Tide Has Win, But Far From Perfect
Alabama had mistakes in its romp over the Kent State Golden Flashes, but the Crimson Tide of Coach Nick Saban also showed the skill and muscle and depth and so many other things that will be necessary if Bama is going to continue to be considered among the nation's best teams.
The final outcome Saturday was about as expected. A reasonable pre-game expectation was that Alabama would be able to score about twice a quarter. If all had been touchdowns and extra point kicks, that would have been 56 points. Instead, the Tide twice settled for field goals (and also missed one other very long field goal attempt at the end of the first half). It was also reasonable to expect Kent State to take advantage of some Alabama mistake to score at least once.
As it turned out, the mistake was on the offense, Phillip Sims sailing a third quarter pass into the hands of a Kent State defender to give the Golden Flashes their first possession in Tide territory and an easy touchdown that cost the defense a shutout.
On a bottom line basis, Alabama got the most important thing it needed Saturday, which was to win the football game. It was, of course, never in doubt.
Moving forward, Alabama will want to solidify the things that were good and fix the things that were not.
In addition to the win, the very good things about Saturday's opener at Bryant-Denny Stadium included:
Alabama got to play a lot of men, including no fewer than half a dozen true freshmen. There will be more to play later, including senior wide receiver Darius Hanks (who has one more game to sit out in the NCAA trade that gave him a year back in exchange for having played in one game in 2007). Another wide receiver who could see duty soon is Duron Carter, who was dressed on the sidelines Saturday. Carter was a late arrival to fall camp.
There appeared to be no serious injuries on the Bama side.
It was the Vanilla Tide Saturday. Alabama showed almost nothing to Penn State and other upcoming opponents. O defense, there were a couple of blitzes, but nothing Bama hasn't used in the past. On offense, Blake Sims went into the game late, but only as a tailback, not in a wildcat package.
Much attention in the pre-season was on the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims. Alabama Coach Nick Saban withheld statistics from the public in fall scrimmages because he didn't want fans "choosing up" on the side of one quarterback or the other. Neither McCarron nor Sims sent the Heisman Trophy committee into a frenzy Saturday, but most realistic fans would say that McCarron took the lead.
McCarron seemed to make more good plays (his 24-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Maze on a post pattern was super fine) and fewer bad plays. Both quarterbacks gave up two interceptions, and both seemed to be responsible for one of them.
There won't be a tailback controversy. Bama knows what Trent Richardson can do. He wasn't great Saturday, but did score three touchdowns and showed the same tough running he had the previous two seasons. What the Tide revealed is that even with defections and injuries to the tailback corps over the summer, that position appears to be in good hands with Eddie Lacy and Jalston Fowler performing well with limited opportunities.
Who would have suspected that against Kent State Alabama would have 37 passing plays compared to 35 running plays?
Alabama's kick coverage unit got a lift from a couple of true freshmen. Linebacker Trey DePriest and safety Vinnie Sunseri were contact players on kick coverage. And there were a lot of kickoffs for Bama to get practice on. On those nine kickoffs, Bama allowed less than 20 yards per return.
(Note to special teams coach: Penn State returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in its 41-7 win over Indiana State Saturday.)
The kickers and return men were good, too. Although Cade Foster missed a 53-yard field goal try, otherwise placekicking was perfect; Cody Mandell averaged 42.3 yards per punt and with coverage over 40 yards net. Maze, particularly, was good on kick returns, 8 punt runbacks for 96 yards, a kickoff return for 39.
A coach has to love a game in which the team has all the good that Alabama had in its opener and still has things that can be pointed to as in need of serious work. That keeps the edge on.
Is it being picky to say the offensive line seemed to have some issues? After all, Bama tailbacks had 31 carries for 180 yards (over 5.8 yards per carry) and five touchdowns. Sims was forced to run a few times and was sacked twice, and McCarron was unable to sneak in from the one. There were also a couple of quarterback carries.
Ball security is an issue. Alabama turned it over five times against Kent State. Four passes were intercepted and freshman punt return man DeAndrew White had the ball knocked loose for a lost fumble. But it's on the other side there seemed to be a deficiency.
Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith threw the ball 47 times. He was under pressure much of the time, as evidenced by four sacks. And yet the Tide managed only one interception.
Worse than that, though, was fumbles caused by the Tide defense. Last year Alabama was 118 of 120 major college schools in fumbles caused. It has been a point of Saban emphasis since the end of last season that Bama force more fumbles.
Against Kent State: Zero fumbles caused.
Repairs begin with film study Sunday and practice Monday as the Crimson Tide prepares for a nationally televised (ABC, 2:30 CDT) game at Penn State on Saturday.
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