Ole Miss, for the second time in as many years, handed Alabama its first loss of the season Saturday, defeating the Crimson Tide 43-37 in Tuscaloosa. The loss snapped Alabama’s NCAA-leading 17-game home win streak and knocked the Tide out of the top 10 in the polls. ULM gets the fun task of facing the Tide Saturday afternoon at Bryant-Denny Stadium. The Warhawks enter at 1-1 and off of a bye week. Their last outing resulted in a 47-0 shutout of Nicholls State, two weeks ago.
As soon as time expired in Tuscaloosa Saturday, fans and pundits began questioning ‘Bama head coach Nick Saban’s decision to start Cooper Bateman — who made his first start — over Jake Coker, as Coker started the Tide’s first two games of the season. The Tide were also dealt a blow against Ole Miss when they lost wide receiver Robert Foster for the year to injury.
College Football Podcast: Week 4 Preview with Jill Savage
ULM at Alabama
Kickoff: 4 p.m. ET (Saturday)
TV Channel: SEC Network
Spread: Alabama -38
Three Things to Watch
1. Will Alabama’s Offense Find its Identity?
After Saturday’s loss, Nick Saban stated that Cooper Bateman’s presence as a dual-threat quarterback made him the more attractive option behind center against Ole Miss, explaining in the postgame press conference, “We had some things in the game plan early that the quarterback was going to pull the ball on and do some things, so we thought that Cooper’s speed would be a change of pace for them." Bateman wouldn’t last past the second quarter as Coker replaced him after an interception. Coker ended the evening with 201 yards and three touchdown passes on 45 attempts and gained 58 yards rushing and a running score. He also had three turnovers on interceptions.
While neither quarterback has been perfect, both have had three games to audition for the job. In those three games, Bateman is 29-of-39 for 236 yards and a touchdown. He has also thrown an interception. Coker is 51-of-92 for 628 yards and five touchdowns with three interceptions. Alabama must remain committed to one.
2. Calvin Ridley’s Increased Workload
In August, Kiffin gave perhaps the best endorsement a player could receive when he said that Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley “showed elite talent” when compared to players he’s coached in the past. Ridley will get the chance to prove Kiffin right as he will assume an increased workload due to Foster’s season-ending rotator cuff injury. Ridley, a 6-foot-1, 188-pound freshman, had six receptions for 28 yards in the loss to Ole Miss and has seen action in all three games this season. Ridley is a physical receiver who runs crisp routes. Saturday’s game against ULM will be an ideal one for Saban and Kiffin to ease him into the offense ahead of the team’s SEC slate of games.
3. Can Alabama Avoid a Mental Lapse?
Nick Saban is 8-1 against Sun Belt Conference opponents, the conference from which ULM hails. His one loss? It came in 2007 against ULM. There really isn’t such a thing as a let-down game if you’re coached by Saban, but this is a relatively young team. And while Alabama was able to rebound from its loss to Ole Miss and win the SEC last season, one wonders if this year’s team will be able to do the same.
While anything can happen on any given Saturday, it’s highly unlikely that ULM stuns Alabama and gives the Crimson Tide its second loss of the season. What’s more likely to happen is that Alabama fixes its turnover woes (five against Ole Miss) and takes out its frustrations on an overmatched ULM football team. This one could get ugly.
Prediction: Alabama 42, ULM 14
— 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.