September 15, 2006

BOL Breakdown: ULM at Alabama

The Alabama Crimson Tide (2-0) will return to non-conference action Saturday night by hosting the Louisiana-Monroe Warhawks (1-1) at Bryant-Denny Stadium (6:07 p.m. CT/PPV). The game will mark the first football meeting between the two schools.

BOL senior writer Travis Reier provides an in-depth look at this week's match-up.

Alabama running game vs. Louisiana-Monroe run defense: Will we see carry over from the fourth quarter of the Vanderbilt game? Granted, the 43 yards Alabama rushed for in the final stanza last Saturday didn't bring the Air Force or pre-Bill Callahan Nebraska ground games to mind. But the Tide was able to salt the game away by handing the ball to Kenneth Darby and running clock. With three fumbles in the first two games, ball security suddenly has become an issue behind Darby. UA's offensive line would love to see an opposing defense align itself in a tradional 4-3 look, but that won't happen anytime soon. Speaking of the OL, the entire right side will need to improve if the ground game is to have a chance at Arkansas and Florida.

Edge: They may do it out of a different look than Hawai'i and Vanderbilt before them, but the Warhawks will have an extra defender in the box from Alabama's opening snap. You have to think UA will be able to run on a ULM defense that last week surrendered 161 rushing yards to a Kansas ground game that ranked 75th nationally a season ago. But didn't I write that about a Vanderbilt defense that gave up almost 250 rushing yards to Michigan the week before? Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: Alabama RT Chris Capps and RG B.J. Stabler vs. ULM DT DeMarcus Carmouche and DE Christian Cambridge.

Alabama passing game vs. ULM pass defense: After two weeks of working against cushions on the outside, Tide receivers expect to see tight man coverage from ULM's corners. In the preseason, this group appeared to be improved against the jam. With Arkansas' physical corners up next, ULM seniors Chaz Williams and Quintez Secka will provide more than a pop quiz before next week's full-scale examination. If the Tide's pass protection remains solid, there will be big-play opportunities down the field for John Parker Wilson and his receivers.

Edge: ULM's veteran secondary played well at Kansas, limiting the Jayhawks' play selection to wide receiver screens for the most part. Senior free safety Kevin Payne leads the Warhawks in interceptions with two, and he's asked to cover a lot of ground in support of both Williams and Secka. There's been talk this week about ULM's 4-4 front, but the Warhawks actually work base out of a 4-2-5 alignment. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: Alabama wide receivers Keith Brown and DJ Hall vs. ULM corners Chaz Williams and Quintez Secka.

Mike Shula's first offensive play call will be: Slant to Keith Brown.

Don't be surprised if: Tide backs and tight ends are more involved in the passing game this week. With the wide receivers running off ULM's corners, the flats should be available.

ULM running game vs. Alabama run defense: This will mark the third straight week that UA's defense will have gone against a variation of the spread offense. ULM's version resembles the spread option attack made popular by Urban Meyer. The Warhawks' spread will provide Alabama's front seven with a steady diet of quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster and running backs Erroll Hogan and Calvin Dawson on zone read (Lancaster either gives to the back or keeps) and option plays. The duo combined for 68 yards on 18 carries at Kansas last week. As a team, ULM rushed for 51 yards on 23 carries in Lawrence.

Edge: With Florida two weeks away, it would seem as if ULM's spread option would provide a refresher course for the UA defense. Two problems: UF quarterback Chris Leak isn't the runner Lancaster is and Lancaster isn't the passer Leak is. Still, going against similar formations and blocking schemes will be of some benefit. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: ULM quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster and running back Calvin Dawson vs. Alabama's linebackers.

ULM passing vs. Alabama pass defense: After a somewhat shaky first half against Vandy last week, the Tide limited Commodore quarterback Chris Nickson to 42 yards passing while intercepting him twice in the final two quarters. Bama fans looking for more sacks this week from the defensive line will likely be disappointed. Lancaster's mobility makes him a tough guy to drop and ULM's spread will keep the Alabama defense in the "30" alignment for most of the night.

Edge: In an effort to keep Lancaster in front of Tide defenders, look for UA defensive coordinator Joe Kines to keep blitzes to a minimum. Despite Lancaster's impressive passing numbers from a week ago (377 yards), defenses will take their chances with a 5-foot-11 quarterback throwing from the pocket. In addition to assisting on screens and shovel passes, the Tide's linebackers and defensive backs will need to pay close attention to Zeek Zacharie, who at 6-foot-3 and 230 pounds is more wide receiver than tight end. Zacharie stung Kansas for 86 yards on four catches. For his efforts, the sophomore was honored as the John Mackey national tight end of the week. LaGregory Sapp, another 6-3 receiver, added eight catches for 82 yards. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: ULM tight end Zeek Zacharie vs. Alabama's safeties and nickel backs.

ULM offensive coordinator Bob Leahy's first play call will be: Zone read with either Lancaster or Dawson carrying.

Don't be surprised if: Alabama's secondary goes with a different starting lineup for the third week in a row.

Special Teams: There's concern that Jamie Christensen's right groin might be at least partially torn. If it is, Leigh Tiffin will be counted on to handle field goals and extra points for much of the season. Tiffin's heroics have overshadowed the job done by punter P.J. Fitzgerald. In two games, the redshirt freshman has placed four punts inside opponents' 20-yard line. Freshman running back and kickoff return man Terry Grant sustained a shoulder injury earlier in the week. After Thursday's practice, Mike Shula said he thought Grant would be available for ULM. If he can't go, wide receivers DJ Hall and Matt Caddell would be the top two candidates to take join Javier Arenas on returns.

Edge: In addition to starting at free safety, Payne also handles the Warhawks' punting chores. And Payne doesn't punt like a safety, as evidenced by his 43.5-yard average through two games. If not for a missed extra-point and a field goal, ULM would have been in position to knock off Kansas last week. Edge to Alabama.

Game prediction: Alabama 27, ULM 10.

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