No. 1 Alabama hosts FCS team Mercer pre-Iron Bowl
By JOHN ZENOR
Nov. 17, 2017
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) — Alabama's senior class, and perhaps a few junior NFL prospects, will play their final game at Bryant-Denny Stadium.
They're sure hoping it's not a particularly memorable one, beyond the pre-game ceremony.
The top-ranked Crimson Tide (10-0) hosts FCS Mercer (5-5) Saturday before putting its Southeastern Conference, and possibly the team's national title hopes, on the line at No. 6 Auburn in the Iron Bowl.
It will be the home finale for 21 seniors, including key players like center Bradley Bozeman, linebacker Rashaan Evans, defensive end Da'Shawn Hand, safety Hootie Jones and cornerbacks Levi Wallace and Anthony Averett.
The Tide has already compiled a 50-4 record so far over the past four seasons and the seniors are hoping for a fourth consecutive SEC title and playoff berth.
"They've had a tremendous amount of success here, won a lot of games," Alabama coach Nick Saban said. "I can't say enough. The only thing that gets me is when I go out there to shake hands and say hi to their parents, give them a hug and a kiss to their moms that it just seems like yesterday that we were just recruiting them, and it just goes by so fast. But I think we have a tremendous amount of guys in this class that are going to be successful in life and that's the goal of our program here."
Averett expects to be emotional before his finale at Bryant-Denny.
"My emotions are going to be very high," Averett said. "I've been here for a while, my fifth year. I remember my first time I came here (to) Bryant-Denny. I think it was the 2012 or 2013 spring game. That was my first time here and that was really blessful. Now my family is going to be here for this last game so it's going to be fun."
Here are some other things to know when Alabama hosts Mercer on Saturday:
INJURIES: Alabama guard Ross Pierschbacher is expected to miss the game with a high ankle sprain. Senior J.C. Hassenauer is likely to start in his place. Safety Minkah Fitzpatrick also might not play with a hamstring injury. Fitzpatrick is a junior and projected high NFL draft pick if he leaves early.
PLAYING AUBURN: The Tide gets an extra peek at Auburn since Mercer played the Tigers on Sept. 16. The Bears forced five turnovers and lost 24-10 in a surprisingly competitive game. At the least, it gives Alabama a cautionary tale about avoiding mistakes. "I think there's a lot that can be taken from that," Saban said.
BACKFIELD YOUNGSTERS: If the game goes as expected, highly touted freshmen Tua Tagovoila and Najee Harris could get significant playing time. Tagovoila has completed 28 of 42 passes for 385 yards, throwing for five touchdowns and getting intercepted once. Harris has averaged 5.8 yards on 49 carries but hasn't had a rush in the past two games.
HOME PROTECTION: Alabama has won 33 of its last 34 games at home. The Tide has won 29 consecutive home games against nonconference opponents since losing to Louisiana-Monroe in 2007, Saban's first season.
OPPORTUNISTIC MERCER: The Tide will have to protect the football. The Bears lead the nation with 14 fumble recoveries and rank 12th with 23 turnovers gained.
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