Here are three questions for the Alabama Crimson Tide heading into Saturday's game at Penn State. We'll check back in Sunday with three answers.
McCarron and the passing game will be under the microscope once again tomorrow.
Is this Alabama offense ready to take the show on the road?
Newsflash: This won't be the feel good trip to Durham from a year ago, when a see of crimson washed away the blue of the home team. For some perspective, consider that nearly three sellout crowds at Duke's Wallace Wade Stadium could fit inside Penn State's Beaver Stadium.
Speaking of the Blue Devils, the PSU student section is college football's answer to the Cameron Crazies. So, yeah, it will be loud.
The best way to deal with a hostile crowd, of course, is to get in the end zone early and often. Sounds good, but with UA still cutting its quarterbacking teeth in front of a "Whiteout", it will be interesting to see if head coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Jim McElwain play it close to the vest in the opening quarter.
Bolstered by running backs Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy and a dominating defense that is capable of scoring on its own, common sense says we probably won't see 15 passes from the Alabama offense in the opening stanza. At some point, though, AJ McCarron and/or Phillip Sims and the rest of the passing game will have to take some shots.
Taking the approach of weathering the storm early (seems appropriate this week, right?) and playing to the strengths of this team would be hard to argue with. Still, with the offense adding a new piece -- Duron Carter -- to the receiving corps this week, I don't think we're looking at another "Derrick Thomas game" (UA 8, Penn State 3, 1988).
What happens if the running games get stuffed?
It's the worst kept secret in Pennsylvania since Jon and Kate got divorced: Both Alabama and Penn State will look to run the football on Saturday. And if you and I know that, running it effectively, especially early in the game, will likely be difficult for both offenses.
Pounding the rock isn't just the stated goal of both programs (it is), question marks in the passing games for each offense make it a semi-necessity. Between the two teams, up to four quarterbacks could see action on Saturday. That should tell you all you need to know about what the focus of the Penn State and Alabama defenses will be.
The Crimson Tide hurt the Nittany Lions when it spread the field in last season's meeting. It's not only an effective way to get mismatches in the passing game, it also helped create running lanes for Richardson. Expect to see more of that approach this time around.
Can Penn State hang with the size and speed of Alabama?
Difficult to recall as many one-on-one mismatches between two top 20 teams as what we saw in last year's game. Not just skill players, either; linemen, too.
The Nittany Lions will ride the home crowd for as long as they will carry them. But will playing at home make Joe Paterno's team a full step faster than it was in Tuscaloosa last September? Probably not, so some help from the Crimson Tide will likely be required if the playing field is going to be leveled in round two.
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