shane lee

Mississippi State quarterback Tommy Stevens (7) is pressured by Alabama linebacker Shane Lee (35) and defensive lineman Christian Barmore (58) at Davis Wade Stadium during last week's 38-7 victory. [MICKEY WELSH/MONTGOMERY ADVERTISER]

When: 11 a.m., Saturday

Where: Tuscaloosa

TV/Radio: ESPN/FM-93.9, AM-920

The line: Alabama by xx

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Four-down territory

1. Alabama’s frequent foil: This will be the fifth time since 2004 that Alabama has played, and likely beaten the Catamounts. Alabama is 4-0 in previous meetings, with the last coming in 2014 when the Tide prevailed 48-14. All four of the previous meetings have been in Tuscaloosa as well.

2. Mac attack: Now that Tua Tagovailoa is done for the season after sustaining a serious hip injury last week against Mississippi State, Mac Jones will run the offense fulltime. Jones, a former four-star recruit, looked sharp when he started against woeful Arkansas. After replacing Tua last week against the Bulldogs, Alabama only scored three points. Expect Jones to look good against the Catamounts, who have allowed 30 or more points in six of their 11 games this season.

3. Expect plenty of backups to see plenty of action: This annual walkover game gives coach Nick Saban a chance to empty the bench and give reserves a chance to see more than just spot action at the end of blowouts. After losing Tua to an injury last week, he might be more inclined to pull his starters even quicker Saturday against the overmatched Catamounts.

4. Looking ahead: The Iron Bowl is always the focal point of the season, and next week’s game at Auburn is of utmost importance to Alabama. With only one quality win on the schedule – Texas A&M – Alabama needs to make a splash with the playoff committee before other teams play in their conference championship games. It’s likely Alabama, now without its marquee quarterback, will need a decisive win over the Tigers to have any chance to get into the playoff. Obviously, an Iron Bowl loss eliminates Alabama from playoff contention.

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Key Matchup

Mac Jones vs. Western Carolina defense

Jones is a good quarterback and today won’t offer much of a test, but the redshirt sophomore needs the reps under actual game conditions to sharpen his skills for the Iron Bowl. He might not play even two quarters, but every play will be important for the new starting quarterback as he goes forward.

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Player of the week

Anfernee Jennings, LB

Western Carolina’s best player is quarterback Tyrie Adams, who was the Southern Conference’s preseason player of the year selection and has shattered most of the school passing records. It will be Jennings’ responsibility to get pressure on Adams and make sure he doesn’t have a big game.

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By the numbers

0-57: Western Carolina’s all-time record against FBS competition.

876: Rushing yards for Najee Harris, who has come on strong in recent weeks after Alabama’s slow start in the run game.

1.026 –Receiving yards for Alabama receiver DeVonta Smith on 56 catches. He has 11 touchdown grabs and averages 102 yards per game.

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Prediction

Alabama 56, Western Carolina 14

This one will be over early despite the absence of Tua Tagovailoa at quarterback. If Alabama insists on playing FCS games, it should schedule UNA, Samford, Jacksonville State, Alabama A&M or Alabama State and give those schools an influx of cash to take a loss.

— Gregg Dewalt

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