by: Alex Welch
The North Alabama Lions will travel to Carrollton, Ga. for a Thursday night matchup at 7:00 p.m. ET with the West Georgia Wolves. CSS will provide the coverage when the two Gulf South Conference teams square off.
After putting a four-game win streak together, the Lions dropped last week's contest to Valdosta State by just five points, putting them in a tie for second place in the Gulf South. At 5-2 with just three games left on the schedule, it's crunch time for North Alabama.
West Georgia hasn't fared quite as well in recent weeks. The Wolves opened 2012 with two straight wins only to be followed by a five-game skid. They remain winless in conference play so far.
These two teams have faced off 29 times in the past. North Alabama leads the all-time series 19-10 and enters Thursday night riding seven straight wins against West Georgia. The Wolves haven't defeated the Lions at home since 2001.
Let's take a look at what you need to keep an eye on in the 30th meeting between these Gulf South opponents.
1) North Alabama thrives on the defensive side of the ball, leading the conference in fewest points allowed per game at just 16.1. Opponents have entered the red zone 20 times against the Lions, but have only come away with a total of six touchdowns. A stingy defense is surely a reason they are currently 3-0 on the road.
2) True freshman Luke Wingo will start at quarterback for the first time on Thursday. After leading his team back from a 24-0deficitlast week against Valdosta, it's clear the coaching staff has plenty of faith in the young passer from Tuscaloosa, Ala. They'll rely on him to boost the team's relatively low mark of 26.1 points per game.
3) The Lions' ground game is averaging a ridiculous 220.7 yards per game. Freshman running back Lamonte Thompson leads the way with 542 yards and five touchdowns on 97 carries. Diamond Simmons, another freshman back, seems to be just one block away from the end zone each play, averaging 22.4 yards per carry. He's only touched the ball nine times, but has 203 yards and two touchdowns to show for it.
4) Cornerback Caleb Massey leads the defense with four interceptions, including one against Texas A&M-Kingsville that went back 93 yards for a touchdown. As a whole, the Lions have 12 picks on the year, consistently wreaking havoc on opposing quarterbacks.
5) Head coach Bobby Wallace has a disciplined squad this season. After being penalized only 31 times in seven games, the Lions rank 10th in all of Division II with 41.4 penalty yards per game.
6) West Georgia also makes a huge impact from running the ball. Sixteen of the Wolves 21 touchdowns have been on the ground, and the team is averaging 205.5 yards rushing per game. In their 28-12 loss to the Lions last season, the Wolves only gained 113 yards rushing on 35 carries. Without an effective ground game, they can't expect to break North Alabama's winning streak.
7) Seth Hinsley and David Bailey both have 300-plus yards rushing on the season. Hinsley leads the way with 351 yards and two touchdowns on 78 carries, while Bailey sits at 300 yards and four touchdowns so far.
8) Freshman quarterback Dallas Dickey now sits at the top of the depth chart over Austin Trainor. Dickey has only completed 27 of 50 passes in six games played, but his 241 yards and three touchdowns rushing add to the impressive ground game the Wolves possess.
9) Junior wide receiver Bobby Burum provides the biggest threat for West Georgia in the passing game. He enters Thursday night with 22 receptions for 336 yards and two touchdowns in five games played, easily making him the Wolves leading receiver by a long shot.
10) The Wolves defense has to step up against opponents on third down. They've allowed conversions on 38 of 76 third-down situations through six games. Yielding a 50 percent third-down percentage will not cut it against one of the Gulf South's top teams.
by: Alex Welch