W. Carolina-Alabama Preview

NCAA Football
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Tua Tagovailoa’s season-ending hip injury has been well-documented, but the junior quarterback likely won’t be the only absentee when No. 5 Alabama hosts Western Carolina on Saturday in a tune-up for next week’s regular-season finale at Auburn.

Defensive ends Raekwon Davis and Phidarian Mathis, nose guard DJ Dale, and wide receiver Henry Ruggs III also were injured in last week’s 38-7 victory at Mississippi State. They were considered questionable for this week’s home finale in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

The Tide (9-1) could be down to just seven scholarship defensive linemen if the veterans are not available. Davis has 37 tackles. Dale, a true freshman, has 17, including a sack. Mathis has 21 stops and a pair of quarterback hurries.

Alabama coach Nick Saban will be leaning on players like true freshman ends Justin Eboigbe and Byron Young, redshirt freshman defensive tackle Christian Barmore and other youngsters.

“They have played all year long so it wasn’t like they hadn’t played before,” Saban said, referring specifically to the play of Eboigbe and Young against the Bulldogs. Eboigbe has six tackles, Young 17.

The Tide will have plenty of options to make up for Ruggs’ absence. The speedy Ruggs has 32 catches for 620 yards and six touchdowns, but that is third on the team behind Jerry Jeudy (64 catches for 867 yards, nine touchdowns) and DeVonta Smith (56-1,026-11).

Most of the attention will be on the performance of sophomore quarterback Mac Jones.

Jones will be making his second start after getting his first against Arkansas on Oct. 26 when Tagovailoa was out with an ankle injury. Jones completed 18 of 22 passes for 235 yards without an interception against the Razorbacks, and he was 7 of 11 for 94 yards in the second half against Mississippi State last week.

“I don’t think the offense changes at all,” Saban said.

“Mac played in the Arkansas game and did a nice job. I think he was 18 for 22 or whatever. He’s smart, he understands the offense and made a lot of improvement throughout the course of the year. We have a lot of confidence in Mac.”

Western Carolina is more like a dress rehearsal for the Tide. The Catamounts (3-8), an FCS program, have played one other FBS team this season, losing 41-0 at North Carolina State. They lost 31-13 last week to Samford after beating Virginia Military Institute and East Tennessee State in their previous two games.

Senior quarterback Tyrie Adams, the Southern Conference Preseason Offensive Player of the Year, has rushed for 409 yards in nine games and completed 65.5 percent of his passes for 1,587 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was a 1,006-yard rusher last season and has thrown for 8,866 career yards.

Catamounts coach Mark Spier is hoping to have a strong performance to build on for next year.

“Obviously, we’re going down there to play a titan of an opponent there in Alabama,” he said, “but our objective is going to be to use this week to get our football team better. We do have a lot of young players and get some guys back.”

–Field Level Media

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