Alabama’s defense looked as sound as can be against USC. From the defensive line to the linebackers and the secondary, not one level of the Crimson Tide’s defense looked vulnerable in the 52-6 victory. The Trojans offense wasn’t able to give Alabama’s defense any trouble, so certainly, Western Kentucky won’t be able to pressure Alabama, right?
Not so fast.
If Week 1 is any indication, the Hilltoppers have a passing attack that Alabama would be foolish not to notice. In their season-opening win over Rice, Western Kentucky torched the Owls through the air for 552 total passing yards. Of those 552 yards, 517 came off the hand of starting quarterback Mike White, who also threw for three touchdowns.
Coming into the season opener, USC’s receiving corps had been highly praised, especially JuJu Smith-Schuster, considered by some to be the best wideout in the nation. The Crimson Tide didn’t just hold Smith-Schuster in check. They shut him down, allowing the All-American just one catch for nine yards. However, Alabama won’t face a shortage of wide receiver talent this week either.
The Hilltoppers have a number of gifted playmakers on the outside, namely Taywan Taylor, who Nick Saban had especially high praise for.
“He’s an outstanding player,” Saban said, per AL.com’s Matt Zenitz. “Really, really outstanding player. He’s got great production. He’s a tough competitor. Good route runner. Good hands. The thing I respect of him most is his production and his competitive spirit in the way he goes about playing the game. He does a really, really good job, and I think he’s as good as any receiver that we’ll play against this year.”
Much like last season, when he piled up almost 1500 receiving yards, Taylor led the way in the yardage column against Rice, hauling in five catches for 165 yards. Taylor, however, wasn’t the only Western Kentucky receiver to have a big day against the Owls. Fellow receiver Nicholas Norris had seven receptions for 147 yards, scoring two touchdowns in the process.
The senior duo of Taylor and Norris could have more success against the Alabama defense than USC was ever able to, especially if the Tide come out flat against a less-talented opponent. But in the typical fashion of a Nick Saban team, Alabama’s secondary doesn’t have any lack of respect for the Hilltoppers receivers.
“In order to throw for 500 yards, you’ve got to have pretty good wide receivers,” Tide cornerback Marlon Humphrey said Monday, per Zenitz. “It will be a talented bunch of wide receivers that we will have to study up this week.”
Even if the Hilltoppers are able to create some offense against the vaunted Alabama defense, it still remains highly unlikely that the Hilltoppers are able to compete with the Crimson Tide for a full 60 minutes if the Crimson Tide bring anything close to their A-game.
For Alabama, facing a fast-paced air raid offense in Western Kentucky will serve as excellent experience in preparation for a conference opener in Week 3 on the road versus Ole Miss. But I guarantee you won’t hear Saban or any Alabama player talking that way during the week.