Game Preview: Alabama
Series record: 8-5 (in favor of Alabama)
Head Coach: Nick Saban (4th year, 15th overall)
Players to watch: RB Trent Richardson, QB Greg McElroy, Safety Mark Barron, LB Dont’a Hightower
They were national champions. They had the coach of the year. Their running back was crowned with the Heisman trophy. They boasted 6 AP first-team All-Americans.
And that was just last season.
The hype surrounding this weekend’s out-of-conference game at Alabama has dominated national headlines, and most Penn State student’s can’t remember a game of this capacity.
“This is one of the biggest games that I obviously have been a part of, and I feel that Penn State has been a part of,” said starting safety Drew Astorino.
It may not be the biggest game in Nittany Lion history, but that is the way Astorino and crew must treat this matchup.
Alabama’s leading rusher from 2009 and Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram will likely sit out this weekend due to a knee injury. But backup Trent Richardson will be no softy. Last year he tallied 784 yards while rushing behind Ingram. He began the 2010 season with two touchdowns against San Jose State, running behind an offensive line that returns three starters from the national championship season.
Alabama will also be without its best defensive player Marcell Dareus, who had 6.5 sacks in 2009. This could allow Penn State’s running game to be more effective without that gigantic defensive end at the helm, but Dareus is being replaced with Undra Billingsley and Damion Square, both of whom are talented linemen and stout against the run.
The Crimson Tide also has an extremely talented pair of wide receivers who are are more than capable of stretching the field against the Nittany Lions’ secondary, which allowed 189 passing yards and two touchdowns against Youngstown State.
Julio Jones, who likely is a 1st-round draft pick in the NFL, will be the primary focus for Penn State defensive backs, and the 5-foot-10 Marquis Maze is a speedy receiver who can open up the passing game.
Penn State cornerback D’Anton Lynn said the team must force interceptions to stifle the potent passing game.
“Turnovers are definitely a focus for us,” he said. “Alabama definitely stretches the field. They will give us the opportunity, so turnovers will be a huge factor in the game.”