Game of the Week: No. 3 Alabama pays a visit to Happy Valley
Alabama and Penn State will both play two quarterbacks on Saturday
Neither coach was happy with his team's offensive line play in Week 1
Playing in Happy Valley isn't easy, but Alabama's defense is scary good
The opening-week scrimmages are over. No. 23 Penn State and No. 3 Alabama emerged from Week 1 with easy wins against overmatched opponents. The real season-opener for both teams takes place at Beaver Stadium on Saturday afternoon, where the Lions will try to avenge last year's 24-3 drubbing in Tuscaloosa and upset an Alabama team that has an eye on a national championship. The matchup conjures up images of the unforgettable 1979 national championship game and a 10-year series between the intersectional rivals from 1981-90 that featured four games with both teams ranked in the Top 10. "Tradition is something we all value," Alabama coach Nick Saban said this week. "When you play in a game like this, you need to have pride not only in yourself, but what you represent, which is the tradition and the people that have made it what it is."
1. Searching for QB1: If you have two quarterbacks, it means you have no quarterbacks -- or so the football cliché goes. Both Saban and Penn State's Joe Paterno insist that's not the case, that they have two good quarterbacks who simply haven't separated themselves yet. Whatever the case, expect four signal-callers to see action on Saturday, as neither coach was ready to definitively hand over the No. 1 job leading into the game. Penn State is trying to figure out if Rob Bolden or Matt McGloin is the right man, while Alabama is debating between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims. In Penn State's 41-7 rout of Indiana State, neither Bolden nor McGloin especially stood out, though the Lions were more productive with McGloin under center. For Alabama, McCarron and Sims each threw two picks in a 48-7 whipping of Kent State, but McCarron had much better numbers, outgaining Sims 226-73 in yardage. The guess here is that McGloin and McCarron will be running the respective offenses if the game is close in the fourth quarter.
2. Whose Big Uglies can be bigger and uglier? Both coaches have made it clear the play of their respective offensive lines was not satisfactory in Week 1. Saban snapped at a reporter when he was suggested shuffling bodies in and out of positions was hampering communication and cohesion to the unit. "When you put your head down and whiff a linebacker, what does that have to do with who is playing where?" Saban said. "It doesn't matter what position you are playing for you to get your second step on the ground and butt the guy in the throat and finish the block." Paterno was less biting, but still gave the impression he's unsatisfied up front. "The offensive line has to be a little bit more consistent," JoePa said. With uncertain quarterback situations on both sides, the offensive lines take on greater importance.
3. Avoid the three-and-out: Alabama forced 11 three-and-outs against overmatched Kent State, repeatedly putting the offense in good field position. Penn State only went three-and-out twice against Alabama last year, which was a big reason it was able to at least hang around. With Alabama's offense still feeling its way through its quarterback quandary and the offensive line yet to mesh, Penn State needs to make the Tide drive long fields if it wants to be in position to pull off the upset in the fourth quarter. Getting at least one first down on every possession will go a long way toward accomplishing that goal.
Alabama is 4-1 as a double-digit road favorite under Saban and 7-1 against the spread in its last eight nonconference games, including bowls. Penn State is 2-7 against the spread (and straight up) as an underdog the last four years. Trends favor the Tide.
Alabama held Kent State to one yard or less on 20 of 30 plays and gave up 22 total yards in the first half.
SI.com NFL draft analyst Tony Pauline weighs in with his thoughts on the top pro prospects in this matchup:
RB Trent Richardson, Alabama: Former Tide running back Mark Ingram may have a Heisman Trophy, but NFL scouts think Richardson offers better pro potential. Richardson is one of the most complete backs in the nation, combining the strength to pound it on the inside, the agility to turn the corner and the instincts to avoid defenders anywhere on the field. He has the potential to be an outstanding feature back in the NFL. Grade: First-round prospect.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick, Alabama: More than a half-dozen defensive backs have been drafted from the Alabama program since 2006; Kirkpatrick could be better than all of them. He offers NFL size and athleticism and shows terrific ball skills on the field. Kirkpatrick comes with a huge upside and will move up draft boards as he improves. Grade: First-round prospect.
DT Devon Still, Penn State: Still graded as one of the premiere senior defensive tackles entering the season and is well thought of in the scouting community. He's an explosive lineman who fires off the snap to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. The interior of Alabama's offensive line will present a challenge for Still and is a battle NFL decision-makers will monitor. Grade: Second-round prospect.
DE Jack Crawford, Penn State: Crawford struggled with an ankle injury much of his junior season, but is still highly regarded by league scouts. He's an athletic prospect who gets a lot of pressure off the edge, then forces the action up the field. His battle against up-and-coming Alabama tackle Barrett Jones is one to keep an eye on. Grade: Third-round prospect.
Alabama's defense had seven players named preseason first-, second- or third-team All-SEC, and yet the leading tackler from Week 1 was backup freshman linebacker Trey Depriest. The point? Alabama's defense is scary, which is not good news for an unsettled Penn State offense. The home atmosphere will help (the humidity in Tuscaloosa last year was mentioned this week as a factor), and Alabama's offense will not have an easy time with an experienced Penn State defense. But it is hard to see Penn State being able to generate enough offense to pull off the upset. Alabama 27, Penn State 13.