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September 27, 2007

Alabama-FSU: How they match up




John Parker Wilson continues to work toward a higher level of consistency in a new offense. He set career highs in several categories against Arkansas, including four touchdown passes, but has struggled in games against Vanderbilt and Georgia. His completion percentage (54.1) and TD-INT ratio (4-3) are slightly off from his record-setting sophomore season. With an improved running game, improved pass protection and more experience, Wilson's best game of the season could come at any time.


Drew Weatherford's numbers and intangibles are remarkably similar to Wilson's. Both are completing passes at a 54-percent clip, and both have thrown four TD passes. Both have struggled with consistency this season, and both are reasonably mobile but not especially strong threats to run. Weatherford has thrown only one interception to Wilson's three, but has thrown for 251 fewer yards. Another key difference is that Weatherford has no go-to receiver as Wilson does.


Alabama's front has clearly made major strides since 2006 in both run blocking and pass blocking. As long as Terry Grant's rushing average hovers in the six-plus range, this line's play can't be described as anything less than excellent. Center Antoine Caldwell and left tackle Andre Smith give UA a dominant presence both inside and outside. All five starters have remained healthy this season, a critical factor as depth is a concern.


This unit is where the Seminoles have struggled most, and takes a large share in the blame for a lack of production from some of FSU's very talented skill players on offense. The line is led by pre-season All-ACC pick Jacky Claude at left guard. Around Claude, however, FSU employs a true freshman at right guard, a first-year starter at left tackle, and a converted defensive lineman at center. Guard Shannon Boatman has extensive experience, but experience meant little in a re-tooling job by new OL coach Rick Trickett.


Terry Grant has rushed for a 6.6-yard average and five touchdowns. Glen Coffee has spelled Grant effectively with a 5.1-yard average on 43 carries. Grant is Alabama's most dangerous back as a receiver, while Coffee is the better blocker in pass protection. No Alabama opponent has stuffed the UA running game yet, although Georgia's third-down defense managed to limit UA's total offensive plays.


Antone Smith is similar to Grant in that both possess breakaway speed. Smith averages 4.2 yards for the season and is tied for the team lead in receptions with nine. Like Alabama, FSU starts a smaller, quicker running back and goes to a power back in Jamaal Edwards for it's backup carries. Smith, however, handles a greater percentage of Florida State's rushing load than Grant has for UA. While FSU's rushing attack has been significantly less effective than Alabama's, that likely has more to do with line play than backfield talent.


A real strength for Alabama and undoubtedly the deepest position on the team, the Crimson Tide headlines with record-breaking receiver DJ Hall (21.1 yards per catch). Mike McCoy and Matt Caddell have been reliable if not explosive (both average less than 10 yards per catch). What could make Alabama's unit especially dangerous is the slow re-emergence of Keith Brown. The big-play threat has slowly worked his way back into playing time, and had a team-high 73 yards receiving last week. UA tight ends have caught 10 passes this year.


FSU's Greg Carr is a unique talent with his 6-foot-6 height, and the Seminoles throw him frequent lobs to take advantage. Naturally, his 19.1-yard average leads FSU's regular receivers, but he is something of a one-trick pony as he rarely makes big plays on any other type of throw. Preston Parker is emerging as a more complete receiver and leads the unit with nine receptions. By season's end, he will be FSU's best receiver if not already.


Alabama's unit failed to get consistent pressure on Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford last week and continues to struggle in the sack department. End Wallace Gilberry is UA's best pass rusher and has yet to record sack No.1. However, Gilberry leads UA in quarterback pressures with seven, and tackles for loss with 4.5, so he does spend his share of time in the offensive backfield. Against the run, Alabama's front three have been solid for the most part. Depth up front is lacking.


The Seminoles have a legitimate pass rush threat in Neefy Moffett, who is just off a sack-per-game pace with 2.5 in three games. Moffett's 4.5 TFLs also leads the team. At 255 pounds, he is small but explosive and will present a challenge to UA right tackle Mike Johnson. Right end Alex Boston has experience all across the line, which could come in handy with interior starters Andre Fluellen and Budd Thacker questionable to start with injuries. Everette Brown gives FSU another pass rush threat from the end spot.


Weakside starter Darren Mustin is expected to play after missing last week with a shoulder stinger. The former walk-on still ranks seventh on the team in tackles (17) despite missing UA's last six quarters of play. His return would boost the unit despite the impressive fill-in job by Prince Hall last week (game-high 12 tackles). Middle man Rolando McClain leads the team in tackles (32) as a true freshman. Alabama's linebackers will be tested in coverage often as FSU favors a lot of shotgun formations.


Whether the second-team demotion of recently arrested Geno Hayes translates to some real bench time or just a few plays will make a difference. The Madison County native ranks second on the team in tackles and has the speed and quickness for excellent open-field tackling. Derek Nicholson leads the team with 26 stops including a season-high 11 two weeks ago at Colorado. Dekoda Watson mans the strongside for FSU. Anthony Kelly's return from academic trouble could be a boost, though he hasn't practiced before this week.


Alabama got two interceptions last week against Georgia, and the secondary has been a strength overall. Simeon Castille is still looking for his first pick after making six as a junior, while safety Rashad Johnson has shown improvement in coverage. True freshman Kareem Jackson has been a pleasant surprise and a regular contributor in Alabama's nickel package. Given FSU's penchant for throwing the ball, Alabama could be in the nickel much of the day.


Florida State safety Myron Rolle will be the best defensive back on the field Saturday on either team. Cornerback Tony Carter is, like Castille, a Thorpe Award candidate. Still, Alabama may look to test him given his height disadvantage (5-9) against UA's taller receivers. The opposite corner, Michael Ray Garvin is no taller than Carter. Rolle, also Thorpe candidate, was the ACC Defensive Freshman of the Year in 2006.


Alabama's Leigh Tiffin has converted five of his last six field goals after a rough start to the season, while punter P.J. Fitzgerald is averaging just under 39 yards per punt. Javier Arenas was held without a big return for the first time this season by Georgia, and will look to show the nation his explosiveness in Jacksonville. UA's punt coverage unit played its worst game last week, and will have another tough test in FSU's return game.

Special Teams

FSU's Gary Cismesia is perfect on six tries for the year in field goals. Graham Gano has punted for a 42.2-yard average, 3.4 yards better than UA. Punt returner Preston Parker matches Arenas in yards per return, making that aspect of the game a wash on paper. Gano's kickoffs have typically fallen inside the 5 under the new 30-yard line mark, while most of Alabama's settle around the 10.


Prediction: Alabama 31, FSU 21

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