Did Tide Improve In Second Game?

So a team makes its greatest improvement from Game 1 to Game 2, does it? Voters in the Associated Press poll must think so, because Alabama moved back into second place after dropping to third last week. But did Bama make great improvement?



First of all, Alabama played Penn State in the second week and Kent State in the first week. It is fashionable in both print and broadcast journalism these days to downplay the strength of Penn State as legendary coach Joe Paterno plays out his string, but never doubt that the Nittany Lions have players with ability.

Following Alabama's 27-11 victory over Penn State, the Crimson Tide moved back into second place in the AP poll and stayed number two in the Coaches' Poll. Oklahoma, which didn't have the opportunity to show improvement in the second week since the Sooners had an open date, remains number one. LSU, second a week ago in the AP poll, is back to third in both rankings.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban doesn't ever expect to have such a perfect game by his team that there won't be areas to work on. It is desirable to be making those corrections after a win.

Alabama moved to 2-0 last week and showed some improvement, but not improvement across the board.

If there is one perplexing element of Alabama football it probably is the offensive line. Four starters returned from last year, two of them three-year starters and All-America candidates. They also benefit from the return of tight end Michael Williams, frequently an additional blocker. And yet there continue to be poor offensive plays owing to defensive penetration of the offensive front.

Bama didn't give up any sacks to Penn State, but the Lions made several hits on Tide running backs and batted down a handful of passes.

Speaking of passes, it is a fair assessment that Alabama made a giant step forward at the most important position on the field. While most would have said A.J. McCarron had a good game against Penn State when he was sharing time with Phillip Sims, it was a bit of a surprise that Saban tapped McCarron to go the distance (save a few mop-up plays at the end) against Penn State.

McCarron didn't disappoint. He showed the poise of a Greg McElroy in his first road start, playing before a mere 107,846. McCarron had good numbers (19-31, 163 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions) and seemed to make good decisions.

Trent Richardson didn't play enough against Kent State to get into a rhythm. Against Penn State he had a career high 26 carries and picked up 111 yards, quite a bit of it in Richardson fashion, dragging tacklers. He scored two touchdowns. Eddie Lacy had another good day as Richardson's tailback partner with 11 runs for 85 yards.

The receiving corps was fine, particularly considering Darius Hanks had to complete his NCAA-mandated two-game absence. The Duron Carter situation remains mysterious. And what happened to DeAndrew White, a starter in the first game, hardly in the game against the Lions? But Marquis Maze had another good day.

McCarron did a good job of spreading the ball around. His eight receivers included four wide receivers, two tailbacks, a tight end, and an H-back.

The defense had a very good day, but it would have looked a lot better without that final Penn State drive for a touchdown and two-point conversion in the final two minutes of the game. Bama was just inches away from a handful of interceptions (Mark Barron did get one).

One area where it can fairly be said that Alabama improved is in causing fumbles. Much was made of the Tide being 118th of 120 major college teams in causing fumbles in 2010. It has been a point of emphasis. There were no caused fumbles against Kent State. Against Penn State, Dre Kirkpatrick forced two key fumbles, both of which led to Alabama touchdowns.

There were big plays by defensive linemen and linebackers, but mostly it was steady play by the defense that made the difference. On a day when a Southeastern Conference team gave up 31 first downs, 34 points, 97 plays, and 531 yards, Bama was holding Penn State to 251 total yards, only 3.6 yards per play. Half those yards came on two Lions' drives, the one to open the game leading to a field goal, and the late one to score a touchdown.

Maze continues to star as a punt return man. His 44-yard return was a key moment in Saturday's win. Placekicking has been satisfactory, though there hasn't been a pressure field goal or extra point try yet. Most would prefer Cade Foster kick the ball into the end zone occasionally on kickoffs, but Bama coverage has been excellent. Same with punting. Cody Mandell averaged 37.2 yards per punt, but was helped out by one that hit the ground and had a long roll.

In all probability it will be awhile before Alabama improvement can be gauged. The Tide is not expected to have much difficulty with North Texas, which visits Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday. Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. CDT with television coverage by Fox Sports. A week after that Bama begins SEC play hosting Arkansas.

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