Football preview: Alabama welcomes Georgia in high-stakes showdown; Auburn visits South Carolina; UAB takes on Hilltoppers

Football preview: Alabama welcomes Georgia in high-stakes showdown; Auburn visits South Carolina; UAB takes on Hilltoppers
Alabama running back Najee Harris hurdles an Ole Miss player in last week's wild offensive showcase. This week's game matches Alabama's explosive offense against Georgia's stingy defense, as Nick Saban watches from a distance. (Kent Gidley/Alabama Athletics)

Nick Saban, who tested positive for COVID-19 this week, saw a game last Saturday in which both defenses were torched.

The Alabama offense racked up 723 yards and Ole Miss amassed 647. That 1,370 combined yards is the most in a single game in SEC history.

Alabama quarterback Mac Jones (10) and Alabama offensive lineman Emil Ekiyor Jr. (55) celebrate during last week’s 63-48 Tide victory over Ole Miss. Head Coach Nick Saban said his team responded well to an intense situation. (Kent Gidley/Alabama Athletics)

But Saban wasn’t willing to throw his defensive unit under a crimson bus.

“I’m really proud of the way our team handled the fight and played through the fight,” he said in retrospect. “No one showed any desperation at all in terms of the effort and the poise that we continue to play with in a very, very difficult game. The way the guys competed in the game was outstanding and were able to finish with a couple stops and the offense kept scoring. I think the No. 1 thing about all this is we faced a tough offense.

“We need to learn from the mistakes that we made,” Saban continued. “The only mistake that would be is that we don’t learn from the mistakes that we made so that we can get better in the future.”

The “future” comes at 7 p.m. Saturday on CBS as No. 2 Alabama (3-0) welcomes No. 3 Georgia (3-0) in the Showdown at T-town. Perhaps “Game of the Century” isn’t hyperbole.

“This is probably one of the best teams in the country,” Saban said. “Kirby (Smart, the Bulldogs coach) has done an outstanding job there. They play well in all phases of the game. Their defense is especially very, very good, maybe the best defensive team in the country all the way around when you talk about stopping the run, having good pass defense, getting off the field on third down. They’ve been very efficient and effective in every part of the game.”

While Georgia has the No. 1 defense (3.7 yards per play) among teams that have played more than one game, Alabama has the No. 1 offense in the country at 8.66 yards per play. The winner of this game could lay claim to Clemson’s No. 1 ranking.

An extra wrinkle in Saturday’s game is the absence of Saban following his positive COVID-19 test. Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian will serve as interim head coach.

Najee Harris and Nick Saban analyze Alabama offense’s performance from Alabama NewsCenter on Vimeo.

Auburn’s Tank Bigsby (4) gets some yards in the first half of last week’s game with Arkansas. The Tigers travel to South Carolina this week to face the Gamecocks. (Todd Van Emst/AU Athletics)

No. 15 Auburn (2-1) visits unranked South Carolina (1-2) at 11 a.m. Saturday on ESPN. A week after fending off a late push by Arkansas, the Tigers face a Gamecock defense that really stiffens on third down.

“They’re one of the top in the country in total defense,” coach Gus Malzahn said. “They’re third in our league. I think they’re first in the league on third-down defense, so that’s going to present some challenges.

“They’re very aggressive up front,” he continued. “They put pressure on a quarterback. They disrupt quarterbacks and make them uncomfortable. They do a good job with their coverage. They don’t give you any easy throws. You gotta earn it. It’s impressive to watch.”

UAB sat out last week as its scheduled game at Rice was postponed. This week, the Blazers (3-1) host the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky (1-3) at 12:30 p.m. at Legion Field.

And the visitors will be led by a hometown product, Clay-Chalkville High School alumnus Tyrrell Pigrome. The former Cougar started his collegiate career at Maryland before returning south to Bowling Green, Kentucky.

Pigrome was the 2015 Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year and two-time Alabama Mr. Football runner-up. He helped lead Clay-Chalkville to a pair of state title games under head coach Jerry Hood, winning the championship as a junior.

The 3-1 UAB Blazers welcome Western Kentucky to Legion Field this weekend following an unplanned break in the schedule due to the postponement of the Blazers’ game with Rice. (UAB Athletics)

“He is super dynamic,” coach Bill Clark said. “Big arm. Great feet. He’s a running back at quarterback and they’ve kind of built that whole offense around him.”

Jacksonville State at North Alabama: While the Blazers reacquaint themselves with a native son, a pair of state teams will renew acquaintances in the renewal of an old rivalry. North Alabama, playing in-state for the only time this fall, welcomes Jacksonville State for the first time since 1992.

Kickoff in Braly Stadium is at 1 p.m.

UNA (0-1) and Jacksonville State (1-1) have played only four times in the past 28 years. The pairing dates back to the first game in UNA’s modern football history on Sept. 29, 1949.

“We are just glad to once again be playing a game, and our guys are ready to get back at it,” Lions coach Chris Willis said. “We got a taste of it with the Liberty game, and then we have been back waiting again. We’ve spent our time working on cleaning up our mistakes, penalties and turnovers from the first game. We can’t have those kind of mistakes against Jacksonville State and expect to win.”

Gamecocks coach John Grass admits his players aren’t old enough to remember the rivalry with North Alabama.

We had some great Gulf South rivalries with Troy, UNA, Valdosta State, and it means a lot to our alumni,” Grass said. “I know both teams will be ready to play football. I don’t think the rivalry resonates much with (current players) as much as it does with the alumni of both programs. Every time we have played them in the past few years it has been a great game.”

Eastern Kentucky at Troy: Outside of a 41-point loss to Brigham Young, the Trojans (2-1) have averaged 42 points in their two victories so far in the fall of 2020. The home team will try to keep its offense piping hot at 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Veterans Memorial Stadium.

Texas State at South Alabama: The Jaguars (1-2) have back-to-back losses after opening the season with a win over Southern Miss. The homecoming contest is at 11 a.m. on ESPNU.

HIGH SCHOOLS

Class 7A: Oak Mountain (6-1) is the top team that’s gotten votes but is not ranked in the Alabama Sports Writers Association poll. A win against No. 1 and defending state champion Thompson (8-0) would certainly move the Eagles up the ranks.

Class 6A: No. 4 Pinson Valley (5-2) hosts No. 5 Clay-Chalkville (7-0).

Class 5A: Corner outlasted Moody 56-55 last week in overtime to improve to 4-3. To remain above .500, the Yellow Jackets will have to knock off Leeds (7-1).

Class 4A: No. 2 Madison Academy (6-0) welcomes New Hope (4-3).

Class 3A: Hokes Bluff (4-3) travels to No. 5 Piedmont (6-1).

Class 2A: Geneva County is 6-1. The Bulldogs visit No. 6 G.W. Long (6-0).

Class 1A: No. 4. Sweet Water (4-2) plays at Milry (6-1).

AISA: No. 6 Chambers Academy (6-1) welcomes No. 10 Macon-East (6-2).

Related Stories