Western Carolina's Preparation For Alabama Didn't Change Because of Crimson Tide's Receivers

Jonathan Anderson

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Even though the the University of Alabama offense had a new starting quarterback, Western Carolina head coach Mark Speir didn't alter his approach to facing the Crimson Tide on Saturday. 

“[Preparation] was the same,” Speir said. “We figured they might not run as many RPOs. We run RPOs, not with the same level of athletes, but our guys have a little bit of confidence level with RPOs. We figured it would be a bit more of the drop back stuff with Mac Jones, but incredible arm, a very very talented quarterback and so I know he’s what they’re going to go with to make their run.”

Jones made his second career start, first since Tua Tagovailoa suffered a season-ending hip injury. Despite the change, the eight-year head coach knew what would be coming via the Alabama wide receivers.

“They are a phenomenal group,” Speir said. “They are as good as any wide receiver core in America. We have guys who just can’t make plays on them. They are a talented bunch. If you get out there in space one-on-one with those future first rounders, they can run and they have great ball skills. They go after that ball and we were outmatched.”

The Crimson Tide averaged 25.83 yards per reception. Junior Devonta Smith finished with four catches for 94 yards and two touchdown, while sophomore Jaylen Waddle had three catches for 101 yards and one score. 

Alabama's other receiving touchdown came from junior running back Najee Harris. 

The Catamount’s defense held firm early on the ground despite giving up big yardage through the air, limiting the Crimson Tide rushing attack to 59 yards in the first half.

“I thought especially in the first half we did a great job of stopping the run,” Speir said. “That big ole Harris, a big physical back with a great offensive line, and I think they had 59 yards of rushing at halftime, that was huge for us. 

"Second half we just got wore down and beat up and basically ran out of gas. But I think in the first half against their starters, our guys played the run really well.”

Speir’s main takeaway from his team’s trip to Tuscaloosa was an example for the future.

“When you come to a place like Alabama and you see how important football is and you see the best of the best, if that doesn’t motivate our guys to understand why we work in the offseason, why we run, why we take care of our bodies. You see what future first round draft picks look like. Those receivers are special, that offensive line. Sometimes you have to feel that to understand it. That’s what big time college football is all about.”

This was the final game of the Catamount’s season, who finished 3-9 at the Football Championship Subdivision level. Speir’s hope is that the lessons learned against Alabama will motivate his team through training in the offseason.

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