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Scouting the Catamounts...or not.

Alabama Crimson Tide   Western Carolina Catamounts
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Starting next week, each Friday I'll have a preview of the coming opponent and a checklist of things I'll be looking for from our own beloved Tide, but since there isn't much point in previewing the Catamounts (who wants to look up a bunch of stats for a 2-9 1AA team, anyway?), today I'll just have a listing of what I'll be paying the most attention to during the game on our side. There are a few good articles out there about Western Carolina, though, so for your early morning reading pleasure:

* The Asheville Citzen-Times takes a look at the "positive experience" the game will be for WCU.

* The Mobile Press-Register has the lowdown on Mike Malone, a first time starter at tail back for the Catamounts who is more known for his speed on the track than on the football field:

Last year, Malone helped Western Carolina win back-to-back Southern Conference track and field titles as well as the league's indoor title. Earlier this year, Malone was part of the conference's top 4x100-meter relay and he finished third in the 110-meter hurdles and in the long jump. In 2005, Malone held the title of the Southern Conference's fastest man after winning the league's 100-meter race outdoors in 10.45 seconds.

* TideSports takes a look at the Catamounts (plus Vandy and Arkansas).

With that out of the way, let's focus on the team we'll really be paying attention to this evening, our own beloved Tide.

The QBs
Hopefully we won't be seeing a lot of John Parker Wilson tonight, if only for superstitious reasons. WCU is the team, after all, that spoiled the '04 season after Brodie Croyle was lost for the year to a knee injury against the Catamounts. What I'll be looking for out of both him and McElroy is a confident grasp of the new offense and whether or not Wilson's mobility will be highlighted with zone read and option plays. We saw a little of that during A-Day, though they were usually for little to no yardage because of the two hand touch rule for QBs, and it will be interesting if the influence of Vince Young and Tim Tebow on offenses (that was readily on display Thursday night with LSU's use of both Flynn and Periloux as rushers) has taken hold in Tuscaloosa. We know Wilson can run, but let's hope it's because he's supposed to be running this year, not scrambling for his life like last season.

The WRs and TEs
Considering this is a 1AA defense, I'm not so much concerned with the receivers yardage production (unless it's woefully inadequate), but with watching for the other skills these receivers are going to need to utilize for the offense to be as explosive as we hope it will be. Two big areas:

1) Running clean routes and getting seperation: This is something that I wasn't impressed with last season from anyone but DJ Hall. The TEs were especially bad at route running, but the receivers, especially the secondary ones, had a tendency to take a play off and run sloppy routes if they thought they weren't going to get the ball anyway. Plus, and this could be a product of the poor play calling, it seemed like our receivers were constantly blanketed, but they were also being outphysicaled by the DBs.

2) Downfield blocking: When Curt Cignetti was announced as the WR Coach, I was intrigued at the notion of our receivers blocking like TEs. Much was made about the receivers being key blockers in the run game during the spring, and the play I was most

I seem to recall that getting the ball to our best back in space worked out well before...
impressed with during A-Day was a swing pass to Grant with two receivers blocking instead of trying to run defenders off that went for good yardage. Considering the staff is looking to get the diminutive Grant out in space instead of running between the tackles, the blocking of the receivers will be key for him

With the TEs, well, I don't really know what I'll be looking for there. I assume they'll play a bigger part in the passing game, and I'll be looking for better route running from them, but until we see just what type of role they'll be playing in this offense my eyes are open for anything.

The Backfield
Mostly I'll be looking at how both Grant and Johns are utilized in different situations, how often both are in the backfield and how many one back sets we use, how often a true fullback is put in to block, things like that. I'm especially interested in seeing how Johns is utilized, considering he could be a perfect storm of athleticism for us. He can run, he can catch, he can block...he can even throw.

The O-Line
Is this unit going to get outphysicaled on the line or are we going to blow some people off the ball this year? This might be a bad test, but considering we were at pains to stop the likes of Duke and FIU from getting pressure on the QB and struggled to gain yardage running between the tackles last year, even WCU could have given that unit fits. I want to see a physically dominant performance from these guys.

The D-Line
Since this is the first real look we'll get at the 3-4 defense, I'm interested to really see what the NG role is. This is a defenseive scheme I am not overly familiar with outside of NCAA '08, so I'll be paying extra attention to what Washington does. Also, I'll be watching to see how much rotation these guys get considering the lack of depth, and just how well that grueling S&C program helps them deal with that.

The Linebackers
Like the line, I'm not overly familiar with a lot of the responsibilities of the LBs in a 3-4, so I'll be paying attention to them, especially Saunders and the "Jack" position. I'm curious to see how often he lines up on the line, and when he does so how often that means he'll be a rusher and how often he'll drop into coverage from there. Rolando McClain will also be getting a lot of attention from everyone since the true freshman will be calling the plays.

The DBs
I'm interested to see how much man and zone coverage we play here. Saban has a reputation for playing a lot of zone, but from what I recall at A-Day, there was a lot of very physical bump and run man coverage going on. The Catamount receving corp won't be the best test for them, but it will still be interesting to see how the different coverages get mixed up and in what situations they are utilized.

Special Teams
We know Arenas can return kicks, but with DJ Hall also returning kickoffs, it will be interesting to see how well we do in the return game. I'll also be very focused on our kick coverage since that's something we didn't do well at all the past few seasons and the new kickoff rules put extra importance on it. I'm also curious to see if Jonathan Lowe makes an appearance back there at some point. He looked good returning kicks during A-Day, so I'd imagine that he'll get some looks again tonight. As for our kicking game, I'm interested to see how Tiffin handles the limelight again. He was solid before the Arkansas meltdown last year, and most will say he's a better kicker than Christensen, but under pressure he wilted, and I'll be looking to see if the pressure of returning as the starter will get to him.