Coming off a 66-0 drubbing of lower-tier opponent Incarnate Word, Fresno State now has to turn around and face the No. 1 team in the country – Alabama. The Crimson Tide beat No. 3 Florida State 24-7 in its opening game. The Collegian spoke with Matthew Speakman, the sports editor at Alabama’s student newspaper, The Crimson White, by email about the upcoming game.
Daniel Gligich: Coming off a season opening win, is there any reason to doubt that Alabama is the best team in the country?
Matthew Speakman: I think right now, no. Alabama played the No. 3 team in the country and really made the game boring. When you look at it, the Crimson Tide struggled. Alabama only had 96 yards passing and 269 yards of total offense. The team struggled and beat the No. 3 team by 17 points. I think that really says it all right there. Alabama also had four linebackers get injured – two out for the season – and the defense did not miss a beat. To me, it’s going to be tough for any team to beat Alabama this year.
DG: Alabama lost to Clemson in the national championship last season. How much did that motivate and impact the team heading into the first few weeks of this year?
MS: I think it definitely motivated them. Most of the players will say that it’s a new season, but since Alabama is so good so often, they kind of have to create their own motivation. With the loss to Clemson, they now get to have a ‘chip on their shoulder’ heading into this year. I think a lot of the key players like Jalen Hurts or Minkah Ftizpatrick definitely use it as motivation.
DG: The offense is loaded with Jalen Hurts, Bo Scarbrough and Calvin Ridley. Which one of them is most crucial to the offense?
MS: It’s Jalen Hurts. No doubt. He is what is going to make or break this year. His improvement is crucial. Alabama has had quarterbacks struggle in the past, but now more than ever, the team will need Hurts to be able to stretch the field. Last game, he was able to hit open receivers when he had time. His deep ball looked nice. To me, this team is going to be great no matter what, but the play of Hurts will most likely determine if they take home a title this year.
DG: Alabama lost two important linebackers for the season in the opener. How much will that impact the defense going forward?
MS: It’s mostly going to impact depth. They lose two talented parts of the defense who were finally getting the chance to start. The defense is going to be fine, because one thing that Alabama does is make players versatile. Mack Wilson and Ben Davis, two five-star recruits, can play inside and outside at linebacker. Everyone in the linebacker group can play both. They lose two crucial players, but they’ve recruited so well that it won’t make a difference.
DG: Who is the best player on Alabama and why?
MS: That’s a tough one, but I would go with Minkah Fitzpatrick. He’s someone who is very important to Alabama’s defense. He plays safety in base defense and star in the nickel package. He makes play after play. Anytime Alabama needs a spark, he usually provides it. Even on Saturday, Florida State drove down the field to kick a field goal before the half, and he ended up blocking the kick. He can do it all.
DG: There was talk over the offseason of Nick Saban leaving Alabama for another shot in the NFL. Do you think there is any chance he leaves after this season, and are the rumors a distraction to the team at all?
MS: No. There’s no chance. I don’t think it’s a distraction. Nick Saban is 65. I don’t think he wants another huge career move this late in his career.
DG: Do you think Alabama is overlooking Fresno State at all, considering the Bulldogs were 1-11 last year with the only win coming against an FCS team?
MS: Alabama makes it a very big deal that they do not overlook any opponent. If there is one thing they get angry about, it is this idea that they do. Obviously, they probably aren’t as excited to play this game as they were last week, but Nick Saban does a good job of preparing the same way for every opponent.
DG: What is Fresno State’s reputation in Tuscaloosa?
MS: There really isn’t one. If you have paid attention to football, you know Fresno State has produced some great players – Derek Carr and Ryan Matthews to name a couple. I think Alabama fans are just excited to experience the first home game of the season.
DG: What is your prediction for the game?
MS: Alabama over Fresno State, 38-3.