Ahead of today’s matchup with No. 19 Monmouth at 11 a.m. at Kessler Stadium, the attention for North Alabama will be on the quarterback, both its own and Monmouth’s.
While the Lions continue to iron out the situation under center, with both Blake Dever and Christian Lopez expected to play, they’ll match up with a talented and experienced signal caller in Monmouth’s Kenji Bahar.
After Lopez led the Lions on a game-winning drive in the 25-24 win over Campbell, coach Chris Willis indicated on Tuesday after practice that Lopez likely had done enough to win the starting job back.
But Dever, Willis said, didn’t do anything wrong to lose it. The offensive struggles this season haven’t always been on the quarterback.
“It is a combination,” Willis said. “We’re still not able to run the ball, protection breakdowns. It’s not always the quarterback’s fault. There’s other parts to that.”
Willis noted each quarterback brings a different element to the game. He described Dever as having a strong arm and the ability to get the ball out quickly and not turn it over. Lopez, on the other hand, is mobile and can escape pressure, but is prone to throwing interceptions.
If it were halfway in the season, Willis said both quarterbacks wouldn’t play in the game. But with two games left, the Lions are putting together a game plan to utilize both skill sets.
“I think both bring something to the table,” Willis said. “It’ll be one of those games, well, here we go, let’s start the game, let’s get the field up and see how we go.”
On the other side of the ball, the Lions have a task in defending one of the top quarterbacks in the FCS this season. Bahar has thrown for 2,374 yards, 17 touchdowns and six interceptions and also rushed for three touchdowns.
He’s grabbed the attention of many in the Big South, but this week he's the focus of the Lions defense, which has faced talented quarterbacks this season, like Hampton’s Deondre Francois, Montana’s Dalton Sneed and Kennesaw State’s Daniel David.
“He’s probably one of the best we’ve played,” UNA defensive back D'Andre Hart said. “(But) we’ve been here before. It’s nothing new. We've just got to play our game and do what we’ve got to do, take care of what we can take care of.”
Quarterbacks aside, Willis understands the challenge of facing Monmouth, which he thinks is the second-best team UNA will play this season, putting the Hawks just a notch below No. 6 Montana.
“This is a dangerous football team,” Willis said. “We’re going to (have to) go in there and give our best effort.”