last seen three weeks ago?
With championships on the line the following two weekends, now would be a good time to snap the minus-five turnover skid UA currently finds itself on and get back to being Alabama.
TRips Sunday: Let's be honest: Alabama could have finished the game minus-five in turnover margin and beaten the woefully overmatched Catamounts by 30.
This wasn't Georgia Southern. Heck, it may not have been Birmingham Southern.
Western Carolina was paid $475,000 to show up in Tuscaloosa, which averages out to $2,914.11 for each of its 163 total yards of offense. Based on what we saw Saturday afternoon, neither UA nor WCU got their money's worth.
The Catamounts started a freshman offensive tackle who weighs all of 260 pounds. Meanwhile, Alabama tight end Michael Williams checks in at 269 pounds, about 50 pounds more than was needed to push aside undersized defenders while blocking for Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon.
Physical mismatch aside, there were enough mistakes from Alabama's offense and special teams to tell you that the Texas A&M hangover was still in effect. As for the Crimson Tide defense, even WCU figured out where to go with the ball against UA's pass defense.
For a team dealing with a nasty hangover, a win over an FCS opponent was the equivalent of a swig of ice-cold, electrolytes the morning after. And then the events in Waco and Eugene began to unfold and suddenly the hair of the Dawg (as in UGA) approach proved to be the best remedy.
Who do you have in the reserve pool Saturday?
TRips Friday: Assuming UA's front line players take care of business, the afternoon should take on the feel of a junior varsity game as snaps should be plentiful for young players and walk-ons.
Offensively, after going two games without a touch, running back Kenyan Drake is a good bet to lead the Crimson Tide in carries. Of more importance, though, will be getting offensive linemen Ryan Kelly, Chad Lindsay, Arie Kouandjio and Austin Shepherd work, especially when looking ahead to 2013.
As for the defense, here's hoping freshman linebacker Tyler Hayes is able to replace last week's mistake with a more positive learning experience.
TRips Sunday: The Alabama coaching staff wasted no time getting AJ McCarron off the field, going with Blake Sims following McCarron's school-record 21st touchdown pass of the season in the second quarter.
Obviously, it makes no sense to keep McCarron in a game a second longer than he is needed, but why don't the same people who scream for McCarron to take a seat do the same for CJ Mosley?
While Alabama doesn't have another AJ, it doesn't have another CJ, either. As difficult as it would be for the Crimson Tide to beat Georgia without McCarron, think about the Alabama nickel and dime defensive packages without Mosley. Now go take an Ambien to help you sleep on the thought.
The real losers in this game were Crimson Tide reserves. Saturday's game took less time to complete than a Jason Verlander no-hitter, wrapping up in what had to be a television-era record two hours and forty-three minutes.
On a related note, a not-so-funny thing happened on the way to getting Drake 20 carries: the true freshman sat out the game while serving a one-game suspension. The good news for Drake is that a 3-8 Auburn team is up next, so carries may be available during the latter stages of the regular-season finale.
What are the chances Alabama is once again in control of its BCS title game fate come late Saturday night?
TRips Friday: More than anything else, you'll watch Alabama-WCU to kill time until Stanford-Oregon and Kansas State-Baylor, both of which will kickoff at 7 p.m. CT.
Forget about Wake Forest-Notre Dame because those won't be the Riley Skinner-led Demon Deacons taking on the Fighting Irish. And, yes, I remember the Pitt scare from a few weeks ago. Trust me when I tell you that If Notre Dame is going down, it will happen next weekend in Los Angeles.
If Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III were part of Saturday's equation, I'd feel much better about Stanford and Baylor (and Alabama). As it is, with Oregon playing at home and run heavy K-State matching up well with the nation's 96th ranked rush defense, there are only two things the Crimson Tide and its fans can do.
Win and wait.
TRips Sunday: It couldn't happen again.
And then it did.
And really, it wasn't all that different than a year ago, when, essentially twelve months removed from the very same weekend, home standing Iowa State knocked off heavily favored Oklahoma State and home standing Oregon spit the bit against Southern California.
Really, though, IT COULDN'T HAPPEN AGAIN.
And then IT DID.
A Baylor defense that had been run on more than a treadmill at a country club gym, rose up and stole the show, taking out K-State's title hopes and Collin Klein's Heisman hopes in one swoop.
Meanwhile, in Eugene, the Stanford defense took away those UPS truck-wide running lanes that Chip Kelly's quarterbacks and running backs had grown accustomed to, allowing for a grinding Cardinal offense to stay the course in the process.
In effect, the Cardinal gave the Ducks what might prove to have been its lone dose of SEC-style football this season. In watching the Cardinal stick to the plan, it became clear to me: Stanford is not Alabama West. Not this year. If anything, Alabama needs to be Stanford East in the coming weeks.
What isn't like last year is the path the Crimson Tide will travel between now and Dec. 1. Barring a team-wide breakout of the Ebola virus this week, UA will play on Conference Championship Saturday this time around.
From that standpoint, it will be more like 2009, when Alabama headed into that year's Auburn game with conference and national title hopes on the line. And like 2009, there will likely be an opponent waiting in Atlanta who wants the same the thing as the Crimson Tide.
For now, though, there are games to play against in-state rivals. You don't think Auburn and Georgia Tech would love to do what Baylor and Stanford did last night?
Within a five-hour window, Alabama and Georgia benefited from an amazing amount of help. From this point forward, the Crimson Tide and Bulldogs, expected to rank No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, behind Notre Dame in the next BCS rankings, need only be concerned with themselves. For a select few college football teams in late November, there's no better feeling.
Friday's prediction: Alabama 56, WCU 3.
Saturday's score: Alabama 49, WCU 0.