Fresno State at Alabama

Sports Xchange

September 06, 2017 at 5:37 pm.

GAME SNAPSHOT
KICKOFF: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET
SITE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.
TV: ESPN2
SERIES: First meeting
RANKINGS: Alabama No. 1

PLAYERS TO WATCH
Crimson Tide

–RB Damien Harris was Alabama’s top rusher against Florida State with 73 yards and a touchdown on nine carries. Bo Scarbrough rushed 15 times.

–WR Calvin Ridley is an electric receiver with game-changing ability. He caught seven passes for 82 yards and a touchdown in the opener.

–LB Jamey Mosley should see an increased role on Saturday with three players going down at his outside linebacker position. He contributed in Alabama’s opener against Florida State once the injuries started to pile up.

–LB Keith Holcombe should get his first career start on Saturday with Rashaan Evans suffering from a groin injury. The junior made 24 tackles last season, including 12 on special teams.

Bulldogs

–RB Ronnie Rivers, a true freshman, rushed for a game-high 60 yards on just nine carries in his collegiate debut. Half his total came on a 30-yard scoring run.

–WR KeeSean Johnson led all receivers with seven receptions for 120 yards. He led the team in receptions with 66 last year.

–DL Emeka Ndoh was credited with three tackles for loss, including two sacks, a safety, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. He is a transfer from De Anza College.

–CB Sherman Coleman Jr. came up with the Bulldogs’ lone interception of the night. He also blocked a field goal, Fresno’s first since 2013.

KEYS
TO THE GAME

Top-ranked Alabama lost two outside linebackers — Christian Miller (biceps) and Terrell Lewis (elbow) — for the season — in its season-opening victory against then-No. 3 Florida State.

Two other linebackers — Rashaan Evans (groin) and Anfernee Jennings (ankle) — are dealing with serious injuries.

Lewis started and Miller was his backup. Jennings and Evans are starters in Alabama’s 3-4 scheme.

Junior Jamey Mosley led the outside linebackers through drills as the Crimson Tide (1-0) began preparations for Saturday’s home opener against Fresno State. Kickoff is at 3:30 p.m. ET at Bryant Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa with ESPN2 handling the telecast.

Sophomore Mekhi Brown and freshmen VanDarius Cowan and Chris Allen spent time in practice backing up Mosley. That’s a lot of youth and inexperience.

“We hate it that we lost these players,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said. “They’re both good players. They both made significant improvement. They both played well in the game.

“But this is an opportunity for somebody else to step up and be able to play at a high level as well. And we’re going to work very hard as a coaching staff to help those guys get in position to do that.”

On paper and in Las Vegas, this is a lopsided matchup. Alabama is favored by about 44 points over Fresno State, which finished 1-11 last season. But Saban sees a different Bulldogs team under first-year coach Jeff Tedford.

The Bulldogs opened last week with a 66-0 rout of Incarnate Word with sophomore quarterback Chason Virgil passing for 246 yards and receivers KeeSean Johnson and Jamire Jordan combing for 184 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions.

“This is a much, much improved team,” Saban said. “They played really, really well in their opening game, where they scored 66 points and shut the other team out. Got a good quarterback. They’ve got a couple of good receivers. They’ve got some good players on defense.

“This is going to be a different kind of challenge for us, something that our players have to respond to because this is a much, much improved team.”

Despite its big victory over the Seminoles, Alabama does have some questions.

Offensively, running back Damien Harris rushed for 73 yards and a touchdown while averaging 8.1 yards per carry. Calvin Ridley was Alabama’s other top offensive weapon, catching seven passes for 82 yards and one touchdown.

The Tide continues to look for progress from quarterback Jalen Hurts in the downfield passing attack. Hurts (10-of-18) passed for only 96 yards, with 53 coming on one play.

But Fresno State’s Tedford touted the Bama sophomore’s ability to extend plays with his feet and make big plays.

“He can pull it down and really hurt you,” Tedford said. “He’s a strong runner. He’s very fast. He’s not going down — he’s not that guy to run and slide. He’s like another running back.”

Saban said he has a lot of respect for Tedford, a Fresno State alum who has been a noted quarterback guru in his coaching career. Tedford went 82-57 in 11 seasons at Cal, his last season there coming in 2012.

“Jeff Tedford is one of the best coaches, I think, offensively in the country,” Saban said.

After holding Incarnate Word scoreless, Fresno State’s defense has Alabama’s attention. Alabama tight end Hale Hentges went as far as to compare Fresno State’s defense to Florida State’s.

“They fly around to the ball. They’re fast, physical, They’re long,” Hentges said.

“Obviously, they shut out the team they played this last weekend. Anytime you can do that, you’re a great defense. We’re looking forward to the challenges we’re going to have with them because they’re definitely no slouch.”

Alabama has been dealing with tragedy this week. The son of co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach Mike Locksley was killed over the weekend. Locksley missed practice on Monday, but was back with the team on Tuesday.

“I just want everybody to understand that our thoughts and prayers go out to Mike, Kia and the entire Locksley family over this tragedy,” Saban said. “We’ll do everything we can to support Mike and his family in this time of tragedy.”