Middle Tennessee-Alabama Preview
(AP) - Alabama's offense had a new look both on the field and on the sideline.
The second-ranked Crimson Tide's up-tempo offense tries to build on an impressive performance in Saturday's home opener against Middle Tennessee.
Alabama adjusted to life without some of the top playmakers from last season and with Jake Coker taking most of the snaps at quarterback in last Saturday's 35-17 win over then-No. 20 Wisconsin. The Tide also broke out a variety of placards to signal in plays, ranging from the Seattle Supersonics logo to the Tasmanian Devil.
That's nothing new for college football with all the no-huddle teams, but it's another indication of the Tide's adaptation to being able to go up-tempo more often.
''It's cool probably for the fans but for us, we look at it more like it has a meaning to us,'' tight end O.J. Howard said Monday. ''So we don't really get caught up in the funny-looking signs. Some of them are pretty funny to us, especially when we get new ones. But at the same time, they mean things to us so we really don't get caught up in what they stand for or what they look like.''
The signs don't mean Alabama is trying to be fast like Oregon or Baylor, but they do help expedite the process of communicating the play to all 11 players on the field. The only blip came when the Tide's signal flashers didn't get the call in time because the coaches' headsets went down.
''Other than that we didn't have any kind of mechanical issues,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ''I thought it went pretty smoothly.''
Alabama started running a more fast-paced offense at times last season partly because quarterback Blake Sims thrived in that style. Some things haven't changed.
The offense still showed it had a formidable backfield duo in Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. Henry ran for 147 yards while Drake had 77 rushing yards and 48 receiving yards along with a play of 30-plus yards in each category.
Coker and Cooper Bateman both had success passing the ball, and each could play against 34-point underdog Middle Tennessee as well. Saban bristled at a reporter's question about using this game specifically to create quarterback competition against a heavy underdog but is hoping both can build off a successful opener.
''I don't think there's any question about the fact that both quarterbacks did a nice job when they were in there, and that's going to help their confidence and growth,'' Saban said.
He didn't shed any light on a quarterback plan or pecking order against the Blue Raiders.
The Tide did spread the ball around more in the passing game in the first outing without Amari Cooper gobbling up so many of the passes. Alabama had nine players log catches in the opener, with receivers Robert Foster and ArDarius Stewart collecting four apiece.
Middle Tennessee is coming off a strong offensive showing of its own, rolling past Jackson State 70-14 in last Saturday's opener. Brent Stockstill, son of coach Rick Stockstill, was 23 of 29 for 336 yards with four touchdowns for the Blue Raiders, who finished with 633 yards and the second-most points in school history.
"I was really proud of our effort against Jackson State," Rick Stockstill said. "I thought we played a clean, smart, disciplined game. So from the first-game standpoint I thought it was a really good job by our players and coaches."
While Alabama's new-look offense excelled in a matchup with a formidable opponent, its defense was just as imposing. The Tide limited a Wisconsin team that ranked third in the FBS with 320.1 rushing yards per game last season to 40 on the ground.
Alabama, which has won 13 consecutive home openers, is 2-0 against Middle Tennessee, winning the last meeting 26-7 in 2005. The Tide were unranked for both prior matchups, and the Blue Raiders are 0-13 against Top 25 opponents since joining the FBS in 1999.
"We know what type of team we are. We know what kind of players we have. It's not about Alabama. It's about us," Rick Stockstill said. "We have to get better. There is enough we did in the Jackson State game that we have to get corrected. We will continue to build on the good things. We are going to bust our tail this week and get ready mentally and physically to go play a very good Alabama team."