Mean Green’s injuries sure to benefit the Tide
By Michael Casagrande
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Once again, the spread is coming.
For the third straight week, Alabama will encounter a variation of the wide-open offensive scheme when North Texas comes to Bryant-Denny Stadium today.
Going back to the end of last season, it was the spread that gave the Crimson Tide fits when Florida and Utah piled up yards and points. Through two games this fall, the Bama defense has performed better.
Granted, Virginia Tech and Florida International didn’t bring the same firepower as the Gators or the Utes, but the Alabama defense has responded to the variations of the spread with much better results.
Now, North Texas limps into Tuscaloosa with a few replacement parts in key positions. Starting quarterback Riley Dodge’s separated non-throwing shoulder means backup Nathan Tunes will take over an offense that averaged 25.5 points in a win at Ball State and an overtime loss to Ohio.
The Mean Green spread is a balanced attack. It is averaging 205.5 yards per game on the ground and 201 more through the air. Those numbers will likely take a dip after today’s meeting with an Alabama defense that has allowed just 65 net rushing yards through two games — 32 of which came on one play against Virginia Tech.
Still, Alabama coach Nick Saban said his defense will be up for a challenge against a rushing attack that is as good as any they’ve faced thus far.
The injury to Dodge only figures to increase the burden placed on the North Texas running game.
Cam Montgomery will be the first target of Tide defenders. The 6-foot-1, 218-pound running back ran for 149 yards in the opener at Ball State followed by an 88-yard outing in the Ohio loss.
Saban is impressed with his size and the ability to “knock the pile forward” in his many straight-ahead runs seen on tape. That bulk also creates mismatches because the spread offense requires more defensive backs and fewer linebackers to counter the hard running style.
With running backs like Mark Ingram (5-10, 212 pounds) and Trent Richardson (5-11, 220 pounds), the Alabama run defense is accustomed to seeing sizeable backs in practice. Both Alabama backs figure to be at 100 percent although Roy Upchurch is doubtful for North Texas with the high ankle sprain suffered against Florida International.
Ingram had a full week of practice with no lingering effects of the flu that slowed him a week ago. He’ll face a North Texas that has been stingy in the first halves of games that have been trouble spots for the Alabama offense.
The Mean Green have allowed just 3 first-half points in the first two games while Alabama’s offense struggled to find its legs against Virginia Tech and FIU. It had to settle for eight field goals in the two first halves, of which six were successful. Only twice, however, has the field goal unit only seen the field in the second half outside of extra point attempts.
There were general first-game jitters that eventually wore off against the Hokies and several Alabama players said they just came out flat against FIU.
Guarding against repeats was a focus this week and Saban said he’s noticed an increased sense of urgency on the practice field leading into the final non-conference game before opening the SEC schedule with Arkansas on Sept. 26.