With apologies to famed sportswriter Grantland Rice, the only thing that matters on fall Saturdays is whether you won or lost. There are many teams that lost that can’t imagine how it happened, and others – including Alabama – that won, but wonder why they didn’t play better. See. Better to have won.
The Crimson Tide was never threatened in its 37-10 victory over Middle Tennessee Saturday. The statistics were solidly in Bama’s favor and even though it was far from classic beauty, there were times Coach Nick Saban’s team looked the part.
For instance, Bama has explosive players. Certainly the alternating tailbacks, Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake, pose nightmares for opposing defenses. Rob Foster is beginning to look like the go-to guy as a wide receiver, and tight end/H-back O.J. Howard is approaching the high expectations.
For the most part, the rebuilt offensive line is getting the job done. Without calling more than one name, right tackle Dominick Jackson needs to step it up.
But as is almost always the case when assessing the offense, the judgment of the quarterbacks is the alpha.
A team does not have to have a quarterback who has first round NFL pick written all over him. The Crimson Tide has won national championships almost in spite of quarterback play rather than because of it.
Here’s what Alabama knows: neither Jacob Coker, who has started the first two games, or Cooper Bateman, who has seen significant playing time in those games, has clearly won the job. Fickle fans unable to call for the second team quarterback they have never seen, may start the chant for Alec Morris.
At least Bama knows what it has. It would be worse to have awarded the job to the wrong guy last spring and not yet realizing you have a quarterback who has trouble reading defenses, isn’t a very accurate passer, and can’t really run the offense you want.
Lane Kiffin, Alabama’s offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach, has proved in the past he can configure the offense and the quarterback to a successful model.
One might suggest that the defense took a little too long to adjust to the MTSU offense, but the big thing was takeaways. Alabama had four of them, causing and collecting three fumbles and making an interception. Getting turnovers has been a key goal for Saban.
There were no preseason worries about the defensive line or linebacker corps, and no reason to be worried after two games. The good news is that a rebuilt secondary – and rebuilt after a less than great 2014 – seems to be coming along quite well. Newcomers at safety, both converted cornerbacks in Geno Matias-Smith and Eddie Jackson, have shown up well. The cornerback spot opposite proven starter Cyrus Jones (who had the interception against MTSU) looks to be in good hands with redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey. Humphrey caused a fumble on the Blue Raiders’ first offensive play of the game. And true freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick, who got his first start at Star (nickel), looks like a future – and not distant future – well, Star.
The defense needs to be at its best this week. Ole Miss has scored 149 points in two games, just under 75 points per game. The Rebels are being anointed by some as this year’s Southeastern Conference Cinderella based on big wins over Tennessee-Martin and Fresno State. That may be premature, but Mississippi will have Bama’s full attention.
If there is an area of Alabama football that has Crimson Tide fans bewildered it is the kicking game, specifically the kickers. It is a cliché that placekickers can be a bit daffy, but one can only wonder what is going on in Adam Griffith’s head. He has been woeful, including missing a 24-yard chip shot that was supposed to boost his confidence at the end of the second quarter. Punter JK Scott looked much better in game two than he had in the Tide’s season-opening win over Wisconsin, but he’s still not in the freshman form that earned him All-America.