Utah State Football: First Look At The Alabama Crimson Tide
The Aggies have the single toughest assignment in Mountain West non-conference play this fall: Keep the Crimson Tide from rolling.
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The elephant on the field will be hard to stop.
Utah State Football: First Look at 2022 Non-conference Opponents
UConn | Alabama | Weber State | BYU
After opening the season at home against UConn, the Utah State Aggies better be prepared for a hard case of whiplash when they hit the road to face the Alabama Crimson Tide.
Since coming up short in last year’s national title game against Georgia, you can almost guarantee the Tide have stewed on their shortcomings ever since, have put in the work to overcome them, and will give the defending Mountain West champions every bit of their attention. The players and the fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium will be ready to unleash hell, but will Utah State be ready for it?
Location: Tuscaloosa, Alabama
Series History: Alabama leads the all-time series, 2-0.
2021 Record: 13-2 (8-1 SEC)
Head Coach: Nick Saban (16th year at Alabama; 178-25 with Crimson Tide, 269-67-1 overall). What needs to be said, really, about a coach who is going to finish his career, whenever that may be, with an argument as the best to ever do it?
Last year wasn’t without its challenges, but after stumbling in a three-point road loss to Texas A&M, Saban’s Tide steamrolled opponents for the rest of the season before finally being stymied by SEC rival Georgia in the national championship game. Then he had seven players selected in the NFL Draft this past spring, but Alabama is still the odds-on favorite in many places to claim another national title. Put simply, they are the gold standard for college football in America.
Will Anderson Jr., LB
Anderson has a very convincing case as the best defensive player in college football (if not the best player, full stop). Last season, the 6-foot-4, 243-pound terror was a unanimous All-American pick and the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, won the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, and led the country with 17.5 sacks and 33.5 tackles for loss. That goes a long way toward explaining why he’s already being talked about as the potential number-one selection in next year’s NFL Draft, so he might be the single-best player any Mountain West team faces this season.
Alabama EDGE Will Anderson Jr.!
– Fast first step, great closing speed
– Can convert from speed to power
– Generates tremendous power
– Sound with leverage
– Exceptional athlete, lateral quickness
– Incredible run defender
– Plays with a non-stop motor pic.twitter.com/SD1EAfN3vs
— Ryan Moran (@_Ryan_Moran_) July 21, 2022
Bryce Young, QB
If Anderson isn’t the best player in the country, it might be Young instead. Not just anyone wins a Heisman Trophy, after all, and he earned that honor after having to replace a first-round NFL Draft pick, Mac Jones, and then completing 366-of-547 pass attempts for 4,872 yards and 47 touchdowns with a 1.3% interception rate. While he’ll have to navigate his junior year with new playmakers around him, his cool under pressure will keep the Tide in the Playoff picture until further notice.
What a throw!
Bryce Young launches it 55 yards to start the second half with a TD 💣
(via @CBSSports) pic.twitter.com/TsJPlVvJJW
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) December 4, 2021
Henry To’oTo’o, LB
Anderson is so good that it’s easy to forget Alabama actually has two really good linebackers in its projected starting lineup for this year. The Sacramento native paced the Crimson Tide defense with 112 total tackles last year and also chipped in four sacks and eight tackles for loss, building off of a strong two-year stint at Tennessee and cementing his own standing as a future pro prospect.
Jahmyr Gibbs, RB
Quarterbacks get the glory, but running backs are typically just as important to Alabama’s successes and Gibbs could be no different from predecessors like Mark Ingram and Derrick Henry in that regard. Unlike those two, however, the Georgia Tech transfer earned his three all-ACC honors in 2021 by doing a little bit of everything: He racked up 1,805 all-purpose yards, which tied for ninth among all FBS players, and scored seven total touchdowns as a runner, pass catcher, and kick returner. If you don’t know the name, get familiar with him.
Jahmyr Gibbs is about to set the college football world on fire. His short area burst, vision & long speed are very impressive.
— Kendell Hollowell (@KHollowell_) July 20, 2022
Jordan Battle, S
Not to be outdone by his peers in the Alabama front seven, Battle might be in the conversation as the nation’s top safety if he can build off of his 2021 campaign. Last year, he had 87 total tackles and three interceptions, including two he took to the end zone, meaning the pass rush isn’t the only thing Logan Bonner will need to mind.
Despite losing major stars like Jameson Williams and John Metchie to the NFL this spring, Saban and offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien will still have one of the nation’s most powerful attacks at their disposal in 2022. With Young and Gibbs in the backfield and a wealth of young talents like JoJo Earle and Louisville transfer Tyler Harrell ready to step in to larger roles alongside junior tight end Cameron Latu (26 catches, 410 yards, eight touchdowns), it seems crazy to suggest the Tide could beat a SP+ projection that pins them as… second-best overall.
If there’s one potential hindrance, it’s an offensive line that, despite returning three starters, was merely okay by a lot of measures in 2021. Alabama allowed a sack rate of 6.4%, which ranked 68th nationally, and just barely finished in the top 50 with a 50.7% opportunity rate (43rd) and 72.7% power success rate (46th). The interior could be a punishing one, however, with center Darrian Dalcourt and guards Emil Ekiyor and Javion Cohen flanked by a legion of highly-touted recruits and transfers like Tyler Steen, who started 32 games at Vanderbilt.
This is a unit that, front to back, is why you tune into the game on Saturdays. Anderson, To’oTo’o, and Battle are the headliners, but they have plenty of support across the board from the likes of safety DeMarcco Hellams (88 tackles, three INTs), linebacker Dallas Turner (30 tackles, ten TFLs, 8.5 sacks), and defensive end Byron Young (40 tackles, 9.5 TFLs).
Oh, and there’s sophomore cornerback Kool-Aid McKinstry and nose guard DJ Dale and many others, too. Long story short, this unit is absolutely stacked and will be no fun for anyone to face.
It’s going to be a long day for the Aggies at Bryant-Denny Stadium, but that won’t mean too much in the grand scheme of things because non-conference opponents often have long days in Tuscaloosa.
Alabama 48, Utah State 14