Alabama takes on Mercer this Saturday in a contest that has trap game written all over it. The Crimson Tide beat Mississippi State in a game that was never really under their control last time out and they cannot afford to look ahead to the Iron Bowl without putting the Bears away first.
Here are the three keys to this one:
Don’t overlook the Bears
It is simple to say that Alabama shouldn’t overlook the Bears, but it is much harder to actually make that happen. As much as Nick Saban and his staff will preach all week that Alabama has to be ready and prepared for whatever opponent is coming next – in this case, Mercer – players and their friends will already be discussing the Iron Bowl against Auburn, which is now a winner takes all contest.
Obviously, this is a game that the Crimson Tide should dominate given the difference in skill, class, and resources between the two schools. It is worth noting however that the Bears held Auburn to a 24-10 victory earlier in the year, a scoreline that suggests the result could easily have changed if one or two breaks had gone the way of Mercer.
Don’t turn the ball over
The reason that the contest between the Tigers and the Bears was so close is also pretty simple. Auburn couldn’t hang on to the ball and kept Mercer far closer than they should have because of a litany of turnovers. Their five turnovers (four fumbles, one interception) continued to breathe life into a Mercer attack that would have been well out of the game had Auburn simply done the basics right.
The other issue the Tigers had was they were playing without star running back Kerryon Johnson. Johnson leads the SEC in rushing and he is a massive component of this Auburn offense as a back with the patience and skill to unlock any defense. Alabama should have no such issues on Saturday, with their skill position players all ready to go.
Get off the field healthy
This matchup is a trap game in another respect. With Auburn coming up next weekend, Alabama cannot afford to have any of its key players going down injured because they are not taking this one seriously. It is often said that a player is far more susceptible to injury when not 100 percent engaged in a game and this is one of those clashes where players might not be able to reach that 100 percent threshold just because of who Alabama is playing.
If Saban were to have his way then the Crimson Tide would be three or four touchdowns up by the half, giving the coach the option of benching all his starters for the final 30 minutes. Doing this would also help Saban continue to blood the younger players that might be relied upon more as Alabama heads towards a potential place in the College Football Playoff.