The Crimson Tide comes into the final home game of the season off the heals of consecutive losses, both defeats coming mainly as the result of costly turnovers deep in the Tide's own territory. Recent disappointments aside, however, 'Bama stands at 6-4 and still has hopes of a big finish and a solid bowl game as a reward.
Louisiana-Monroe, on the other hand, is the typical poor team that you would expect from the Sisters of the Poor. You don't want to say anything particularly bad about an opponent, but the harsh truth is that Louisiana-Monroe isn't very good, and they haven't been very good in a long time. The Warhawks moved to Division 1-A football in 1994, and have yet to have a winning season. They haven't had a winning season since 1993, way back when a man by the name of David Palmer was dropping jaws left and right around the Capstone. This year's squad, currently sitting at 4-6, is highly unlikely to change that.
Saturday will be an emotional day for the Crimson Tide's seniors, as it will be Senior Day and they will be looking to go out winners. Aside from that, there are really no other major storylines in this one. 'Bama is supposed to roll easily, Lousiana-Monroe is supposed to pick up their paycheck, and both parties are supposed to go happily about their own way.
Alabama Offense v. Louisiana-Monroe Defense
The discussion of the Warhawk defense is going to be very short. They are bad. Very bad. End of story. Even against teams of their level they are not a particularly good unit, and against teams from BCS conferences they are terrible. Clemson put up 49 points on them earlier in the year, and Texas A&M put up 54 points. Hell, even Mike Shula's offensive offense put up 41 points a year ago. Bottom line: They aren't very good on the defensive side of the ball.
The Alabama offense is much more complex. It has been great at times and terrible at others, and unfortunately at the moment we are coming off of some terrible play. And there is even more bad news... with the problems this offense has they aren't likely to look all that much better against Louisiana-Monroe.
The Alabama offensive line is currently in shambles. Antoine Caldwell and Marlon Davis are both still suspended, and B.J. Stablers knees have given out yet again. At the moment, all of the attrition amongst the big uglies has our unit being piecemeal at best. Andre Smith, Justin Britt, and Evan Cardwell will retain their usual spots, but at the moment it seems that Mike Johnson -- who is normally the right tackle -- will have to move inside to right guard, and Chris Capps will be playing right tackle.
Much of the same goes for the tailback situation. Saban said earlier in the week that this is probably the most depleted situation he has ever seen at the position, and he's probably right. Terry Grant remains, but Glen Coffee is suspended, and Roy Upchurch has re-injured his shoulder. The situation has been so bad the past couple of weeks that we've had to give a lot of carries to a walk-on player who was playing wide receiver just over a month ago. And it should be pointed out that Saban noted that Jimmy Johns may play some this week, with the likely reason being the attrition and not necessarily anything on Johns' part.
John Parker Wilson... you know the story. D.J. Hall is as fine of a receiver as we've ever had at Alabama, and our passing attack should be able to do well against the lowly Warhawks. That said, teams have recently rolled zone coverage towards Hall from random locations, and that has basically been the equivalent to sticking a broom into a bicycle wheel for Wilson and his mental processes.
So what can you say? At bottom, 'Bama's offense is likely to put up a pretty high number of points, but it will likely be the result of ULM's incompetence on defense more than anything else. Alabama Defense v. Louisiana-Monroe Offense
The Louisiana-Monroe offense, on the other hand, is much more potent.
All told, the Warhawks run a spread offense, and they run it quite well. Kinsmon Lancaster is the team's quarterback, and he is a dual-threat guy with a nice arm. He's definitely struggled at times with some mental aspects and with accuracy -- sound familiar? -- but the point remains that he does have a pretty big arm and is very mobile. From a strategic perspective, though he has some limitations, he can cause some problems for you. And they have a pretty good receiving corps to boot.
The star of the offense, though, is without a doubt Calvin Dawson, the team's stud tailback. He burst onto the scene a year ago, rushing for over 100 yards against the Tide, on his way to a 1,000+ yard season. He hasn't disappointed this year, either, as he's already gone over the 1,200 yard mark, and he realistically has a chance at 1,500 yards. And his yards haven't just came against poor teams, either, as he went for over 120 yards each against both Clemson and Texas A&M. This is a player who you will see playing on Sunday next year in the NFL.
The bottom line is that these guys are a pretty good offense, and that's definitely the strength of the team. And the Tide had better take notice, anyone who can put up 26 points against a team like Clemson is a definite threat.
Defensively the Tide is coming off arguably its best performance of the year, and you know the story here so there's nothing to go into great detail about. All in all, the ULM offense is a fairly potent one, but nevertheless we should be able to shut it down relatively well, just like we did a year ago. We'll have to come and play good, solid football, but the truth is that these guys aren't as good as the teams we are used to facing in the SEC, and we should fare quite well against them.
Putting It All Together
I don't try to belittle opponents, but the truth is that there is a reason why Louisiana-Monroe is here. They needed the paycheck, and we needed a patsy opponent to pad the schedule in preparation for the Iron Bowl, hence the Warhawks are headed East to Tuscaloosa this weekend. Make no mistake about it, we scheduled Louisiana-Monroe to give ourselves an easy win.
And Alabama fans should not underestimate the hellfire and brimstone associated with a loss in this game. Yes the Crimson Tide has unfortunately experienced a handful of embarrassing losses in the past decade, but those all came against no-name schools that happened to field pretty good teams that beat us. Louisiana Tech was 9-2 in 1997, and 8-3 in 1999. Central Florida was 7-4 in 2000, and Northern Illinois was 9-2 in 2003. Louisiana-Monroe is nothing like those schools, and these guys are just bad. They've gotten four wins, but they've come over Arkansas State, Florida Atlantic, Florida International, and Grambling State. Not even a single one of those wins came over a team that could be even considered good by mid-major standards, and beyond that most were close victories at that. All told, the Warhawks have not beaten a BCS conference opponent since knocking off Mississippi State in Starkville in 1995. A loss here by the Crimson Tide would be of epically embarrassing proportions that would make the other embarrassing losses pale in comparison.
As hellfire and brimstone as a loss would be, however, there's no real reason to expect the Tide to lose. Sure it's a possibility, but this is a game that 'Bama should win easily. Again, if Mike Shula's 2006 team could beat these guys 41-7, we should be able to do the same with Saban and company. Granted, our offensive incompetence and ULM's pretty good offense may make the game closer than expected -- last year's contest was only a 17-7 margin at halftime -- but nevertheless the Tide should win. It's unlikely we absolutely annihilate the Warhawks, but there is no real reason why we should not win with relative ease.