No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide see different challenge in Fresno State Bulldogs

By The Sports Xchange  |  Sept. 5, 2017 at 10:15 PM
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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- After a hyped and physical game against Florida State on Saturday, No. 1 Alabama turns its attention to another FSU in what could be a blowout.

The Crimson Tide hosts Fresno State in Bryant-Denny Stadium in its home opener on Saturday.

On paper and in Vegas, this is a lopsided matchup. Alabama is favored by about 44 points over Fresno State, which finished 1-11 last season. But Alabama coach Nick Saban sees a different Bulldogs team under first-year coach Jeff Tedford.

"This is a much, much improved team," Saban said.

"They played really, really well in their opening game, where they scored 66 points and shut the other team out. Got a good quarterback. They've got a couple of good receivers. They've got some good players on defense. This is going to be a different kind of challenge for us, something that our players have to respond to because this is a much, much improved team."

Alabama, coming off its big victory, does have some questions.

The Tide lost two outside linebackers for the season -- Christian Miller (biceps) and Terrell Lewis (elbow) -- in last week's game. Two other linebackers -- Rashaan Evans (groin) and Anfernee Jennings (ankle) -- are dealing with serious injuries.

Lewis started and Miller was his backup. Jennings and Evans are starters in Alabama's 3-4 front.

During practice on Monday, junior Jamey Mosley led the outside linebackers through drills, followed by sophomore Mekhi Brown, freshmen VanDarius Cowan and freshman Chris Allen. That's a lot of youth and inexperience.

Offensively last week, running back Damien Harris rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Calvin Ridley was Alabama's other top offensive weapon, catching seven passes for 82 yards and one touchdown. Alabama continues to look for progress from quarterback Jalen Hurts in the downfield passing attack.

Tedford touted Hurts' ability to extend plays with his feet and make big plays.

"He can pull it down and really hurt you," Tedford said. "He's a strong runner. He's very fast. He's not going down -- he's not that guy to run and slide. He's like another running back."

Saban said he has a lot of respect for Tedford, a Fresno State alum who has been a noted quarterback guru in his coaching career. Tedford went 82-57 in 11 seasons at Cal, his last season there being in 2012.

"Jeff Tedford is one of the best coaches, I think, offensively in the country," Saban said.

After holding Incarnate Word scoreless on Saturday, Fresno State's defense has Alabama's attention. Alabama tight end Hale Hentges went as far as to compare Fresno State's defense to Florida State's.

"They fly around to the ball. They're fast, physical, They're long," Hentges said.

"Obviously, they shut out the team they played this last weekend. Anytime you can do that, you're a great defense. We're looking forward to the challenges we're going to have with them because they're definitely no slouch."

Fresno State posted 66 points against Incarnate Word, which plays in the Southland Conference of the Football Championship Subdivision. Chason Virgil made his 12th career start, throwing for 246 yards. Oregon State graduate transfer Marcus McMaryion, who joined the team during fall camp, saw time in the second half.

Bulldogs wideout KeeSean Johnson caught seven passes for 120 yards.

But there is not much resemblance between the Cardinals' defense and Alabama's.

"It's a big game for me and for our team as well, to see where our competition level is," Johnson said in the Fresno Bee. "I feel like we'll be expecting a little man coverage, but we'll keep honing in on the film and get more comfortable with the defense they run."

The Tide held Florida State to seven points and 185 yards of offense in the opening half, and then really put the Seminoles in a headlock. Florida State gained 65 yards and scored no points in the second half.

Florida State rushed for 40 yards on 27 attempts.

Alabama has been dealing with tragedy this week as the son of co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Locksley was killed over the weekend. Locksley missed practice on Monday, but was back with the team on Tuesday.

"I just want everybody to understand that our thoughts and prayers go out to Mike, Kia and the entire Locksley family over this tragedy," Saban said Monday. "We'll do everything we can to support Mike and his family in this time of tragedy."

Saturday will mark the first meeting between Alabama and Fresno State.

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