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Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. Alabama Crimson Tide Preview and Prediction

Damien Harris

Damien Harris

After beating USC 52-6 last week, Alabama was dubbed by many as the clear No. 1 team in America. After all, a win that impressive, on that big of a stage, deserves some recognition. The Crimson Tide look as good as they have early in the season in quite some time. However, it won’t be easy to keep up that level of success week to week.

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Bama has an unenvious road schedule this season, and while it looks like freshman Jalen Hurts is the Tide’s new answer at quarterback after scoring four touchdowns against the Trojans, there are still bound to be some obstacles along the way. As good as Alabama appears to be, there are still areas it can get better — as is the case with every team in college football.

The Hilltoppers from Western Kentucky also were impressive in week one, as they hammered Rice 46-14. Coming into the season, the big question was whether WKU would be able to find a replacement for three-year starter Brandon Doughty at quarterback. New starter Mike White threw for more than 500 yards and three touchdowns against the Owls. It appears the Hilltoppers are going to be just fine on offense.

This will be the third meeting all-time between the teams, with Alabama holding a 2-0 series advantage. The Tide won 41-7 in 2008, then 35-0 again in ‘12, so this won’t be Nick Saban’s first bout with Western Kentucky.

Western Kentucky at Alabama

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 10 at 3:30 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN2

Spread: Alabama -29

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Three Things to Watch

1. Western Kentucky’s Passing Attack vs. Alabama’s Secondary

This is the key matchup in the game. If there’s any part of a Saban defense that has been consistently criticized over the years, it’s the secondary. Now, it appears to be better than it once was. And if last week is any indication, Alabama looks pretty good in the back end. But make no mistake, this Western Kentucky quarterback is a good one. Mike White built confidence with his record-setting performance last week. He’s in the right system and knows how to throw the ball efficiently. If the WKU offensive line is able to allow him time to throw, White has the ability to strike.

Related: College Football's 10 Best Position Battles to Watch in Week 2

2. Alabama’s Running Game

The Crimson Tide rushed for 242 yards against USC last week. Damien Harris had nine carries for 138 yards — including a 73-yard burst — but Bo Scarbrough had only 36 yards on 11 carries. Hurts appears to be a threat in the running game, which is new for the Tide, but do they have dominant running backs like they’re accustomed to? One could argue that minus Harris’ big run, the backs didn’t have a great showing (at least not by Alabama standards). In a game where Alabama should be able to find success on the ground, it will be interesting to see if and when one of the running backs emerge.

3. Jalen Hurts

Ah yes, Hurts. He went 6-for-11 for 118 yards as a passer last week, and rushed nine times for 32 yards. The key stat though, was that he found the end zone on multiple occasions. Hurts had two passing touchdowns and two rushing touchdowns. He became the first Alabama quarterback to have multiple touchdowns through the air and on the ground since 2001. As great as offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin is at calling plays, Alabama’s bread and butter will always be the running game. But with Hurts’ performance last week, he looks to be a real weapon in the offense, not only in the running game, but in efficient passing. We’ll see if he continues to build on his numbers against WKU.

Final Analysis

This actually should be an interesting matchup on Saturday. You have to wonder about a fairly inexperienced quarterback rolling into Tuscaloosa to make his second start against that defense, but White was extremely impressive in week one. Still, this isn’t Rice we’re talking about here. This is Alabama. Expect the Hilltoppers to have a few moments, and maybe even some sustained offensive success, but they’re not equipped to win this game. Not based on what we’ve seen so far. And that’s not a knock on Western Kentucky. At this moment, it doesn’t look like any team is equipped to beat Alabama. The Tide roll to 2-0.

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Prediction: Alabama 42, Western Kentucky 17  

— Written by Cody McClure, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a radio host and lead SEC Writer for Three Point Stance Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @CodyMcClureCFB.