No Secret, Tide Has To Be Better

Half the teams in college football who opened the season this weekend would like to be saying, "We didn't play too well, but at least we won." Those teams that wish they could say that are all 0-1. On the other hand, half the teams are 1-0 and some teams (Clemson, Washington) may be happy with the way they played the first game.

Alabama is in a different camp -- one that is full of teams that won, but have plenty to work on.

The difference between Alabama and many of those 1-0 teams that won but played poorly is that there is no reason the Crimson Tide can't show marked improvement. Bama's 35-10 win over Virginia Tech is what all have heard by now is the perfect game for Coach Nick Saban and his staff to make that legendary improvement between game one and game two. That is more possible to be dramatic (and lasting) in Tuscaloosa than other places because Bama has the players and the coaches to get it done.

Additionally, Alabama has an extra week to get players healed (despite what he said about his ingrown toenail not being a problem, something had Tide quarterback A.J. McCarron off his game) and to prepare for what has been chronicled as the college football game of the year.

On September 14, Bama will be in College Station to take on Texas A&M and quarterback Johnny Manziel in a game that will be nationally televised by CBS with kickoff at 2:30 p.m. CDT. The Aggies are one of those teams that won Saturday, but in giving up 509 yards and 31 points to Rice, A&M sees a need to improve. Of course, with up to eight players returning from various suspensions in time to play against Alabama, the Aggies should be better. A&M plays its second warm-up game of the year this week, hosting Sam Houston State.

Football has two open dates this season and Alabama's first comes this week (the second the week before playing LSU in what is considered the other key Southeastern Conference game this year).

Here's the fact, Jack. When the polls come out this week, Alabama is still going to be number one. But here's the bottom line. As everyone who has ever heard or uttered the cliché, the only poll that matters is the last one, and if Bama is going to be in position for a third consecutive national championship, the Crimson Tide is going to have to be better.

Nevertheless, as McCarron said following Saturday's game, "We weathered the storm."

With the exception of a play (a 77-yard touchdown run by Virginia Tech's Trey Edmunds in which he didn't appear to be touched by anyone in Crimson), Alabama's defense was very good against the Hokies. Alabama special teams were solid in almost every area, and the returns of Christion Jones (4 punts returns for 100 yards and a 72-yard touchdown, 2 kickoff returns, 109 yards and a 94-yard touchdown) were spectacular.

The final result, though, doesn't come close to telling the story of Alabama's lack of offensive efficiency. Bama had 11 first downs, only 96 yards rushing (2.5 yards per rush), only 10-24 passing for a mere 110 yards with an interception.

Of Alabama's 12 possessions, half ended on three-and-out. (There were three other possessions by special teams and defense that were touchdowns.)

McCarron said, "It's the first game. It's not always going to be perfect. They threw some different things at us that they hadn't showed on film."

It's only fair to give Virginia Tech's defense some credit. It was a very aggressive unit working against a rebuilt offensive line. But Alabama should not suffer four sacks and 12 tackles for loss. The obvious reason is that three 2012 starting offensive linemen and a blocking tight end are now in the National Football League. Their replacements have been given high marks in practice, but obviously struggled. Though we don't know the reason for sure, Kellen Williams replaced Arie Kouandjio at left guard in the second half. And not to point fingers, but Cyrus Kouandjio needs to keep his fingers clinched. He had two holding calls.

A few good plays by the Hokies provides attention-grabbers for defensive coaches. But Vinnie Sunseri's interception and touchdown return was a thing of beauty, and Bama holding Tech quarterback Logan Thomas to only 5-26 passing for 59 yards and five rushes for only two yards was excellent.

We'll have to wait a couple of weeks to see the Tide in action again. But there will be plenty of action on the Crimson Tide practice fields to get ready for Texas A&M.

Meanwhile, as McCarron said, "This was a good measuring stick."

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