A half century or so ago a new musical opened. “Stop The World – I Want To Get Off” had as a plotline things going badly, but each Fall about this time a college football fan may think things are going quickly, badly or not.
September games are over. The football season is one-third finished. In a couple of weeks, it will be half over. Stop!
But, of course, time does not stand still, and, in truth, one hardly can wait for the next Saturday of autumn.
The next Saturday for Alabama is the game that has been considered the most pivotal in Southeastern Conference play since back in the summer when pundits began seeing Auburn as the SEC favorite and a national championship contender.
This is a time both to look back, and to look forward.
Looking back, the Crimson Tide has not done as well as its supporters would have expected, much less have hoped. Bama is 3-1. Not only did Alabama have a loss; the Tide had an SEC loss; and a loss in Bryant-Denny Stadium. All of that stings for a fan base with expectations of a national championship. Every year.
Bama had a six-point loss at the hands of an Ole Miss team that is one of four SEC teams having reached the one-third mark of the season with a 2-0 league record. Alabama, on the other hand, does not yet have a conference victory, a plight it shares with six others, half the conference in total.
After its 34-0 win over Louisiana-Monroe Saturday, Alabama is 3-1. In judging that record, there are doubts about the future. Four games into the season it seems the coaching staff has finally satisfied itself that Jacob Coker is the quarterback, but questions must remain about the position. It was hardly encouraging when Coker threw an interception close to no Bama receiver against Monroe, and even more disheartening when the Warhawks defensive back said making the interception “was kind of hard, because it was a duck.”
No one expected a Tide receiver to fill the shoes of Amari Cooper, but there was no reason to expect so many dropped passes, either. That group, now without Robert Foster who looked to be emerging as a leader, has a solid receiver in Richard Mullaney and may have a star rising in freshman Calvin Ridley. Tight ends are doing just fine, particularly O.J. Howard.
Put the Derrick Henry-led running game down as a plus. If anything, perhaps it should be utilized even more.
When Alabama looked at this week’s Georgia game last summer, the thought had to be that Bama is built to stop the run, which means stop Bulldogs tailback Nick Chubb. Things have changed. Now we’ve seen transfer Grayson Lambert, a junior quarterback who has been extremely effective.
Alabama showed signs against ULM of being willing to use some of its edge rushers – Da’Shawn Hand, Rashaad Evans, Tim Williams – to affect the quarterbacks. The very fine defensive line, along with Reggie Ragland at middle linebacker, will have to take care of the running game, and it should be able to do that.
Again this year, it is the secondary where there is concern. Cyrus Jones is the lone returning starter at the same position, and he’s doing well. Otherwise, it is young players who have been most notable. Freshmen Minkah Fitzpatrick starting at star (or nickel), Ronnie Harrison back-up at safety, and redshirt freshman Marlon Humphrey starting at cornerback show great promise.
There also are inconsistencies in the kicking game. Placekicker Adam Griffith had a good day Saturday, but Bama will want to see that kind of kicking when the chips are on the table. JK Scott seemed to move back a little towards his best-in-the-nation performance of 2014 last week, but not on Saturday.
It is, however, only the quarter mark of the eight-game SEC schedule, and opportunities area ahead. Alas, so are pitfalls.
Presumably, Saban and his staff are spending all available time addressing these issues and many more as they prepare for the final two months of the season. Alabama obviously needs to improve. What coach is better suited to having his team make that improvement?