Alabama hosting Mercer with Iron Bowl looming

Alabama hosting Mercer with Iron Bowl looming

November 14th, 2017 by David Paschall in Sports - College

Alabama senior linebacker Rashaan Evans, who had nine tackles and 2.5 tackles for loss in Saturday night's 31-24 victory at Mississippi State, admitted Monday that it will be a challenge to stay focused this week with next Saturday's game at Auburn looming.

Photo by Kent Gidley

Next Saturday's football game between Alabama and Auburn at Jordan-Hare Stadium will determine who represents the Southeastern Conference's Western Division at the Dec. 2 league championship in Atlanta.

Can the Crimson Tide players leave next week's Iron Bowl in next week as this week moves along?

"It kind of is impossible," senior linebacker Rashaan Evans said with a smile Monday afternoon in a news conference. "You've got to have tunnel vision, but I can definitely feel it vibe-wise."

Before the No. 1 Tide (10-0, 7-0 SEC) and No. 6 Tigers (8-2, 6-1) collide, Alabama and Auburn must dispose of their fourth and final nonconference foes. Mercer is visiting Tuscaloosa this Saturday, while Louisiana-Monroe is traveling to Auburn.

Alabama coach Nick Saban spent nearly 20 minutes at the podium Monday and never was asked about Auburn, and there were no Saban tirades as a result.

"We need to focus on a lot of fundamental, technical execution at every position," Saban said. "There are a lot of things that we can fundamentally execute with a little more consistency, and that's certainly going to be the focus of what we're trying to get accomplished this week."

Mercer improved to 5-5 this past weekend with a 35-33 win at Western Carolina. The Southern Conference's Bears are quarterbacked by Kaelan Riley, a 6-foot-3, 222-redshirt redshirt freshman from Calhoun (Ga.) High School who has completed 165 of 269 passes (61.3 percent) for 1,986 yards with 13 touchdowns.

Robert Riddle, who was McCallie's quarterback last year, is redshirting in his first season at Mercer.

Alabama has defeated its last five Championship Subdivision opponents by the average score of 47-5, with last year's 31-3 win over the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga serving as the closest contest of the five. The Crimson Tide actually trailed the Mocs 3-0 early in the second quarter.

Saturday's game will be the Bryant-Denny Stadium finale for a senior class that has a 50-4 record with three consecutive SEC championships and the 2015 national title. Alabama played for a second straight national title last season but fell to Clemson, 35-31, in the championship game of the four-team playoff.

"It will be huge," senior center Bradley Bozeman said of his Bryant-Denny swan song. "This has been a great journey for me. I couldn't ask for a better experience. It's been a huge part of my life, and I can't say how blessed I am. It's surreal."

Said Evans: "It's crazy. It feels like yesterday that I was coming in as a freshman. I was told when I got here that time would fly, but you never understand until you go through it."

Tide tidbits

CBS will televise next week's Iron Bowl, with kickoff shortly after 3:30 p.m. EST. ... Redshirt junior left guard Ross Pierschbacher will miss this week with the high-ankle sprain he suffered in Saturday night's 31-24 win at Mississippi State, but Saban did not know of his availability for the Auburn trip. ... Saban said senior J.C. Hassenauer played well in place of Pierschbacher. ... Saban labeled junior defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick "day-to-day" for the Mercer game with his lingering hamstring injury.

Contact David Paschall at dpaschall@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6524.

SEC PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

OFFENSIVE — Auburn running back Kerryon Johnson, who rushed 32 times for 167 yards and caught two passes for 66 yards in the 40-17 win over Georgia.

DEFENSIVE — LSU linebacker Devin White, who had 14 tackles in the 33-10 win over Arkansas. White leads the SEC with 103 tackles and 10.3 tackles a game.

SPECIAL TEAMS — Auburn kicker Daniel Carlson, who made field goals of 54, 37, 30 and 37 yards. Carlson has made 13 attempts of 50-plus yards in his career.

CO-FRESHMAN — Texas A&M quarterback Nick Starkel, who completed 21 of 30 passes for 416 yards and four touchdowns in a 55-14 dumping of New Mexico.

CO-FRESHMAN — Missouri running back Larry Roundtree III, who rushed for 155 yards and 8.6 yards per carry during the 50-17 pummelling of Tennessee.

OFFENSIVE LINEMAN — Auburn center Casey Dunn, who graded out at 91 percent on an offense that racked up 237 rushing yards and 251 passing yards.

CO-DEFENSIVE LINEMAN — Kentucky end Denzil Ware, who had two sacks and an interception in the rout at Vanderbilt. His two sacks tied a career high.

CO-DEFENSIVE LINEMAN — Missouri end Marcell Frazier, who collected two sacks totaling 14 yards in his home finale to raise his season total to 5.5 sacks.

— David Paschall