- Associated Press - Friday, September 11, 2015

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) - Alabama’s defense is facing Middle Tennessee at a good time.

The second-ranked Crimson Tide will get a look at an up tempo offense that bears some resemblance to the one run by No. 17 Mississippi, which just happens to visit Bryant-Denny Stadium a week after Saturday’s game with the Blue Raiders.

Alabama coach Nick Saban bristles at any suggestion that this game will be about anything but winning and improving. Still, it could be fortuitous timing in giving the defense a little head start in preparing for the fast-paced style of offense ‘Bama will face in that Southeastern Conference opener.

“There’s a lot of similarities to sort of the Ole Miss, Auburn type (offense),” Saban said.

Alabama (1-0) is a five-touchdown favorite over the Blue Raiders (1-0), who torched Jackson State for 70 points in their opener. The Tide is seeking to extend a 13-game win streak in home openers, including an 8-0 record under Saban.

Alabama moved up a spot in the polls with an opening win over Wisconsin, but carries a quarterback competition into Game 2. Jake Coker started the first game but is still trying to secure the job over Cooper Bateman.

Saban fumed over a reporter’s question that this could be a chance to focus on that battle because the game itself is regarded as a mismatch.

Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill wants his players following his lead and tuning out talk that they can’t win.

“Why go down there and play if you have no chance?” Stockstill said. “I don’t listen to all that stuff and our players don’t listen to that stuff. We know what type of team we are. We know what kind of players we have. It’s not about Alabama. It’s about us. We have to get better.”

No doubt Saban would approve that message for his own team.


Here are some potential story lines to watch in the game:

COKER VS. BATEMAN: Whatever Saban says publicly, this could be a big week for each of these quarterback contenders. Coker started and got most of the snaps against Wisconsin, but Bateman was 7-of-8 passing and is also more of a running threat. Saban said both have made big strides since last season.

BRENT STOCKSTILL: The redshirt freshman and coach’s son passed for 348 yards, a school record for a freshman, and four touchdowns in his debut. He faces a hostile crowd in a 101,821-seat stadium this time but doesn’t get an extra pep talk from his coach. “I am not going to say, ‘We are going to Alabama, you have to do this,’” Rick Stockstill said. “It’s Alabama. Let’s go play. He played well last week and he will be ready to play this week.”

CONFIDENT MTSU: Safety Kevin Byard said the Blue Raiders won’t be intimidated by their opponent’s big name. “Our confidence is sky high and I feel like we all look at it as another opportunity to go out and play the game we love,” Byard said. “It’s also an opportunity to hopefully upset one of the best teams in the country. We don’t really look at teams for the ‘A’ or the numbers that (are) on their helmets, it’s just another opportunity.”

PLAYMAKING SAFETY: Alabama’s quarterbacks will have to be wary of Byard. His 15 career interceptions ties him for most among active players. The Blue Raiders have picked off 38 passes in the last 31 games.

PUNTING TROUBLES: Saban said punter JK Scott has been hampered with inconsistency in his drop, and he struggled in the opener. Scott averaged 36.8 yards on four punts after leading the nation in yards per punt as a freshman. “We have a lot of confidence in him,” Saban said. “He just has to get confidence back in his drop and he’ll be fine.”

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