Western Carolina at Alabama, game analysis

AJ McCarron has 20 touchdown passes this season. (AP photo by Dave Martin)

Western Carolina (1-9) at No. 5 Alabama (9-1)

When: 11:21 a.m., today
Where: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Line: None
TV: SEC Network

Four-down territory
1. A bad, small team: If you’re going to schedule a small team, make sure you schedule one that has no hope of beating you. That’s what Alabama has done. Western Carolina of the Football Championship Subdivision has won only twice in its last 27 games, and both of those came over Mars Hill — not the high school in Killen, but the Division II university in North Carolina.

2. Cooper’s big year: Just a freshman, Amari Cooper already has 38 catches for 608 yards. Only six other freshmen nationally have gained more receiving yards than him. He has compiled these numbers despite getting off to a slow start with five catches in the first three games. Julio Jones holds the school freshman records with 58 catches for 924 yards.

3. Scoreboard watching: Alabama ranks fourth in the BCS standings, trailing No. 1 Kansas State (10-0), No. 2 Oregon (10-0) and No. 3 Notre Dame (10-0). If you’re interested in keeping up with how they’re doing today, Kansas State visits Baylor (4-5) at 7 p.m. on ESPN, while Oregon hosts Stanford (8-2) at 7 p.m. on ABC, and Notre Dame hosts Wake Forest (5-5) at 2:30 p.m. on NBC.

4. The Ben Howell watch: If the game gets especially out of hand, Tide fans will get to see popular Tide walk-on running back Ben Howell carry the ball. You know it’s a blowout when you see No. 34 in the backfield. A senior from Gordo, Howell rushed six times for 18 yards against Arkansas and four times for 20 yards against Florida Atlantic.

Key matchup
Alabama running backs vs. Western Carolina linebacker Rock Williams: The Catamounts rank 119th out of 121 FCS teams in total defense, but Williams is the one shining light in all that yardage allowed. He ranks second in FCS with 13.1 tackles a game. He had 24 against the Citadel and 23 against Appalachian State. At 6-foot-2, 220 pounds, he seems a good match for Alabama running back Eddie Lacy, who is a couple of inches shorter and the same weight.

Player of the week
Eddie Lacy, RB, Jr., 6-0, 220: Lacy keeps running harder and harder each week. He gained 92 yards on 16 carries against Texas A&M and caught four passes for 35 yards. He seemed dominating whenever he touched the ball. Maybe it wouldn’t have been such a bad idea to give him the ball more.

By the numbers
20:
Touchdown passes by AJ McCarron, which is tied with Greg McElroy‘s 2010 total for the most in a single season in school history.

34: The gap between Alabama’s leading tackler, C.J. Mosley with 83 stops, and the second-leading tackler, Trey DePriest with 49.

56: Successful kicks in 56 attempts by Jeremy Shelley, who is perfect on 46 extra points and 10 field goals.

137: The number of yards T.J. Yeldon needs to tie Terry Grant‘s 2007 school freshman rushing yards set in 2007. Grant had 891, and Yeldon has 772.

Prediction
Western Carolina has struggled to stop most opponents from scoring this year, allowing 40 points a game. In fact, that creates a bit of a problem for Alabama today. If the Crimson Tide hangs 80 on them today, it will make it that much harder for Alabama to find small schools who are willing to come to Bryant-Denny Stadium, even for a big fat check. These teams understand they’ll lose, but they’re counting on not getting humiliated in the process. After all, money from Georgia, Florida State or Auburn can pay the bills just as well. Alabama 45, Western Carolina 6

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