Western Carolina (7-4) at (2) Alabama (9-1) (ET)
GAME NOTES: The No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide will step outside of SEC action on Saturday afternoon when they take on the Western Carolina Catamounts at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
WCU, which plays in the Southern Conference at the FCS level, has enjoyed a stellar season at 7-4 overall. The Catamounts finished up SoCon play 5-2 after defeating VMI at home last Saturday, 42-27, to snap a two-game losing streak.
Since losing at Ole Miss on Oct. 4 (23-17), Alabama has reasserted itself as one of the best teams in the nation by winning five in a row to move to 9-1 overall. In a crucial contest with then-No. 1 Mississippi State last Saturday, the Crimson Tide took a 25-20 victory to move to 6-1 in the SEC play, and they now control their own destiny in the Western Division.
"I think anytime you beat the No. 1 team in the country, that's a significant accomplishment," Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. "I was really proud of how our players competed in the game...We made plays when we had to, and I think that was a sign of great competitive character for our team as well."
Alabama routed WCU in the most recent meeting in November of 2012, 49-0, to take a 3-0 lead in the all-time series.
The Catamounts haven't been great at generating offense this season, as they average 28.4 ppg and 403.7 ypg, but they had no problem surpassing those averages a week ago with 42 points and 640 yards.
Troy Mitchell shined in last week's win both with his arm (339 yards, five TDs) and his legs (109 yards, TD). The dual-threat quarterback has been at it all season long, as he's completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 2,320 yards, 18 touchdowns and nine interceptions to go with 572 yards and six more scores on the ground.
A pair of tailbacks also have a large say in WCU's potent rushing attack. Darius Ramsey earns most of the work, having turned 144 carries into 753 yards and six touchdowns, while Detrez Newsome (94 carries, 489 yards) is call upon more in the red zone with nine scores.
Terryon Robinson leads the team in both catches (56) and yards (643) but has only scored one touchdown. Meanwhile, Spearman Robinson (40 receptions, 526 yards) has hauled in nine touchdown passes.
While their offense can be inconsistent, the Catamounts benefit from a strong defense that yields 24.7 ppg and 385.9 ypg, while forcing 23 turnovers.
Christon Gill is the top defensive playmaker with 102 tackles, 11.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Trey Morgan (49 tackles) has picked off five passes, and Ace Clark (72 tackles, two FF, INT), Sertonuse Harris (63 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.0 sacks, INT) and Caleb Hawkins (10.0 TFL, 3.0 sacks) are also in the midst of strong campaigns.
Alabama's offense has been reliable this season. The unit puts up 33.7 ppg and 472.1 ypg, while converting 52 percent of its third downs.
The offense would not be where it is today without star wideout Amari Cooper. The Heisman Trophy candidate has caught 87 passes for an FBS-leading 1,303 yards, with 11 touchdowns. After tallying eight receptions for 88 yards and a score last week, he has registered least eight catches for 80 yards in nine of 10 games. Making Cooper's accomplishments even more impressive is that he's the only explosive receiving threat on the team, as no one else has more than 319 yards.
Feeding Cooper the ball is Blake Sims, who's in the midst of a strong season himself. He's completing 61.6 percent of his passes for 2,454 yards with 18 touchdowns to just three interceptions, while racking up solid rushing totals (590 yards, five TDs). He was outstanding is last week's victory (19-of-31, 211 yards, TD) and led the team on a 15-play touchdown drive in the fourth quarter to put the Tide up two scores.
"We made big-time plays at the right time and the guys fought hard," Sims said. "I'm glad that we got the win. I'm looking forward to seeing what else we have this year."
Not to be lost in the shuffle is Alabama's outstanding rushing attack, which picks up 197.9 ypg. T.J. Yeldon (151 carries, 758 yards, six TDs) and Derrick Henry (122 carries, 590 yards, five TDs) have been equally effective while splitting time, although Yeldon is questionable for this contest with an ankle injury.
Alabama has been defined by its elite defense in recent years, and this season has been no different as the unit ranks second in the nation in points allowed (14.5 ppg) and sixth in yards allowed (290.5 ypg). Last week it held the potent Bulldogs' offense to only 20 points and forced Dak Prescott into three interceptions.
Reggie Ragland leads the team in tackles with 79 to go with 7.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks and an interception. Landon Collins (68 tackles, three INTs) is one of the nation's best safeties, and Xzavier Dickson has gotten plenty of pressure in the backfield with 9.5 TFL and 7.0 sacks.
Alabama has earned the right to play a soft matchup with its performance over the past few weeks, but don't expect it to take its foot off the gas pedal as it gears up for the stretch run.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Alabama 58, Western Carolina 3