- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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On paper, Alabama appears to be an overwhelming favorite heading into its home game with Vanderbilt.
The Tide is ranked second nationally and carries with it one of the toughest running games behind a solid offensive line and an absolutely smothering defense.
Vanderbilt isn’t ranked and has been a nice story thus far this season, but the talent difference between the two is staggering.
However, that doesn’t keep Alabama coach Nick Saban from worrying about the Commodores, especially their secondary.
Vanderbilt leads the SEC and the nation with 14 interceptions. Three of those picks have been returned for touchdowns.
Saban said the thing that makes Vanderbilt’s secondary so tough to game plan against is that it does a good job of disguising what it does by mixing up its pressures and coverages.
The other thing is that this unit is just downright talented.
“For them to have intercepted as many passes as they have and lead the nation in that regard, they have a bunch of guys that are instinctive and have good ball skills,” Saban said. “The challenge is being able to read what they’re doing and not throw the ball to the wrong place, which they have capitalized on in each and every game.”
Alabama’s passing game hasn’t been tremendously strong this season, with starter AJ McCarron passing for just 184 yards a game, but it’s been efficient enough that the Tide hasn’t had to rely on it as much as the running game.
Still, the downfield threat isn’t always there, but Saban said he expected to have to use younger receivers outside of vets Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks throughout the season. There have been flashes here and there from them, and Saban said he’s pleased with their development so far.
“They’ve made improvement every weekend,“ he said. “I’m hopeful that they’ll continue to do that.”
7hMark Schlabach and Sharon Katz