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What to watch: Alabama vs. ULM

After a narrow victory last weekend in Austin against Texas, the Crimson Tide welcome Louisiana-Monroe to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday afternoon for their fourth meeting in series history.

The Tide holds a 2-1 advantage over ULM, and will be looking to avoid being another ranked team that falls to a Sun Belt opponent (see: Texas A&M-Appalachian State and Notre Dame-Marshall). However, many fans remember the 21-14 defeat ULM handed to Alabama in 2007, and they will be hoping for a drastically different outcome.

ULM enters the Week 3 contest with a 1-1 record. Last week, the Warhawks defeated Nicholls State 35-7, but know they will be facing a much different opponent when they roll into Tuscaloosa. Here are a couple of key storylines and positions to watch as the game unfolds.

1. Terry Bowden

A familiar name and face will be leading the Warhawks. Former Auburn and University of North Alabama head coach Terry Bowden is now at the helm in Monroe. He is the son of the late legendary coach and Alabama native Bobby Bowden.

Terry Bowden and Coach Nick Saban are familiar with one another. Bowden was playing for his father at West Virginia in the 70s while Saban was coaching the defensive backs for the Mountaineers.

Bowden will have to bring a flawless game plan to Tuscaloosa if the Warhawks are to have any chance at knocking off the Crimson Tide.

2. Alabama Wide Receiving Corps 

The Alabama wide receivers are still seeking their big-time playmaker and the consistency  they have become accustomed to over the past couple of seasons. Thus far, no standout has emerged. This week will provide the opportunity for Bryce Young and his receivers to develop a rhythm as the Warhawks rank low nationally across most defensive statistics.

Coming into the year, Georgia transfer Jermaine Burton was thought to be the clear No. 1  guy in the receiving room. He has yet to have the breakout game that many expected. He will have ample chance this week to show exactly why he was so highly regarded when he transferred to the Capstone. Additionally, Alabama has a bounty of talent at the position, but they lack in experience. This game should serve as a great opportunity for Offensive Coordinator Bill O’Brien to give many of the younger guys valuable reps as the game progresses.

3. Alabama Offensive Line

Alabama’s offensive line had quite a bit of turnover from last year’s unit. While the talent is undeniable, the lack of experience cannot be overlooked. Right tackle JC Latham has all of the tools to be a standout and eventual draft pick, but he is still working on his technique.

At center, Darrian Dalcourt often found himself being driven backward by Texas defensive lineman Keondre Coburn. He will look to improve on calling protections for other linemen while imposing his will on the Warhawks.

It is imperative that the offensive line find continuity this week. The running game has been inconsistent and pass protection has been shaky at times, but this unit seems to improve with every rep.

4. Alabama Secondary

The Alabama secondary has not lived up to its preseason billing. Against Texas, Alabama surrendered 292 yards through the air. While Texas has great receivers and their quarterbacks are talented, Saban cannot be happy with the manner in which Texas was able to move the ball through the air.

LSU transfer Eli Ricks has been noticeably absent, thus far. Ricks should be on the field this week at some point to show why so many believe he is a first round pick in next year’s NFL draft. Kool-Aid McKinstry, Terrion Arnold, and Khyree Jackson will all look to get back on track this week after facing one of the best receivers in college football in Xavier Worthy.

Jordan Battle was a preseason All-American, but he has yet to truly flash this year with the big plays that many anticipated. He, Brian Branch, and Malachi Moore should be looking to force the first turnover of the season against the Warhawks.

5. Alabama vs. Alabama

This will be the key matchup. It is not to say that ULM does not have good players, but the talent disparity between Alabama and the Warhawks is vast. However, as we saw last week, the 2022 Crimson Tide is far from being the complete, infallible team that many expected coming into the season.

While the environment on the road in Austin was raucous and certainly had an impact, Alabama committed 15 penalties for 100 yards. Saban and the Crimson Tide assuredly emphasized discipline, doing their job, and executing this past week at the Mal Moore Practice Facility. The game in Austin would have likely looked a lot different if the Crimson Tide could have gotten off the field and not given extra possessions to a Longhorn team that steadily gained confidence as the game unfolded.

Ultimately, this game could not come at a more opportune time for the Tide as they start SEC play next week against Vanderbilt. They are coming off a hard-fought victory and have a lot of issues to address. ULM is a worthy opponent, but Alabama should find consistency and rhythm while giving many guys on their depth chart playing time. A resounding victory here should go a long way in restoring the confidence of a fanbase that is unsettled after the narrow win in Austin.

Ben Richardson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News

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