Matchups to Watch: Alabama vs. Western Carolina


CW / Hannah Saad

James Ogletree | @jameslogletree, Sports Editor

If there’s ever a time to sustain a ghastly rash of injuries, it’s the week before a game expected to be so lopsided that oddsmakers don’t even release a betting line. Such is the case for Alabama’s game against Western Carolina on Saturday, the Crimson Tide’s final home game of the season.

The Catamounts, who are 3-8 in the lower-tier Football Championship Subdivision (FCS), aren’t expected to put up much of a challenge against No. 5-ranked Alabama. But coach Nick Saban, never one to overlook any opponent, said in his Monday afternoon press conference, “This game is really not about who we’re playing, but it’s about us continuing, building and rebuilding the identity that we want to play to as a team because we have some players out.”

Here are some of the most important matchups and players to keep an eye on when the Crimson Tide and Catamounts kick off on Saturday at 11 a.m.


Alabama defensive line vs. WCU offensive line

In its other Power Five game this season at NC State, Western Carolina was shut out 41-0 and gained just 106 offensive yards – 98 passing and 8 rushing. The Catamounts allowed four sacks, which doesn’t bode well against Alabama’s defense, even in its depleted state. The Crimson Tide could have as many as four defensive linemen –  junior LaBryan Ray, senior Raekwon Davis, freshman D.J. Dale and redshirt sophomore Phidarian Mathis – out with injuries. The starters in the second half against Mississippi State were Mathis, freshman Byron Young and senior Tevita Musika. Expect to see some newer faces as the team works to craft a full rotation of defensive linemen.


Najee Harris and other RBs vs. WCU run defense

Junior running back Najee Harris is finally getting the opportunities he has been hoping for since his freshman year. Over his first two seasons, he had 1,205 total yards and seven touchdowns on 188 touches. As the team’s No. 1 running back this year, he has 1,142  total yards and 15 touchdowns on 166 touches. His 15 total touchdowns are the most by an Alabama player since Derrick Henry’s Heisman season in 2015. Western Carolina allowed 266 rushing yards to Samford last week and 309 to NC State, so Harris, who has topped 100 yards in three of his last five games, could have another big game depending on how long he plays. Junior Brian Robinson Jr. and freshman Keilan Robinson have been the next two running backs in the rotation.


Alabama passing game vs. WCU secondary

Redshirt sophomore quarterback Mac Jones will make his second career start, potentially without one of the team’s top receivers, junior Henry Ruggs III. Saban and other players have continually expressed confidence in Jones’ ability to run the offense since starter Tua Tagovailoa’s ankle injury last month. If the game gets out of hand, less experienced receivers like freshman John Metchie, redshirt freshman Slade Bolden and redshirt sophomore Tyrell Shavers could get some experience. But with the Iron Bowl looming next week, it’s essential that Jones gets reps at real-game speed.