Alabama football: Crimson Tide opens season today against new-look Kent State

Special to the Ledger-EnquirerSeptember 3, 2011 

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- There was a noticeable pause followed by some hemming and hawing.

Kent State quarterback Spencer Little was on a teleconference with out-of-town reporters when he was asked about any changes in the Golden Flashes offense this year.

There was no tipping his hand this week. Not with the first and last opportunity to spring the element of surprise on the opposition.

With a new head coach and two fresh coordinators, Kent State’s probable new-look debuts today in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

After dodging the topic, Little laughed nervously and replied with a “maybe” when asked if he was being somewhat secretive.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban was still doing the math for returning Kent State starters on Monday.

“They play very well, they’re physical, they’re tough, especially for their league,” Saban said. “They say they’ve got five starters back, but you really could figure they’ve got nine back, and they say they’ve got nine back on offense but you could say they’ve got all 11 back based on how guys played.”

Opening the season with a small-conference opponent with a new coaching staff, however, isn’t new to the Tide. San Jose State came to Tuscaloosa last September fresh off a transition in leadership and took a 48-3 beating.

Alabama linebacker Jerrell Harris said the unknown makes it “very difficult” to game plan for any opponent. Having the same experience last season certainly is a bonus, though.

“Actually it does,” Harris said. “With just about everyone coming back that makes it even better for us to be able to transition to the different looks we might get.”

Saban was also quick to point out the Mid-American Conference school played in big venues before. The Golden Flashes lost 24-0 at Penn State en route to a 5-7 record and the coaching change that brought new leader Darrell Hazell to town.

The first year head coach spent the previous seven seasons as the receivers coach at Ohio State. Then factor in offensive coordinator Brian Rock also coached receivers at Purdue for the past three falls, and the Tide went looking for film from the Big Ten.

“It’s a different system,” Alabama linebacker Dont’a Hightower said. “We’ve kind of been going back and forth on game planning. We’ve got both Ohio State and Kent State, what they like to do in different situations. What the coaches like to do, how they like to do it. I’ve got all the faith in coach Saban. He hasn’t let us down in a gameplan since I’ve been here.”

When looking at the Kent State offense from last year, the Tide isn’t seeing too many highlights. It ranked 102nd overall in the Football Bowl Subdivision gaining 314 yards a game while the ground game averaged 113 a game to rank 100th.

Whether or not the Golden Flashes try something new or stick to the old formula, Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson isn’t worried about being ill-prepared.

“It ain’t that hard. We’ve got coach Saban,” Johnson said. “We pretty much study places their old coach used to be, just try to put stuff together. coach Smart and coach Saban they do a good job of doing that. We just do what they tell us and go from there.”

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