Middle Tennessee travels to Tuscaloosa on Saturday for its third meeting with the Crimson Tide. Alabama currently leads the series 2-0, with its last win over the Blue Raiders coming in 2005.
Alabama rolls into this one a week after dispatching Wisconsin 35-17 before a crowd of 64,000 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. The Crimson Tide's vaunted defensive line held Wisconsin’s running game to just 40 yards while running back Derrick Henry ran through and over the Badgers en route to a 147-yard, three-touchdown performance.
Middle Tennessee is coming off a 70-14 win against Jackson State behind more than 600 yards of offense. The Blue Raiders also limited the Tigers to just 33 yards rushing.
Middle Tennessee at Alabama
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Alabama -34.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Cooper Bateman or other ‘Bama QBs see significant playing time?
For a while Saturday night, it looked like the question regarding ‘Bama’s highly publicized quarterback battle was finally answered. Fifth-year senior Jake Coker led the first team on Alabama’s opening series and finished the night 15-of-21 passing for 213 yards and a touchdown, before taking an early exit. The Mobile, Ala., native grew more confident as the game progressed and showcased his strong arm, which at times, was too strong, as he had a few overthrows to receivers downfield. Coker showed his ability to make the difficult NFL throws and he was generous with the ball, hitting six different receivers. With his team in control 28-10 in the third quarter, head coach Nick Saban turned to Cooper Bateman to close out the game. The redshirt sophomore hit on seven of his eight pass attempts for 51 yards. With what figures to be a relatively easy game for the Tide, look for Saban to give Bateman, or other quarterbacks, the opportunity for game experience.
2. Will kicking issues be fixed?
If you were one of the many people who tuned into ESPN’s "College GameDay" last Saturday morning, then you likely saw the feel-good segment on Poland-born Alabama kicker Adam Griffith, who was adopted by a Georgia family in 2006. The former Polish orphan battled a back injury last season and had a shaky performance to start this one. Griffith, who missed seven field goals last season, missed two (from 39 and 44 yards) Saturday night against Wisconsin. Sophomore punter and 2014 Ray Guy Award finalist, JK Scott, battled a minor case of the yips as well, averaging just 36.8 yards on four punts. In 2014, his season average was 48 yards on 55 punts. Look for Griffith and Scott to fix whatever issues plagued them against Wisconsin.
3. MTSU QB Brent Stockstill vs. Alabama’s secondary
It’s no secret that the Crimson Tide in recent history has been susceptible to the vertical passing game. The Tide secondary limited Wisconsin quarterback Joel Stave to 228 yards and two touchdowns, as Alabama corners Minkah Fitzpatrick and Cyrus Jones combined for five tackles and three pass deflections. Blue Raiders quarterback Brent Stockstill, son of head coach Rick Stockstill, went 23-of-29 for 336 yards with four touchdown tosses in his debut against Jackson State and will look to keep it rolling against Alabama. While Middle Tennessee’s talent level doesn’t match Wisconsin’s, ‘Bama’s secondary should get a decent test against Stockstill, just one week before hosting Ole Miss.
In theory, this is your quintessential trap game. The Blue Raiders get the Crimson Tide one week after a primetime, top-25 matchup, and a week before SEC West foe Ole Miss comes to town. But this is a Saban-coached team and he is among the game’s best at keeping his teams focused. Coker is likely to see another early exit as Bateman should get plenty of live reps in front of a sold-out crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
Prediction: Alabama 49, Middle Tennessee 17
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A Washington, D.C.-based sports writer, Hayes is a member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and he also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.