College Football Game Preview: North Alabama at West Alabama

College Football Game Preview: North Alabama at West Alabama
November 8, 2012, 9:34 am
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by: Alex Welch:
In a battle of the cats, the North Alabama Lions will travel to Livingston Ala. Thursday night to take on the West Alabama Tigers. CSS will provide the coverage of the Gulf South Conference showdown.
With both teams wrapping up regular-season play, West Alabama is looking to close out its schedule with the Gulf South championship under its belt. At 4-0 in conference play, the Tigers have at least clinched a share of the title. Winning on Thursday night would seal the deal.
North Alabama enters riding a three-game losing streak, simply trying to salvage the 2012 season. After a 38-28 loss to Tarleton State last week, the Lions sit at 5-4 on the year.
This will be the 66th installment of their series. UNA holds an impressive 48-16-1 lead all-time. The Lions won 14 in a row between 1988 to 2001. UWA, though, is outscoring its opponents by nearly 20 points per game in 2012. This won't be any easy shot at No. 49 for UNA.
Let's take a look at what you should watch for on Thursday night.
1) Games on display for bigger audiences have not been kind to UNA recently. The Lions have lost their last four televised games. After losing two games in 2011 and adding two losses on the record this year to West Georgia and Tarleton State, they continue to struggle on the larger scale.
2) UNA heavily relies on the ground game. Averaging 211.1 rushing yards per game, the Lions gain 4.9 yards per carry and hand the ball off 43 times per game. Lamonte Thompson leads the team with 630 yards on 115 carries this year. He needs 76 yards time break UNA's freshman rushing record in a single season.
3) The Lions have only generated one turnover in the past three games. After forcing 18 turnovers in their first six matchups, the steep decline in this department has a clear correlation to the recent losing streak. UWA comes in with 18 total turnovers in 2012. If they want a chance of winning, the Lions have to step up and create takeaways.
4) You won't see the Lions losing the penalty battle. Through nines games they've only been flagged 46 times, averaging right around five per contest. Their opponents have tallied 73 penalties against them. Discipline is a word used to easily describe this squad.
5) Cedrick Wilcox finished with 11 tackles against Tarleton State. Why is that significant? Wilcox is a fullback converted to linebacker. He's spent time on special teams honing in on his tackling skills over the past two years, but now he's playing full-time on the other side of the ball. He could provide a spark the defense needs.
6) UWA didn't get on the scoreboard until the fourth quarter last week against Abilene Christian. Scoring hasn't been much of an issue for the Tigers, who are averaging 35.6 points per game. Third-down situations became an issue, something that can't repeat itself this time around.
7) The Tigers also boast a dangerous rushing attack, averaging 225.9 yards per game on the ground. Last week, though, UWA only managed 155 rush yards in the loss. Danny Hobbs, now the starting running back after Matt Willis tore his ACL earlier in the year, gained just 44 yards on 12 carries. His longest run was seven yards, not exactly the type of impact the Tigers need. He'll have to step up this week to get the offense back on track.
8) Quarterbacks Kyle Caldwell and Gary Johnston will both be taking snaps under center once again. Caldwell averages 135.6 passing yards per game, while Johnston provides nearly 60 yards running the ball each week. Johnston is the team's leading rusher at this point with 675 yards and seven touchdowns.
9) UWA's defense typically limits opponents to an average of 34 percent on third-down conversions. Last week the Tigers yielded conversions on 9 of 18 third-down attempts. A 50 percent stat line will not cut it. With the Lions wanting to run often, they'll have to bring the aggression and help get the offense back on the field.
10) Through 10 games the Tigers have outscored opponents 204-90 in first halves. Starting out hot right out of the gate is a signature of this team, which made last week's scoreless first half such an anomaly.