Players to watch: Mercer

Players to watch: Mercer


C Bradley Bozeman

It’s been nearly five years since Bozeman planted his stakes in Tuscaloosa, and on Saturday it will be his last game at Bryant Denny Stadium. The big guy from Roanoke, Alabama said the game will be emotional, but he is focused on the task at hand: beating Mercer. Bozeman was named by multiple media outlets including ESPN and AP as midseason All-American, and has graded out at an 85.6 as a center. He has been the constant on an offensive line that is leading the way for a run game that averages over 270 yards a game. Even though the Crimson Tide will be without guard Ross Pierschbacher for the first time all season, Bozeman exuded confidence in back up J.C. Hassenauer. The senior has been a staple for this Crimson Tide offense, and also a leader. It will be the last time he lines up between the numbers at Bryant Denny, so watch out for Bozeman. 

RB Josh Jacobs

It may not be his last game in Bryant Denny, but keep an eye out on the Crimson Tide’s sophomore running back. He, along with the entire Crimson Tide offense, was stymied by the LSU Tigers' defense two weeks ago, and was held to just three yards on the ground. Jacobs got back on track last week against Mississippi State, rushing for 36 yards and a touchdown on only six carries. The total may not seem like a whole lot, but it’s just what Nick Saban is looking for out of Jacobs. Saban raves about Jacobs and his willingness to do whatever it takes to benefit the team. He is a great change-of-pace guy, who can run around you, and through you if you take him lightly. He has 214 yards on the ground this season in the seven games he has played in, but also has 114 yards receiving out the backfield. With Mercer coming to town, expect Jacobs to get a bigger dose of carries and catches. 

LB Rashaan Evans

Evans will be playing his final game in Bryant Denny Stadium on Saturday, but it seems like the linebacker just arrived. Evans has waited his turn and “trusted the process” and now stands as an elite defender for the Crimson Tide. His ability to play the inside linebacker and edge position has made Evans a versatile threat that every quarterback is looking for on every play. Evans has played in only eight games this season and his 9.5 tackles for loss from the linebacker position is tops on the defense. He ranks fourth on the team in tackles with 45, and second on the team with five sacks. With all of the injuries that have curtailed the seasons for some Crimson Tide linebackers, Evans has provided a much needed staple on the defense. Evans said earlier in the week that he and the other linebackers will need to communicate better and fix some things, so look for Evans to make the necessary adjustments during his final home game of his career. 

P JK Scott

Out of all the seniors who will play their final game in Bryant Denny Stadium Saturday afternoon, Scott will most likely warrant the loudest applause. The senior from Denver has been a fan favorite ever since his first game four short years ago against West Virginia. He has racked up an Alabama career record 10,287 punting yards and has been a model of consistency at the punter position. It is still is a wonder how Scott has never won the Ray Guy award for the nation’s best punter, but he is putting together a senior season that is more than deserving of the distinct award. Scott is currently second in the country in number of punts landed inside the 20-yard line. If you are going to the game, make sure you take in a Scott punt one last time in Bryant Denny. He has been one of the best to ever punt in a crimson jersey. 


QB Kaelan Riley 

As a redshirt freshman starting the season opener, Riley became just the second quarterback to take a snap for Mercer in the last 70 years. You read that right; the Bears’ football program was dissolved in 1941 due to World War II and did not return until 2013. The same quarterback, John Russ, started all 46 games from 2013 to 2016, but graduated last year. So far, Riley has transitioned well to the college game, accumulating the fourth-most passing yards in the Southern Conference. He boasts a 13:7 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 61.7% completion percentage. Head coach Nick Saban said after the narrow win over Mississippi State that mobile quarterbacks present a problem because the defense has an extra gap to defend. Riley certainly fits that description, with 74 carries for 183 yards and four touchdowns in 10 games this season.

WR/KR Chandler Curtis 

A dynamic playmaker for the Bears, Curtis is one of the team’s top two receivers and its primary punt and kickoff returner. His 37 receptions this season ranks second on the team, just behind Marquise Irvin’s 39. Of the team’s 24 kickoff returns, Curtis is responsible for 15, gaining an average of 24.3 yards per return. He is even better at returning punts, ranking fourth in the FCS with 16.5 yards per return. He has taken five returns to the house in his four years at Mercer, including four as a freshman in 2014, when he became Mercer’s first All-American. He has been in or near the Southern Conference lead in all-purpose yards all season, and was the conference’s special teams player of the week last week, with 174 yards on seven returns. It remains to be seen, however, if he can bust a return loose or take the top off the defense against the No. 1 team in the country.

LB Lee Bennett

Having made the second-most tackles on the team in each of the last two years (67 in 2015 and 63 in 2016), Bennett was certainly no bench-warmer. It might look that way, though, compared to his 102 tackles through 10 games this year. That total leads the team by a large margin -- the next most by a Bears defender is 80 -- and ranks 13th in the FCS… but wait. There’s more. Nearly two-thirds of that production has come in the last five games, in which Bennett has exceeded 15 tackles three times and made an eye-popping 64 total tackles. For context, that mark of 12.8 tackles per game would rank third in both the FCS and the superior FBS. He earned Southern Conference defensive player of the week honors last week for his performance against Western Carolina: 16 tackles, a fumble recovery, and his fourth career interception. And before someone says it was all against inferior opponents -- Bennett made nine tackles and a sack against Auburn, which boasts an offensive line arguably on equal footing with Alabama’s.

DL Isaiah Buehler

Buehler, a redshirt junior defensive end, was named to the All-Southern Conference Second Team in the preseason. He leads Mercer in sacks (5.5) and total tackles for loss (7.5), all of which have come in the last eight games. He also has a forced fumble, a pass breakup, and six additional quarterback hits this year. The Bears’ defensive coaching staff moves him around the defensive line, but he sees his most snaps at right defensive end, matched up against left tackles and left guards. That means he’ll likely see a lot of Alabama senior J.C. Hassenauer, who has played in 22 games in his career but will be making his first start on Saturday. Teammates complimented Hassenauer’s performance in relief of Ross Pierschbacher after last week’s win over Mississippi State, saying there was “no drop off’, but the Alabama offensive line has still been shaky of late, giving up nine sacks in its last two games.

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