2023 Preseason Opponent Preview: North Alabama

Florida State’s final home game of the season comes against the North Alabama Lions. This game is similar to Duquesne last year, where FSU could honestly name their score. The difference is Duquesne was a tune-up game in week 0, whereas North Alabama is at the end of the season and sandwiched between two rival games. The reason I say that is if I were the head coach, and I’m not, the starters wouldn’t even dress for this game unless you wanted to give those leaving a few snaps during their final game in Doak. FSU will likely treat this as a glorified bye week to rest the starters before the Florida game and get the backups game reps.

I know we’ve become jaded against overlooking teams since Jacksonville State, but FSU is past those days, and this isn’t JSU. North Alabama went 1-10 last season and is currently on a 9-game losing streak. Their lone win was against a Division 2 school. Memphis (7-6) was the only G5 or better team the Lions played last season, and North Alabama lost 59-0.

However, the Lions will be under the direction of a new head coach this year, the former OC from Florida Atlantic, and they brought in 40 new players on an 85-man roster, so there will be a lot of new faces. They have added a few transfers from the G5 and P5 levels to help elevate the talent level. UNA does have ten guys with either a G5 or P5 former school listed in their bio, but I’m not sure if they were just walk-ons or actually played.

I suspect they will be better than 1-10 like last year, with the new staff and roster additions, but it’s year one of a rebuild, and they will be severely overmatched in this one.

On offense, UNA returns their starting QB, Noah Walters, who went 151/287 (52.6%) for 2,149 YDS with 19 TDs and 12 INTs as a freshman last year. He will be more experienced in year two and have some competition as their new HC brought dual-threat transfer, TJ Smith, with him from FAU. Smith was not listed as playing any snaps at FAU.

They bring back their top two WR targets, Takairee Kenebrew and Demarcus Lacey. Kenebrew was productive for the Lions with 637 yards, a whopping 22 YPC, and 8 touchdowns. However, he only had a catch rate of 47.5%. In fact, the receiver group dropped 25 passes (14.2%) in total. Lacey was their #2 receiver with 385  yards and 7 touchdowns. He also put up over 200 yards on the ground. UNA did lose their leading TE (339 yards / 2 TDs) and third-leading WR (166 yards).

Up front, they return three offensive linemen with starting experience, two of which were all-conference, but lost their starting center, left guard, and tackle. UNA averaged over 200 rushing yards per game behind a solid offensive line.

However, one of the main reasons for that success on the ground will be a devastating loss for UNA in 2023. Their top offensive player ShunDerrick Powell (RB1) was an absolute monster for UNA last year but entered the portal. He racked up 1,508 yards (6.8 YPC) on the ground with 18 rushing touchdowns and added another 242 yards receiving. Powell was the 2022 ASUN Offensive POY, a 2022 Walter Payton Award Finalist, and FCS All-American.

Last season, UNA scored an average of 28.55 PPG on offense. When you average out Powell’s 18 Tds over 11 games, that equates to 9.8 PPG, 34.3% of their season average. With Powell now gone, their next most productive back from a year ago only had 71 yds and 0 Tds. Their quarterback was actually the second-leading rusher with 335 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Anytime you have a freshman quarterback there will be some growing pains. They should be better off this year with either a more experienced player or a dual-threat guy if Smith wins the job. Their top two receivers were productive, given the struggles at quarterback, so they should also benefit from improvement at the position. However, Powell leaves a big void, especially after losing three primary starters up front.

The FSU defense should have a successful day and maybe even get their first shutout since 2015 unless they give up a garbage time score given the high likelihood that FSU gets deep into the depth chart.

On defense, UNA gave up an average of 41.55 PPG and 484 YPG last season. They allowed over 40 points in 7 games and over 50 in 3, so there’s a lot of room for improvement.

On the defensive line, they return 9-game starter Kam’Ron Green who is a former UCF transfer. Phillip Ossai is a fifth-year senior who also returns after starting 9 games and playing in 11 last year. They also have two rotational players returning who played 497 combined snaps at defensive end.

However, it is not the same story on the interior as they lose both starters and a few rotational players from a year ago leaving them with no player on the roster from 2022 that played over 20 snaps.

At linebacker, they get three players back with starting experience who are all upperclassmen. However, they all graded out well below average per PFF. They added an all-conference player from the FCS level as well.

UNA lost both starting safeties from last season, who were #1 & and #2 in tackles, and 3 cornerbacks that had a combined 24 starts. At Safety, they were able to add a former Kansas player (played 18 snaps in 2022) from the portal and another all-conference player from the FCS level.

With the defensive performance from last season, it appears to only be up from there for UNA. They lost some key pieces but do return some experience and added some help from the portal. Unfortunately, for UNA, the FSU offense should be tough to handle for even the best defenses at the Power 5 level, so it’ll be a long day for the Lions’ defense even if the starters don’t see a lot of action.

2023 UNA Football Schedule

There’s no question North Alabama will be vastly outmatched in this game, even if FSU didn’t play a single starter. The goal for this game is to get the win, avoid injury, get the backups some reps, and work in extra preparation for Florida throughout the week. FSU will probably get deep into their depth chart, and there’s a good chance this game will go to a running clock in the second half if it gets out of hand early, so it may not be as bad as it could be.

If I were going to put this game anywhere on the schedule, it would be here so that it can be used essentially as a bye week. FSU wins this one by as much as they want to and moves on to the rivalry game against Florida the following week. Thanks for reading. Go Noles!

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