October 27, 2006

BOL Breakdown: FIU at Alabama

The Alabama Crimson Tide (5-3, 2-3 in SEC) will celebrate homecoming Saturday by hosting the Florida International Golden Panthers (0-7, 0-3 in Sun Belt Conference) at Bryant-Denny Stadium (2:07 p.m. CT/PPV). After suspending 16 players and dismissing two others following his team's brawl with Miami on Oct. 14, FIU head coach Don Strock will be without 10 starters for Saturday's game.

BOL senior writer Travis Reier provides an in-depth look at this week's match-up.

Alabama running game vs. Florida International run defense: The Crimson Tide caught Arkansas (Marcus Harrison), Florida (Marcus Thomas) and Tennessee (Justin Harrell) without their top defensive tackles, but none of the absences led to winning performances from the running game. The talk in the days following the loss Tennessee involved getting Jimmy Johns more carries in the final four games of the season. But with an FIU defense that will be without six starters up next, the goal this week should be to take care of business early and get Ali Sharrief plenty of totes in the second half.

Edge: FIU middle linebacker Keyonvis Bouie leads the Sun Belt Conference in tackles (10.1 pg) and tackles for loss (2.07 pg), while weakside linebacker Alexander Bostic ranks third in the league in TFLs. Due to suspensions and dismissals stemming from the Panthers' brawl with Miami on Oct. 14, FIU is expected to start true freshmen Justin West and Matt Garris at defensive tackle and defensive end, respectively. Garris checks in at 210 pounds. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: Alabama halfbacks Kenneth Darby and Jimmy Johns vs. FIU middle linebacker Keyonvis Bouie and weakside linebacker Alexander Bostic.

Alabama passing game vs. FIU pass defense: Another area that would benefit from an early knockout. With physical matchups against Mississippi State, LSU and Auburn on the horizon, it's important that backup Jimmy Barnes get some game experience. Wide receiver Keith Brown (knee strain) is doubtful after missing the Tennessee game. Resting Brown while giving more opportunities to Nikita Stover and Mike McCoy against an FIU secondary that will be without three starters would seem to be the logical approach.

Edge: Thanks in large part to their aggressive style of play, the Panthers currently lead the SBC in pass defense (117.3 ypg). But with both starting corners -- Lionell Singleton and Robert Mitchell -- suspended for UA and starting strong safety Chris Smith dismissed from the team, FIU defensive coordinator Kevin Fouquier may call for more zone this week. Singleton leads the SBC in interceptions with five, while defensive end Antwan Barnes leads the league in sacks with five. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: Alabama wide receivers DJ Hall, Will Oakley and Nikita Stover vs. FIU corners Zach Davis and Malik Jones.

Mike Shula's first offensive play call will be: Out route from John Parker Wilson to Hall.

Don't be surprised if: Sharrief scores the first touchdown of his UA career.

FIU running game vs. Alabama run defense: An FIU ground game that ranks last in the SBC at 72.7 yards per game will be without its top two tailbacks. A'mod Ned is out with a knee injury and Julian Reams was suspended for his role in the Orange Bowl fracas. That leaves a pair of true freshmen -- Chance Attaway and Daunte Owens -- to carry the load against Alabama. Attaway is a converted fullback who has two carries this season, while Owens' next carry will be his first on the collegiate level. The Panthers will also be without starting fullback John Ellis.

Edge: In limiting Tennessee to 57 yards on 21 carries, Alabama's front seven turned in its best performance of its better performances against the run. Those wanting to see more of young defenders like strongside linebacker Eryck Anders and defensive tackles Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick, this should be your week. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: FIU center Xavier Shannon vs. Alabama defensive tackles Jeremy Clark, Dominic Lee and J.P. Adams.

FIU passing game vs. Alabama pass defense: So if you're Strock what do you do: shorten the game by handing the ball to two backs who have virtually no game experience or lean on an experienced quarterback who will be without his top two receivers? FIU QB Josh Padrick won't have the services of his top two receivers after WR Chandler Williams (43 receptions for 437 yards) and TE Samuel Smith were suspended post-Miami.

Edge: With FIU starting two true freshman wide receivers -- Jeremy Dickens and Ashlyn Parker -- this week, the challenge for UA corners Simeon Castille, Lionel Mitchell and Ramzee Robinson won't come close to meeting up with what they went against last week. Should see plenty from the kids in the Tide secondary this week, which means corners Marquis Johnson and Chris Rogers and safeties Sam Burnthall and Justin Woodall. Edge to Alabama.

Key match up: FIU wide receivers Jeremy Dickens and Ashlyn Parker vs. Alabama corners Simeon Castille, Lionel Mitchell and Ramzee Robinson.

FIU offensive coordinator Greg Briner's first play call will be: Power to Attaway.

Don't be surprised if: FIU falls short of 150 yards of total offense.

Special Teams: Alabama has struggled to put together a solid all-around outing in the kicking game. After cleaning up the kickoff coverage woes that plagued the Tide in wins over Duke and Ole Miss, punt coverage was subpar at Tennessee. UA punter P.J. Fitzgerald's 33.9-yard net average ranks 11th in the SEC. It's not as if special teamers haven't been in position to make plays. Instead of finishing 30-plus yards up field, punt deflections in each of the last two games could have easily gone for UA scores. Though it doesn't totally explain away or excuse the coaching staff, some of the struggles can be attributed to playing nine freshman (both true and redshirt) on special teams.

Edge: FIU's suspensions will have a direct effect on the Panthers' return game. With Williams and Singleton out for UA, true freshmen Dickens and John Houston Whiddon will handle kickoff and punt returns. With his 35.5-yard average, FIU punter Chris Cook ranks last in the SBC. Placekicker Dustin Rivest has connected on 4-of-9 field goal attempts. Edge to Alabama.

Game prediction: A bye week would serve the Tide well at this point in the season, but getting back on the field after last week's bitter loss might be the best thing for this team's psyche. Especially against a depleted team that isn't a threat to pull off the upset. Alabama 38, FIU 3.

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