Is Tide Close To Being Among Elite?

It is something of a measure of where Nick Saban has taken Alabama in his first 100 games as head coach of the Crimson Tide that Alabama fans are in consertnation over the state of the nation’s seventh ranked team halfway through the season.

Alabama’s defense held an Arkansas team to 89 yards rushing. The Razorbacks came into Saturday’s game averaging 316.6 yards per game.

So much for the good news.

Actually, there were other favorable aspects of the Crimson Tide’s 14-13 win over Arkansas in Fayetteville. Alabama defensive lineman Jonathan Allen blocked an extra point. That was important in a 14-13 game. Just as Adam Griffith made two point after touchdown kicks mattered.

Bama safety Landon Collins caught a pass thrown by the opposing quarterback. A'Shawn Robinson caused a fumble and Ryan Anderson recovered it. J.K. Scott had a very fine day punting.

Blake Sims made almost one of his five pass completions good for touchdowns.

Okay, some things take a little spin. Sims was only 11-21 for 161 yards, but was sackd tice and running for his life a couple of other times on called passes. But the part about the two touchdown passes, both coming as he broke out of the pocket, is true.

It was reasonable to wonder how early Sunday Saban convened his coaches. Or if they waited until Sunday. There was a memory of a time before limits on hours players could practice and them having to have an of-day when the coaches might not be the only ones getting together early Sunday morning after a lackluster performance.

Saban, though, has a process, which is a good thing. As he does just about every Sunday, Saban made it to Mass.

Let us not veer here into the sacreligious as to what he might have prayed for, such as players who can catch a punt. (Forgive me.)

When Alabama lined up on defense against West Virginia in the seasopn-opening game, you may be reminded, there was only one man who had also been on Bama’s starting defensive 11 when Alabama opened the 2013 season against Virginia Tech. That was Jarrick Williams, who plays Star (nickel back) in the Tide’s system.

On offense Alabama had a new quarterback, and not the one everyone expected to win the job. There was also a new left tackle, a freshman no less, and a new right guard.

On special teams, there was a new punter in Scott and a new placekicker in Griffith.

Since the start of the season, Alabama has suffered some losses, including outside linebacker Denzel Devall and center Ryan Kelly. Devall’s place was filled nicely by Ryan Anderson Saturday, and there were no obvious defects in the play of redshirt freshman center Bradley Bozeman.

An analyses of why Alabama seems so lacking would include those things Saban has been harping on: fumbles and penalties. There were four fumbles by Bama Saturday, all on special teams. Christion Jones, the Southeastern Conference Special Teams Player of the Year last season, has looked like Edward Scissorhands the past two weeks. Cyrus Jones came in to replace Christion and also fumbled. Maurice Smith just didn’t get out of the way and Landon Collins had a fumble on a kickoff return.

The penalties weren’t so critical against Arkansas, but could have been and have been in other games.

As Saban said following the game, he doesn’t know what to do about these mental errors. One might think a team meeting rant might get the job done, but one might also think that has been tried already.

Although the suggestion, perhaps, should not be above a whisper, would it have been outrageous to have given back-up quarterback Jacob Coker an opportunity at some point against Arkansas? Alabama, it can be seen in hindsight, had several series that were wasted anyway. Of course, no one knows how Coker is doing in practice and has to trust the judgment of Saban and his coaching staff to not play the back-up.

There seems to be a willingness this year (again) to shuffle different men into the cornerback positions, play more than one tailback, etc. But quarterback?

Is there any reason to believe that Alabama is going to improve in the last half of the season? Bama is 5-1 overall and 2-1 in Southeastern Conference play and ranks seventh in the nation, but has shown few signs of being able to ease back to the top four and being part of the national championship playoff picture. Alabama under Saban, though, has had its mid-season dips in the past and then grown into a champion in the final weeks.

It wouldn’t hurt to pray, but in all probability Alabama football improvement will come because of what is done on the practice field.

This would be a good week to show improvement. Alabama will be going against one of the fast play teams that has given the Tide trouble. The Tide will host Texas A&M at 2:30 p.m. CDT Saturday with CBS televising the game.

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