Stephens: Big, fast, strong ‘Bama spells trouble for WKU

Brad Stephens

I guess Anthony Steen could be considered the runt of the Alabama offensive line.

Steen carries the second-lightest weight of the Crimson Tide’s five men up front and, along with line-mate Chance Warmack, is two full inches shorter than anyone else in the group.

Steen, the Tide’s right guard,is 6-foot-3, 303 pounds.

Some runt he is.

That’s just the challenge WKU will face on Saturday when it walks into Bryant-Denny Stadium to face No. 1 Alabama.

Don’t expect crowd noise of 101,000-plus fans to bother the Toppers, as they’ve faced similar atmospheres last year in Tiger Stadium against LSU and two years ago in Memorial Stadium against Nebraska.

Also, don’t expect WKU to be fazed by the mystique of the 14-time national champs they’re lining up against.

Bear Bryant, Shaun Alexander and Mark Ingram were all great coaches or players, but none of them will be donning houndstooth hats or those awesome helmets with the number on the side come Saturday.

No, if anything does in the Toppers, it’ll be the size, strength and speed of the Crimson Tide, a team WKU Head Coach WIllie Taggart joked would become the NFL’s next expansion team.

“They’re some big, big individuals — look like some mutants,” Taggart said. “Those guys are huge.”

It’s not just the Alabama offensive line that’s big.

Quarterback A.J. McCarron stands 6-foot-4. Freshman running back T.J. Yeldon is a chiseled 6-foot-2, 216. Michael Williams is 6-foot-6, 269, enormous for his tight end position.

Those big bodies fly around the field at speeds that should be reserved for players half their size and make nearly every fundamental play required of them by coach Nick Saban.

Maybe it’s not so out-of-the-question for Taggart to call the Crimson Tide a pro team, because a lot of those Alabama players will one day be playing on Sunday.

So how does WKU steal an improbable upset win?

First off, the Toppers will have to take some chances through the air.

Most of WKU’s passing game last Saturday focused on short and intermediate routes, but the Toppers did hit a couple of deep balls.

Alabama gave up a couple of big passes last week in an otherwise nearly-perfect 41-14 win over Michigan.

If WKU can spring sophomore receiver Willie McNeal or someone else down the sideline for a big play, it must take advantage.

Second, the Toppers can’t wear down in the second half.

Last year, WKU hung with LSU for a half before the Tigers’ depth became too big a factor and LSU rolled to the win.

This time, the Toppers can’t let the waves of talent Alabama will send at them wear them down.

Finally, WKU can’t afford to come up empty whenever it gets a chance in Crimson Tide territory.

That means not turning it over in the red zone and — of course — making those pesky field goals.

Freshman Garrett Schwettman will be tasked with that job.

Hitting big plays, staying fresh and taking advantage of chances will help the Toppers keep things close against the nation’s best.

But even if WKU does each of those things, leaving T-Town with a “W” could still be a long shot.