A Good Test

This is the starting point. From an evaluation standpoint, Alabama's 26-7 victory over Middle Tennessee Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium was about as good as anyone can ask for.

We had a chance to see all the good points of Alabama's offense - two third-quarter touchdowns that showed the beauty of Mike Shula's high-tech attack. Runs broken for big gains and precision passing that provides the balance championships are made of.

Even on a bad play and a bad decision, Brodie Croyle's interception at the end of the quarter, we could see the ball traveling 68 yards through the air before it was intercepted.

We saw an offensive line that protected the quarterback well all night. Croyle's only hits came when he tried to run for a first down and then on the touchdown pass to Prothro.

We saw Keith Brown, more popularly thought of as a home-run hitter, catch five passes for 84 yards and turn in the most consistent receiving performance of the night.

We saw Glen Coffee and Jimmy Johns and John Parker Wilson, getting experience late in the game and looking confident.

On defense, there were more good things than time to list them. The pressure provide by the front four down linemen was enough to get to quick-passing quarterback Clint Marks four times (Terrence Jones, a linebacker, also had a sack.) being the chief among them.

The secondary was solid. The linebacking corps adjusted quickly when it lost starting linebacker Freddie Roach on the punt before the first defensive field appearance.

And the defense played a lot of people: Matt Collins, J.P. Adams, Dominic Lee, Chris Harris, Keith Saunders, Bobby Greenwood, Terrence Jones and Jeffrey Dukes all had solid back-up contributions at fairly early stages in the game.

The subpar stretches on offense were obvious. The offense sputtered in the first half especially in the rushing department with just 35 yards on the ground at the half and 100 through the air.

The 98 second-half yards was only a slight improvement, but is mitigated by the fact that the second offense was in the game for most of the fourth quarter. And Croyle completed two thirds of his passes for 210 yards in the game with one interception and one touchdown, respectable but certainly not flashy. Kenneth Darby's 17 rush attempts for 90 yards were the same.

The bad stretches for the defense weren't as noticeable.

Anderson's safety highlighted what defensive coordinator Joe Kines described as a somewhat mediocre first half at best. But in that mediocre first half Alabama gave up 135 yards of offense to the Blue Raiders in the first half before tightening the screws to allow just 22 second-half offensive yards.

"This game wasn't about numbers, this game was about building," Kines said. "The first half I don't know how much we got done. We missed some tackles we didn't play crisp. We went out the second half and played like we were supposed to."

Bottom line for game one? A bad half for the Alabama defense is still a pretty good half by most standards, while a bad half for the Alabama offense is simply a bad half by any standards.

That could change as the year progresses, but Saturday test was just a start.


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