Football returns to Bryant-Denny for home opener

Ashlee Woods | @ashleemwoods, Sports Editor

After a successful season opener in Atlanta, No. 1 Alabama will face the Mercer Bears for the first time since 2017. 

Don’t Look Ahead

The last time these teams met in 2017, the Crimson Tide routed the Bears, 56-0, on its way to the team’s 17th national title. Their first-ever matchup was in 1939. The Crimson Tide also won that game, though by a much smaller margin of 20-0. 

Alabama leads the rivalry 3-0, but the Bears are no slouches. It may be easy for fans to overlook this game and focus on next week’s rematch of the 2020 SEC Championship against Florida. This, however, is not the same Mercer team that played in Tuscaloosa four years ago. 

For one, the Bears had 19 starters return this season. Among those is sophomore quarterback Carter Peevy. During the split 2020 season, Peevy threw for 1,338 yards, coming in second in the Southern Conference.

Peevy also finished third overall in the SoCon in passing efficiency (133.0), completion percentage (54.3) and touchdowns (8). He was named the SoCon Freshman of the Year. With a defense as talented as Alabama’s, it’s important to note the veteran presence the Bears have under center. 

Mercer is not afraid of ranked teams. Last season, the Bears earned two victories over ranked Football Champion Subdivision opponents, defeating No. 17 Furman and No. 20 East Tennessee State.

It’s different facing the No. 1 team in the country, but it’s great for a team to have victories against ranked opponents under its belt before coming to Tuscaloosa. 

Head coach Nick Saban is focused on the challenges Mercer presents. 

“These guys have good players relative to their level,” Saban said on Monday. “I think the focus, for us, needs to be on what we do and how we do it …  regardless of the circumstance and the situation in the game, so that’s what we’re gonna stay focused on.” 

A Welcome Back Party

Throughout week one of the college football season, fans packed into stadiums across the country. Saturday will be Alabama’s turn to pack out the home field. 

For the first time since 2019, Bryant-Denny Stadium will be filled with Alabama fans. UA Athletics limited capacity at home games last season to 20%, allowing 20,000 fans, and tailgating was not allowed. 

On Tuesday, UA Athletics released health guidelines for Saturday’s matchup. The Athletics Department encourages people who plan to attend any home game to stay home if they have tested positive for COVID-19, are displaying symptoms or have been in close contact with a person who has tested positive. Masks will be required in all elevator and indoor club areas at the stadium, per the UA mask mandate

The University is not requiring proof of vaccination or a negative test for entry to the game. Some practices that started last season — like mobile ticketing — will continue this season. 

For some UA students, this will be their first traditional game day experience. 

“We definitely noticed the crowd from walking in the stadium to being in the game,” wide receiver John Metchie III said during his press conference on Monday. “It was fun. It was exciting to have fans back and the stadiums packed again, so I think that’s something that everyone at the game kinda took in and it was a fun atmosphere.”