CFB Preview: No. 1 Alabama-Western Kentucky

BY foxsports • September 6, 2016

Neither of Alabama's two young quarterbacks did enough to separate themselves from the group in the Crimson Tide's 52-6 win over Southern Cal.

For the second straight week, coach Nick Saban will play both true freshman Jalen Hurts and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett when the top-ranked Crimson Tide hosts Western Kentucky at 3:30 ET Saturday at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

"I thought that both guys were a little shaky in the beginning in terms of how they played, and I think that the longer they played in the game, the better they played," Saban said. "That goes for both guys.

"I still think that we need to play two quarterbacks to try to gain the experience and knowledge and consistency that we need to see. We may do it a little different way than we did last week. But I think we'll probably still play two guys in the game."

Barnett earned the start and completed 5-of-6 passes for 100 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers.

Hurts entered the game after the second series and accounted for four touchdowns (two passing, two rushing). But he also turned the ball over twice.

"Jalen did a nice job in some of the things he did, turned the ball over a couple of times," Saban said. "When Blake went back in the game, he actually played with a lot more confidence and a lot more poise.

"I think we need to continue to develop both of those players. It was encouraging that both players played better as they played in the game, which should be expected of freshmen.

"Hopefully, we'll see big improvement in this game."

Alabama isn't playing a top-20 team like USC, but Western Kentucky is no slouch, despite being outscored in two previous meetings with Alabama by a combined score of 76-7. The Hilltoppers were ranked in the top 25 last season. They lost their starting quarterback from last year, but the Hilltoppers return a ton of starters from last year's group.

"They've got one of the most prolific passing attacks that we're going to see and some very good players to implement," Saban said. "They play really tough, physical defensive football. This is a good team."

The Hilltoppers opened their season with a 46-14 rout of Rice. Taking over for Brandon Doughty at quarterback, junior Mike White set an efficiency record when he passed for 517 yards in completing 25 of his 31 attempts in his WKU debut. He came to the Hilltoppers after two years at South Florida, where he had 15 starts.

Wide receiver Taywan Taylor had four receptions covering at least 25 yards among his five receptions, and wide receiver Nicholas Norris had an 87-yard touchdown reception among his team-high seven receptions.

"We had two teams in our league that actually lost to teams that were nowhere near this good," Saban said, referring to Southern Mississippi's win at Kentucky and South Alabama's win at Mississippi State. "Nowhere near what they accomplished a year ago.

"Nowhere near the number of players coming back. These are not things that we can take at all for granted. We need to get ready to play this game as if we're playing a really good football team, because we are."

As for Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm, he has the requisite respect for the Tide.

"We're not blind," he said. "We see what everyone else sees. This is the very best team in the country. They've got tremendous talent, great size, great speed at every position. There are no weaknesses.

"They're coached by the best coach in the country. He's been there, he's done that, he's proven it. But our guys will be excited for this opportunity to go down there and play a caliber team like Alabama -- an SEC opponent, national champions, at their place, their first home game.

"I think our guys will be ready. They'll look forward to this challenge. We're looking forward to seeing how we measure up. It will be a tough game, a tough matchup. We understand how tough this game will be."