Pregame analysis of Alabama’s home game against Louisiana-Lafayette:
What: Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns (1-2) at Alabama Crimson Tide (4-0)
When: Saturday, 11 a.m. Central time
Rankings: Alabama is No. 1 in the Associated Press and coaches rankings, while Louisiana-Lafayette is unranked.
Where: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa
Line: Alabama by 48½
TV/radio: TV: SEC Network; radio: WHMA-FM 95.5 (Anniston).
1. Ties that bind: With former Alabama receivers coach Billy Napier in his first season as Louisiana-Lafayette’s head coach, there are plenty of direct connections to the Tide on the Ragin’ Cajuns sideline Saturday. Along with Napier, who was an offensive analyst (2011) and receivers coach (2013-16) through two different stints at Alabama, Lafayette offensive coordinator Rob Sale, head strength coach Mark Hocke and defensive line coach Rory Segrest all worked behind the scenes with the Tide at various points in their careers. Also of note, Cajuns defensive coordinator Ron Roberts coached current Alabama defensive assistants Pete Golding and Karl Scott when he was Southeastern Louisiana’s head coach.
2. On-target Andre: Lafayette senior quarterback Andre Nunez is considered one of the more accurate passers in the FBS level, ranking eighth nationally with a 72.3 completion percentage. Nunez previously broke a 21-year-old program record with an 86.4 completion percentage on 19-of-22 passing against Grambling, and has thrown for 541 yards and four scores so far, with at least one passing touchdown coming in each of the Cajuns’ games this season.
3. Offensive juggernaut: With 524 yards of total offense last week against then-No. 22 Texas A&M, including a season-high 415 passing, the Crimson Tide has topped the 500-yard plateau in all four games this season. This is Alabama’s first four-game run of 500 yards or more of total offense since its first four games of the record-breaking 2014 season.
4. Patented passing: With sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa showing out as Alabama’s starter this season, including a career-best 387 passing yards against A&M, the Tide offense has appeared unstoppable, especially through the air. Through four games this season, Tagovailoa is the nation’s highest rated passer with a total QBR of 97.8 (out of 100) according to ESPN.com, with a 153.5 NFL passer rating that leads all quarterbacks with at least 80 attempts. The success has allowed Alabama to rank No. 1 in passing efficiency with a 210.58 rating, along with ranking third nationally averaging 53.8 points per game this season.
Alabama linebackers Dylan Moses and Mack Wilson vs. Lafayette running back Trey Ragas: While this might not be much of a matchup, especially given Moses and Wilson’s recruiting status as former five-star products compared to Ragas’ three-star profile, it could be the difference whether or not Louisiana’s offense is able to move the ball at all against Alabama on Saturday. Ragas is the Ragin’ Cajuns’ bell cow runner this season, leading the team with 35 carries for 294 rushing yards for an 8.4 yard-per-carry clip. Through three games, Ragas is averaging just under 100 yards rushing per game (98.0), including breaking out for 142 rushing yards on 13 carries in the opener against Grambling. Of course, Ragas struggled to get much of anything going in Lafayette’s earlier SEC matchup against Mississippi State, which should translate well against Alabama’s defense. Working the middle of the Tide front seven, Moses and Wilson rank second and fifth on the team with 19 and 15 total tackles, respectively, including a season-high nine-tackle game last weekend by Moses.
Player of the week
Najee Harris, running back, sophomore, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds: Given the potential for Saturday to turn into another blowout by the end of the first quarter, don’t expect a lot of Alabama’s veteran starters to see much action, that includes senior tailback Damien Harris. That of course could lead to more opportunities for players like gifted sophomores Najee Harris (no relation) and Brian Robinson Jr. to run wild. Najee Harris already leads the Tide in nearly every rushing category with 38 carries for 246 yards and three touchdowns, and should have plenty of opportunities to pad his stats Saturday against a Lafayette run defense that ranks dead last in the Sun Belt allowing 263 rushing yards per game this season. Also worth keeping in mind, listed at 230-pounds, Najee Harris outweighs all four of the Ragin’ Cajuns starting linebackers, including 228-pound starting middle ‘backer Jacques Boudreaux.
By the numbers
7: Alabama is 7-0 all-time against Lafayette, including back-to-back wins in 1988 and 1989 at Legion Field in Birmingham. Saturday will be the Ragin’ Cajuns’ first trip to Tuscaloosa since 1990.
10: Saban is 10-1 all-time against teams from the Sun Belt Conference, including 6-1 at Alabama by outscoring Sun Belt opponents by an average score of 41.5-10.4. The Tide previously knocked off Arkansas State 57-7 in the team’s home opener Sept. 8. Saban’s lone loss came against Louisiana-Monroe in 2007, his first season at Alabama.
13: Saban has won all 13 games he’s coached against teams featuring head coaches that were previously assistants under him, including last weekend’s 45-23 win over new Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher. Saturday will be Saban’s first against Napier, who was a receivers coach at Alabama from 2013-16, meaning he helped with at least five of those 13 wins.
42: Lafayette is 0-42 all-time in games played against SEC opponents, though did record quite the upset over then-Big 12 opponent Texas A&M with a 29-25 win on Sept. 14, 1996.
Given Lafayette has already been dealt one SEC beating at the hands of then-No. 16 Mississippi State (56-10 on Sept. 15), Saturday could well be a massacre. The Ragin’ Cajuns are struggling on offense right now, still making progress running Napier’s pro-style spread attack, and will undoubtedly run into a buzz saw against the Tide defense inside Bryant-Denny Stadium. On the positive side, a significant early advantage for Alabama — which hasn’t been difficult against its first four opponents – could mean plenty of reps spread out amongst the Tide backup and third-teamers, which could pay dividends later on the season. Alabama’s pass-happy offense under sophomore quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and first-year coordinator Mike Locksley is already off to a record pace statistically, averaging nearly 540 yards of total offense a game, and the Tide could seriously put up some eye-popping numbers against a Lafayette defense that is allowing more than 470 yards per game this season to rank eighth in the Sun Belt. Don’t be surprised if Bryant-Denny Stadium clears out before halftime Saturday, that is if Tide fans even show up for the 11 a.m. kickoff.
Alabama 66, Louisiana-Lafayette 7