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Game Preview: Alabama

Game Preview: WVU vs. Alabama
Series: First Meeting
Last meeting: Never met
Television: 3:30 p.m., ABC, Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Brian Griese (analysis), Tom Luiginbill (sideline)
Football is back and West Virginia opens the season Saturday with a daunting task against No. 2 Alabama in the Chick-Fil-a kickoff classic inside the Georgia Dome.
Head Coach Dana Holgorsen enters his fourth year atop the football program after compiling an overall record of 21-17 but is coming off a disappointing 4-8 season a year ago. However, for the first time in his tenure, the head coach is working with a full allotment of 85-scholarship players and is comfortable with the depth inside the program.
On the other sideline, Alabama head coach Nick Saban needs no introduction as he has turned the Crimson Tide into one of the elite programs in college football year in and year out.
During his eight year tenure in Tuscaloosa, Saban has amassed a record of 74-15 with three national championships including an 11-2 finish a season ago. Overall, the Fairmont native has won four national championships and is 165-57-1 over the span of his 19-year career which included a stint in the NFL.
The Crimson Tide's offense is predicated on being able to run the football effectively with a trio of talented running backs including TJ Yeldon (1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns), Derrick Henry (382 yards and 3 touchdowns) and Kenyan Drake (694 yards and 8 touchdowns) as well as a strong offensive line.
Not to be outdone, however, are the skill position players out-wide for Alabama led by Amari Cooper who led the Tide in receiving last year as well as Christion Jones and DeAndrew White.
The biggest question for the Crimson Tide will be at the quarterback position where both senior Blake Sims and junior Jacob Coker are expected to split snaps in the quest to replace three-year starter AJ McCarron, who had become a staple of the program.
Defensively, Alabama has been one of the best teams in college football since the arrival of Nick Saban and Kirby Smart and even with a number of young players on the football it's expected that the unit will once again be one of the strengths of the team. Last season Alabama was fifth in the country in total defense allowing only 286 yards per game and giving up a stingy 13.9 points per game.
"When you think of an Alabama team, and you think of coach Saban, it's going to be defense. Kirby Smart has been their defensive coordinator for a long time. He's been with Nick (Saban) for a long time," Holgorsen said.
"They do a great job of recruiting top-notch talent - big, fast, strong guys - some of the better players in the country each and every year. They lose guys to the NFL every year, then they just replace them with guys who have been in the program, and then those guys go to the NFL also," he added.
Clint Trickett will head the West Virginia offense after tossing for 1,605 yards and 7 touchdowns against 7 interceptions in a season marred with injuries and inconsistency. That appears to be behind the former Florida State transfer, however, as the coaching staff has been very high on his ability to run the offense throughout the course of fall camp.
Overall, West Virginia returns a number of starters offensively and defensively but will not get anything easy against the Crimson Tide.
West Virginia Depth Chart:
QB - 9 Clint Trickett (r-Sr), 14 Paul Millard (Sr), 16 William Crest (Fr) or 3 Skyler Howard (So.)
FB (B) - 88 Cody Clay (r-Jr), 28 Elijah Wellman (r-Fr)
RB (A) - 2 Dreamius Smith (Sr), 4 Wendell Smallwood (So), 7 Rushel Shell (r-So), 29 Dustin Garrison
WR (X) - 5 Mario Alford (Sr), 82 Devonte Mathis (r-So)
WR (Z) - 11 Kevin White (r-Sr), 81 Vernon Davis (r-So)
IR (H) - 6 Daikiel Shorts (Fr), 42 Garrett Hope (Jr)
IR (Y) - 10 Jordan Thompson (Jr), 15 Logan Moore (r-Sr)
LT - 57 Adam Pankey (r-So), 63 Michael Calicchio (r-Sr)
LG - 67 Quinton Spain (r-Sr), 79 Grant Lingafelter (r-Fr)
C - 65 Tyler Orlosky (r-So), 69 Tony Matteo (r-So)
RG - 64 Mark Glowinski (r-Sr), 59 Stone Underwood (r-Jr)
RT - 78 Marquis Lucas (r-Jr), 77 Marcell Lazard (So)
DE - 4 Shaq Riddick (Sr) or 97 Noble Nwachukwu (r-So)
NT - 93 Kyle Rose (r-Jr), 95 Christian Brown (r-So)
DE - 99 Dontrill Hyman (Sr), 45 Eric Kinsey (Jr)
SPUR - 9 KJ Dillon (Jr), 3 Cullen Christian (r-Sr)
SAM - 37 Wes Tonkery (r-Sr), 31 Isaiah Bruce (r-Jr)
MIKE - 35 Nick Kwiatkoski (r-Jr), 17 Al-Rasheed Benton (r-Fr)
WILL - 2 Brandon Golson (Sr), 1 Edward Muldrow (Jr)
LCB - 16 Terrell Chestnut (r-Jr), 26 Travis Bell (r-Sr)
FS - 6 Dravon Henry (Fr), 24 Jeremy Tyler (So)
BS - 8 Karl Joseph (Jr), 22 Jarrod Harper (r-So)
RCB - 7 Daryl Worley (So), 14 Ricky Rumph (Jr)
PK - 8 Josh Lambert (r-So)
P - 91 Nick O'Toole (Jr)
KO - 48 Michael Molinari (r-Sr)
LS -87 John DePalma (Jr)
H - 48 Michael Molinari (r-Sr)
PR - 10 Jordan Thompson (Jr), 5 Mario Alford (Sr)
KR - 5 Mario Alford (Sr), 7 Rushel Shell (r-So), 4 Wendell Smallwood (So), 7 Daryl Worley (So)
Coaching assignments for this season include: DL Tom Bradley (field), OL Ron Crook (field), QB/OC Shannon Dawson (press box), S/ST Joe DeForest (field), WR Lonnie Galloway (field), DC/LB Tony Gibson (field), CB Brian Mitchell (press box), DL Damon Codgell (press box), RB JaJuan Seider (field)
West Virginia returns 31 players on the offensive side with starting experience. Mark Glowinski and Quinton Spain have started every game, while Kevin White (9), TE/FB Cody Clay (9), WR Daikiel Shorts (9), QB Clint Trickett (7), WR Mario Alford (5), OG Marquis Lucas (4), RB Dreamius Smith (3), QB Paul Millard (3), C Tyler Orlosky (3), WR KJ Myers (2), WR Jordan Thompson (2), RB Wendell Smallwood (1)
On defense West Virginia returns 12 players on defense with starting experience in 2013: LB Brandon Golson (12), BS Karl Joseph (12), LB Nick Kwiatkoski (10), CB Travis Bell (9), LB Isaiah Bruce (7), NG Kyle Rose (6), CB Daryl Worley (5), SPUR KJ Dillon (4), DE Eric Kinsey (3), DE Dontrill Hyman (2) and FS Jeremy Tyler (1). Overall eight of the 11 starters from last year return.
West Virginia is 87-29-4 in season openers, including 61-59 in season road openers. Last season, West Virginia opener the season 24-17 victory over William & Mary, making it the tenth consecutive season opener that the Mountaineers have won.
Injuries: Senior linebacker Jared Barber has been ruled out of the contest and is likely to miss the remainder of the season as he recovers from knee surgery. Barber is a candidate for a redshirt. Senior cornerback Ishmael Banks has been suspended for the first three games of the season and will not be eligible to participate against Alabama.
Redshirts: All of the freshmen in the 2014 recruiting class are set to redshirt at this point outside of Dravon Henry and possibly William Crest. Junior college offensive tackle Sylvester Townes also will receive a redshirt this fall.
Points to click:
* Find some things out: Saturday will be the first extended look at this year's edition of the Mountaineers and while it might be hard to answer some of the questions, it will be a chance to see what West Virginia has to offer on both sides of the football. It will be an opportunity to see which players are ready to step up and how the offensive and defensive sides of the ball adjust to a new year. Even more importantly it will be an opportunity to see if the experience and depth that have been key words throughout camp pay off in a matchup against a very difficult opponent.
*Can West Virginia keep the Alabama quarterbacks in check? If there is one concern for the Crimson Tide this season it lies at the quarterback spot, where Nick Saban has been tasked with replacing three-year starter AJ McCarron. Blake Sims and Jake Coker are both expected to play in the game and the key for the West Virginia defense will be to adjust and contain either option when they are in the game. It's likely that you could see two different styles of offense given the players respective skillsets and the Mountaineers must be prepared for both to avoid letting the Tide's perceived weakness become a strength.
*West Virginia's defense against Alabama's running game: The bread and butter of the Alabama offense is their ability to impose their will in the run game and while West Virginia's defensive depth up front is much improved, can they handle the physicality of the matchup over the course of an entire game. One of the biggest issues of this game will be sound tackling over the course of four quarters as well as making the Crimson Tide go out of their element on first and second down. One of the most interesting matchups will be Alabama's right side of their offensive line and how the Mountaineers strong side defensive line is able to combat the vaunted Tide rushing attack. You could see two tight end or fullbacks looking to exploit the Mountaineers six man front.
*Worley vs. Cooper: West Virginia has anointed Daryl Worley has its lockdown secondary option since the spring and he will have to earn that moniker the hard way against one of the most talented outside wide receivers in the nation. Amari Cooper is a physical outside wide receiver that has the speed to get behind a secondary and Worley will be tasked with keeping him in check and avoiding big plays over the top in an effort to keep Alabama one dimensional. If Worley is successful against Cooper he not only makes a statement for himself, but gives the Mountaineers a much brighter look in this contest.
*The OJ Howard effect: Howard has a unique combination of being able to block and catch the football packaged in a 6-foot-6, frame. How will West Virginia defend Howard once he releases to the second level and who will be responsible for defending him?
*Can't punt quickly: West Virginia must stay on the field. In order to beat Alabama, West Virginia is going to have to move the football against the Crimson Tide defense and put points on the board. That can't occur if you're regularly punting the football to the opposition. It won't be a situation where they will need to score every drive, but stalled drives won't cut it Saturday. West Virginia has talked about their improvements on the offensive side of the football and it will be the time to showcase that.
*Protect Trickett, and keep him healthy: West Virginia quarterback Clint Trickett has yet to be hit in practice this fall, that will likely change early in Saturday's contest. Still, West Virginia must be able to establish a run game and get the football out of Trickett's hands into the various playmakers on the offensive side of the football. Injuries derailed Trickett's season a year ago and for the sake of this game and the rest of the season the Mountaineers must keep him from getting on his back.
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