Mercer head coach Bobby Lamb has led teams onto the field in his fair share of stadiums during his 30-plus years of coaching football.
He and the Mercer Bears will most certainly mark an item off their bucket list Saturday when the Bears take on top-ranked Alabama.
“I told the team that we’re playing the number one team in the nation. I’ve coached 31 years in a lot of FBS stadiums, and this is the first time I’ll have ever coached against the number one team in the nation," Lamb said. “The most storied program in the history of college football. It will be a great experience for our kids to go (to Bryant-Denny Stadium) and see what it is about. The good news for us is we’ve already taken one step and played Auburn in a similar situation.”
Mercer not only played Auburn earlier this year, but actually found itself with a chance to win the game as it went into the fourth quarter. Mercer lost the game 24-10 to a Tigers team that is now coming off a 40-17 trouncing of then top-ranked Georgia.
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The experience of playing a highly acclaimed team in a massive, frenzied stadium is something Lamb and the Bears say could prevent a patented ‘deer in the headlights look’ that strikes some smaller schools playing against teams from Power 5 conferences.
“Auburn was our first SEC opponent and as a small program, we were wondering what we can do. ‘How will we play against these guys?’ Going to this week, we know we played well against a SEC team in Auburn,” Mercer running back Tee Mitchell said. “We played in a big SEC stadium. I think the guys should have more confidence this week. It is the same game plan … stay within the chains and see our defense play lights out.”
Mercer will have momentum in its pocket going to Tuscaloosa coming off Saturday's dismantling of Western Carolina, 35-33. The win put a severe dent in Western Carolina's FCS playoff hopes on a day in which Mitchell and Alex Lakes torched the Catamounts defense by rushing for a combined 207 yards.
“We’re very pleased. We played Samford for homecoming and our defense played really well, but offensively we were sub-par at best. For us to rebound as a team and put together the kind of performance we had under the pressure we were in (was encouraging)," Lamb said. "(Western Carolina) had a lot to play for. We were stumbling along there and didn’t do a very good job the week before. To win that game on the road at Western Carolina — they had a big crowd there and were ready for the playoffs — is good to see. To do it with all three phases of the game was big for us.”
Saturday, however, a much, much bigger opportunity awaits for Mercer.
“It’s like any other week. At the end of the day we’re trying to create a game plan for the University of Alabama. But, it’s no different than if we were playing Western Carolina,” Lamb said. “Schemes may change a little bit. What you can do against Western Carolina, you probably can’t do against Alabama because of size and speed, but you have to find a way. We have to be creative on coming up with schemes on offense and defense to try to compete with the number one team in the country.”