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Mailbag: Alabama Crimson Tide

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Time to answer some reader questions about the Alabama game.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Wake Forest Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

This year we will be doing a weekly mailbag before each game. The goal is to be a little more interactive and more direct with what people want to know. If all goes to plan, the post will be up every week on the day before the game. Feel free to send me tweets at @keith_wynne or email me at keithwynne2@gmail.com.

I think we will see both of the guys you mention here make an impact in this game. Louisville hasn’t been great on special teams coverage over the last few years as they’ve given up four returns for touchdowns since they moved to the ACC. Jaylen Waddle has been mentioned as a potential game changer in the return game for Bama. He’s the exact type of player that they haven’t had down there all too often. He can make people miss in the open field and his best value will likely be in the return game and specialty plays on offense.

I also think we will see a lot of Eyabi Anoma because of the depth issues at linebacker. Alabama has lost a couple of outside linebackers to injury or transfer since the season ended so their scheme versatility took a hit. Last year, they would utilize Anthony Jennings and Terrell Lewis as defensive ends in passing situations. This year, they don’t have a lot of options behind Jennings and Christian Miller so Anoma could be utilized at that end spot to give a natural breather for the other guys.

Outside of those two guys, Xavier Williams has been getting some buzz as a guy that can add depth at receiver. I would also expect Patrick Surtain Jr. to be a rotation guy at corner and I would be surprised if he wasn’t the sixth defensive back in their dime package. He’s listed as an “or” at starting corner spot, but I don’t know if I believe he will actually get the start in the opener. But, he was the top cornerback recruit in the country so it wouldn’t be out of the question.

I don’t have a lot of faith that Louisville’s offensive line will handle Bama’s front but it’s only because they do all of the things Louisville has struggled with. Their interior guys do an outstanding job of holding their ground at the point of attack while UofL has struggled to get push. That’s why their short yardage rushing numbers have been so bad.

Alabama also runs a ton of twists with their ends and nose tackle. The goal is to create confusion and open a hole for one of those two players. This isn’t as much of a weakness for Louisville as much as it is a question. Cole Bentley will be starting his first game at center. Can he handle the pre-snap calls? Will he struggle with those twists and end up following his guy into the stunt which then opens up the hole for the guy looping around?

I think Louisville has solid talent up front and I think they’re well coached. I just think that the Robbie Bell injury is being overlooked. An experienced guy at center with Bentley sliding into the guard spot would have been ideal, in my opinion. Lukayus Mcneil can play at tackle and now you’re bringing back four full time starters and your top backup in Bentley. Instead, they’re stuck with the musical chairs situation they’re in now. Both would have required changes, but I trust the other way more than this one.

So, all of these kind of ask the same question so I’ll cover them at once. Louisville has a very strong group of receivers and they also have some guys that have great potential that we haven’t seen yet. On the other side of the ball, Alabama will be replacing their top six defensive backs. Bama plays a ton of nickel which means they’ll be transitioning seven or eight guys in all.

I’ve been predicting Dez Fitzpatrick to have a huge year for Louisville all summer and I think he’s the guy in this group of receivers that can make some big plays against Alabama. He has a great ability to control his body and that allows him to make contested catches that most people just can’t make. I’m really interested to see if Bobby Petrino looks for ways to get him matched up with a safety or linebacker. Xavier McKinney is arguably the most inexperienced guy in the secondary and I think that Dez would have a big advantage against him.

I don’t particularly buy into the idea that Bama’s secondary is a “weak spot” or anything like that. Most of these guys played in every game last season and the two that didn’t were ranked as the number one corner in the country coming out of high school and JUCO, respectively. These guys weren’t full time starters but they played in mop up duty and they’e had a full offseason to gel. It’s also the area that Nick Saban knows the best and focuses on the most. Because of all of that, I don’t see this as a huge advantage for Louisville. I do, however, see it as an area that Petrino can scheme to make a bigger advantage than it should be.

So I know this is supposed to be just for fun but I’m going into this game with the same type of mindset I have before a Clemson game. It doesn’t mean I think Louisville will win but I don’t get the doom and gloom that some folks are approaching this game with. Louisville has a bunch of questions but they also have a coach that they brought in to win these types of games. He has a roster full of players he recruited, also.

Also, Alabama has some real question marks on the defensive side of the ball. They only return a few starters from last season and have depth concerns at all three levels. On offense they lost their only consistently reliable receiver and they still haven’t settled on a quarterback.

But, with all that being said, Louisville needs to force multiple turnovers and protect the ball themselves. Louisville absolutely needs to play a “clean” game, also. Penalties can’t happen and they need to avoid the other types of mental mistakes that typically show up in the first game of the season for teams. I also think that Alabama will start Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback so UofL has to stop the big plays. Tua likes to push the ball down the field and they have the speed they need at receiver to get behind a defense.