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November 15, 2007

Alabama-ULM: How they match up




The up-and-down season of John Parker Wilson returned to a valley last week in his worst outing of the season against Mississippi State. For the season, Wilson's efficiency rating is at 112.76. ULM's porous defense (seventh out of eight Sun-Belt teams at 264 ypg) should serve as a good chance for Wilson to at least rediscover some success in a game atmosphere, but it will do little to quell concerns about where his head will be the following week.


ULM's Kinsmon Lancaster has completed 60 percent of his passes this season (149 of 251) for 1,606 yards, but has thrown 10 interceptions. Given Chris Nickson's disappearing act in the Vanderbilt game, it's fair to say Lancaster will be the most dangerous running threat Alabama has seen from a quarterback all season. He averages 35 yards per game on the ground despite sacks that have totaled 104 yards in losses.


For the first time in more than a month, Alabama is likely to start the same offensive line in two consecutive games. That includes Chris Capps at right tackle and Mike Johnson at right guard, moves which were forced by knee-hobbled B.J. Stabler's inability to start last week. Both run blocking and pass blocking had numerous breakdowns last week.


ULM features a line that has several veteran presences, including two (left tackle Kyle Cunningham and center Adam Hill) who will be each be making a 45th consecutive career start. As a group, there are 177 career starts on ULM's line. It is primarily a run-blocking unit, but has allowed only 15 sacks on the season.


Alabama's Terry Grant has sputtered in production over the last two games. Still on a pace for a 1,000-yard season, however, he remains Alabama's best big-play threat in the backfield. As Alabama's offensive line has struggled in lineup transition, Grant has struggled to break tackles. Jonathan Lowe, Roy Upchurch and even Jimmy Johns could see action Saturday, depending on how quickly the Crimson Tide gets the game in hand.


Count the Warhawks' Calvin Dawson first among however many ULM players who could hold their own in an SEC uniform. He ran for over 100 yards against the Crimson Tide a season ago, and went over the 100-yard mark this year in road games against Clemson and Texas A&M. Freshman backup Frank Goodin has been impressive with a 5.0 average.


With 114 yards Saturday, Alabama's DJ Hall will cross the 1,000-yard mark for the second season in a row. His last two opponents, LSU and Mississippi State, have held him under 100 yards with extra attention from a deep safety. Watch for ULM to try the same tactic, but perhaps not with the same results. Matt Caddell is enjoying the best season of his career by far as Wilson's No.2 option.


ULM's passing attack spreads the ball fairly evenly as leading receivers LaGregory Sapp and Darrell McNeal enter the game with exactly the same yardage (457 each). McNeal's 48 receptions leads the team, while Sapp (31 catches) averages a team-best 14.7 yards per catch. TE Zeek Zacharie has been hot of late with six touchdown catches in his last seven games.


The Crimson Tide pass rush has shown signs of life in back-to-back games against LSU and Mississippi State, led by end Wallace Gilberry. At the other end, Brandon Deaderick has shown to be the more capable pass rusher of the Deaderick-Bobby Greenwood platoon. The run stopping has also been strong of late, with Ole Miss' Benjarvus Green-Ellis being the last 100-yard back UA has allowed.


ULM's defensive front goes for penetration over gap control, as evidenced by its top four leaders in the TFL category all being linemen rather than linebackers. NG David Cooper leads the way with 7 TFLs and 5 sacks, impressive for an interior player. Alaric Coleman leads the line in tackles (39) from an end spot.


While Rolando McClain still leads this unit in tackles (54), he has played sparingly of late as Darren Mustin and Prince Hall have taken over the inside positions. Ezekial Knight's high ankle sprain appears to be behind him, but given his importance to the defense, watch for him to be one of the first starters to sub out if the game gets out of control.


The Warhawks are led at linebacker by Cardia Jackson, who ranks second on the team with 66 tackles. Josh Thomas has started every game at another linebacker spot, making 50 stops and 4.5 tackles for loss. Jered Berry plays a "bandit" linebacker position, with 34 stops and 4.5 pass breakups in coverage. ULM ranks No.1 in the Sun-Belt in rush defense.


Safety Rashad Johnson has been UA's big play man with six interceptions on the year, including one last week against Mississippi State. It has been a quieter year for Simeon Castille, who has moved to a cornerback position exclusively, even in the nickel package. Last week, UA's secondary allowed only 100 passing yards in one of its best performances of the season.


ULM's secondary has been picked on for more than 260 yards per game this season. Its strength is run support, and safety Greg James leads the team in tackles with 70 and interceptions with four. CB Quintez Secka has picked off three of his own, while James Truxillo mans a rover position that allows him to be active in run support (56 tackles).


An overall strength for Alabama all season, the Crimson Tide is getting outstanding efforts from its coverage units and solid play from kicker Leigh Tiffin (21 of 28 on the year). Return specialist Javier Arenas will be in no mood to fair catch anything this week after being unable to return any punts against Mississippi State.

Special Teams

McNeal handles punt returns for ULM and averages 7.8 yards per try. Kicker Cole Wilson handles the field goals, converting 9 of 13, but is only 3 of 6 from 30 yards and beyond. Punter Scott Love is a weapon with a 42.9-yard average. Thanks largely to Love, ULM ranks No.1 in the Sun-Belt in net punting at 37.7.


Prediction: Alabama 48, Louisiana at Monroe 10

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