Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and No. 1-ranked Alabama face The Citadel on Saturday. Photo by Mark Wallheiser/UPI | License Photo
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- It's almost like a retro-week for Alabama, especially the defensive players.
As a final tune-up for rival Auburn followed by Georgia in the SEC Championship Game, No. 1 Alabama hosts FCS member The Citadel on Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium (11 a.m. CT, SEC Network).
The Bulldogs run a triple-option offense, which none of the Crimson Tide players have seen since high school.
"It may be nerve-wracking for the coaches trying to come up with play-calling and stuff, but I am excited," sophomore linebacker Dylan Moses said. "They'll be running the ball the whole time. That's what I live for. I am ready to run guys down, make tackles and celebrate with my teammates."
Alabama may be running a lot as well as starting quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and reserve Jalen Hurts have been dealing with injuries, and the last thing the Crimson Tide want is for either to have a setback prior to the Iron Bowl.
Tagovailoa, the Heisman Trophy frontrunner, has been hindered by a sprained knee suffered at Arkansas on Oct. 6. After taking numerous hard hits, he was pulled near the end of the third quarter against No. 21 Mississippi State last week.
Hurts has been out since suffering high ankle sprain at Tennessee on Oct. 20. Redshirt freshman Mac Jones had to finish the 24-0 victory over Mississippi State.
Nick Saban bristled at the idea on holding Tagovailoa back this week against The Citadel.
"Why would we do that?" he said. "I mean, to say this was not an important game or he doesn't need to play?
"I think we need to do a better job of the people playing around him, doing what they're supposed to do so he doesn't get hit. And he needs to do a better job of stepping up in the pocket and getting rid of the ball, which he had several opportunities to do. Some of these hits could be avoided by better execution, and I think that's what we're going to focus on, not trying to take a guy out of the game so he can't improve or do what he needs to do to get better."
The Citadel (4-5) is coming off a 42-27 victory against Samford. Quarterback Brandon Rainey became the third Bulldogs quarterback to rush for more than 200 yards in a game and was named the Southern Conference Offensive Player of the Week. He had 207 of his 217 rushing yards in the second half and was also 5-of-7 for 88 yards and a touchdown.
He's had 405 rushing yards over his last two games.
"We just want to go out there and make a good showing, compete our butts off as best we possibly can on such a big and grand stage," Bulldogs coach Brent Thompson said.
"They're a very, very good football. Probably the best I've ever seen."
Alabama (10-0) hasn't given up a point in November despite playing two ranked opponents. The Crimson Tide have been outstanding against the run of late, holding the last four opponents to fewer than 100 yards with Tennessee tallying 31 and No. 7 LSU managing 12. Both were playing on their home fields as well.
But the triple-option is different, and tough to get down in a week. For perhaps the first time this season, Alabama will mostly play out of its base defense and not the nickel or dime package with extra defensive backs.
"You really just have to play alongside each other and stick together," said Moses, who took over the team lead in tackles last week. "You have to basically clog up the middle and have an alley player coming down, making sure the seams are protected as well.
'There are a lot of things that go into play with a triple-option team. It's a mind game. You do one thing wrong they'll slice you right up the middle."
That's what happened in 2011 when Alabama last faced a triple-option offense. Even though the Crimson Tide managed to finish first nationally in all four major defensive categories -- rushing, scoring, total yards and pass efficiency, they still got burned by Georgia Southern for 302 rushing yards and 21 points.
Of course, Alabama scored 45 and eventually won the national championship.
This will be the third time Thompson's team will be facing an opponent coming off a national title, with Alabama following Florida State (2014, a 37-12 loss) and Clemson last year, a 61-3 victory for the Tigers.
"I think I'm over the national championship teams at this point," Thompson said.