Game preview: Arkansas State at No. 1 Alabama

Everything you need to know about the Crimson Tide's 2018 home opener

KICKOFF: Saturday, 2:35 p.m. CT

SITE: Bryant-Denny Stadium, Tuscaloosa, Ala.


SERIES: Alabama leads 2-0. The Crimson Tide won the last meeting 35-0 in 2008.

Arkansas State at Alabama: Keys to the game

Alabama's approach has been on keeping its focus as the top-ranked Crimson Tide (1-0), fresh off a 51-14 pounding of Louisville in its opener, gets ready for its home opener against Arkansas State (1-0).

Saturday's kickoff at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa is 3:35 p.m. ET with ESPN2 doing the television duties.

This is the kind of game Alabama has previously had some problems with, especially when having a young roster like this one.

In 2008, coming off a big win against Clemson in Atlanta, Alabama struggled against Tulane for a 20-6 victory. In 2013, Colorado State and former Crimson Tide offensive coordinator Jim McElwain kept the Crimson Tide to within 31-6, and the game was closer than the score indicated.

"They won their conference in two of the last three years so we know that they're a good team," Tide junior defensive back Shyheim Carter said of Arkansas State, a Sun Belt title contender once again.

This is Alabama's final tune-up before starting league play at Ole Miss and is the kind of opponent that can help the Crimson Tide prepare for Ole Miss and Auburn. Coach Hugh Freeze and Gus Malzahn both coached the Red Wolves before moving on to the Southeastern Conference at Ole Miss and Auburn, respectively.

The visiting Red Wolves are looking forward to the challenge. Coach Blake Anderson was on the Middle Tennessee staff that visited Bama in 2002 and nearly pulled off the upset before losing 39-34.

"There's nothing like going to Tuscaloosa against the No. 1-ranked team in the country," Arkansas State coach Blake Anderson said on his weekly TV show. "They put a pretty good beating on Louisville.

"You live for these opportunities."

Although Arkansas State plays in a smaller conference, you wouldn't know it by the offensive line. Left tackle Lanard Bonner (6-foot-5, 315 pounds) heads the group, which includes two guards who are 340 pounds-plus. Only center Jacob Still fails to hit the 300-pound mark, and he listed at 296.

Two names to know for Arkansas State roster are running back Warren Wand and quarterback Justice Hansen.

Wand is only 5-5, but the senior has already topped 2,000 career rushing yards.

Hansen is the reigning Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week after a record-setting performance against Southeast Missouri, a 48-21 victory after leading by just seven points at halftime.

The senior was 26 of 36 for 423 yards and six touchdowns to set the Red Wolves' single-game mark. All six touchdowns went to different receivers. He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 18 straight games, dating back to his sophomore year.

"(They) obviously have a very good quarterback, a lot of firepower on offense," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "Blake Anderson does a really good job. They play really well on special teams. They're sound in everything they do.

"It's going to be one of those fast-paced, speedball games where they're going to probably go as fast as they can."

Overall, Arkansas State outgained its FCS opponent last week 685-285, including a 497-163 edge in passing. The 685 total yards ranked third in program history and the 8.7 yards per play was seventh.

The Red Wolves, however, will be without one of their biggest receiving threats. Wide receiver Dahu Green is out for the year after suffering a broken ankle in the season opener. The 6-5 transfer from Oklahoma sat out last season under NCAA transfer rules.

Alabama has won 74 consecutive games against unranked teams -- during which every other team in the FBS has had at least 10 losses -- and 30 straight at home versus non-conference foes.

"We look forward to being at home this week," Saban said. "I know our players love to play in Bryant- Denny Stadium. It's a great environment for them. I know we'll have a great crowd and looking forward to the folks really supporting our players in a positive way.

"But the most important thing that we're focused on here is showing improvement as a team."

Arkansas State at Alabama: Players to watch

Red Wolves

QB Justice Hansen is a prolific passer and is coming off a big game in the opener in which he threw a school-record six touchdown passes in a 48-21 win over Southeast Missouri State. He has tossed at least one touchdown pass in 18 consecutive games and earned Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week honors for the opener after being named the conference Offensive Player of the Year in 2017.

RB Warren Wand is a 5-5 dynamo who rushed for 715 yards last season despite missing two games to injury. He had only eight carries for 33 yards in the opener, but also caught two passes for 35 more, including a 28-yard reception. He can take some of the pressure off the passing game with more production against the Tide.

DE Ronheen Bingham will be a key figure in Arkansas State's pass rush. He had a sack among his four tackles in the opener, giving the junior college transfer six in his time with the Red Wolves.

DE Justin Clifton enters entered his senior season as the team leader in several defensive categories, including tackles (179), tackles for loss (18), interceptions (4), pass breakups (19) and forced fumbles (4). He tied for the team lead in tackles against SE Missouri State with six, with one for a loss.

Crimson Tide

RB Josh Jacobs returned a kick 77 yards for a touchdown against Louisville, and he also rushed six times for 45 yards and a score. He was coming back from offseason ankle surgery. "I think that was a moment announcing to myself that I was back," Jacobs said about his two-touchdown performance. "It was good to see like whenever I did something huge how my teammates reacted to it. They're happy to see me back, too." Jacobs is a third-stringer behind Damien Harris and Najee Harris and he should get several carries this week against Arkansas State.

NG Quinnen Williams had a career game against Louisville with personal highs in tackles (six) and tackles for loss (3.5) in his first career start. Williams' previous career best in tackles was five vs. LSU in 2017. His previous high in tackles for loss was two on two occasions. He also broke up a pass and had a quarterback pressure en route to SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

LB Anfernee Jennings, a junior, made his first start after sustaining a torn ACL against Clemson in last season's Sugar Bowl semifinal. He had three tackles and was in on a sack.