There weren't many surprises for Alabama Offensive Coordinator David Rader when the Crimson Tide opened the season with a 26-7 win over Middle Tennessee State University last Saturday night. "We had breakdowns where we had been having breakdowns in practice," Rader said. "We had recovered nicely from breakdowns in practice and we recovered nicely against MTSU. We've had big plays in practice and we had big plays in the game. We were about as consistent as we have been in practice. And as we did in practice, we improved as we went along."
The few surprises were mild. And they were also pleasing. Rader said, "The offensive line communicated well and came together. They have matured, and they are showing that maturity. Their character showed. We had only one sack, and we'll take that every week."
He said the offensive line still needs improvement. "We need to be more consistent in our push," he said. "We can't let them (opponents) get in our backfield. We're not there, but we're making progress. Our pass protection was better. We fought through the whistle. They got one sack and one other hit on the quarterback. Our pass protection gave the quarterback adequate time."
Individually, Rader noted that junior right tackle Kyle Tatum was the offensive player of the week. "It was the best game Kyle has had since we moved him," Rader said. Tatum was formerly a defensive tackle, but moved to offense prior to the 2004 season. Rader said, "His guy didn't pressure the quarterback at all. Kyle practiced well in the fall and did more things right Saturday night."
Rader liked the way the offense rebounded from a sluggish first half with an explosive drive to start the third quarter. "We had some push, we had some good reads by the runner (Kenneth Darby), and we had good downfield blocking by the receivers," Rader said. "That group (receivers) gave as much consistent effort as any group we had all fall. That's more of that maturing process."
Rader was aware that Alabama failed to throw a pass to a tight end in the game, despite pre-game pronouncements from Head Coach Mike Shula that the tight ends would be involved in the offense as receivers. "We had some (passes to the tight end) called, and we thought he'd be open, but he wasn't," Rader said. "We'll call them again."
But, Rader said, "We have a lot of other guys we need to have touches, too. For one thing we had only about 65 offensive plays and we need to have at least 75." He said that Bama must get the football into the hands of many play-makers, Darby and Tim Castille and to a number of wide receivers. "We didn't get a deep ball completed, either," Rader added.
Rader expects Southern Mississippi to have "fewer errors than you would expect from a team playing its first game." That's because the Golden Eagles didn't get to play their scheduled opener against Tulane last week and USM will have been working on its Alabama game plan for the past 10 days or so.
"We all feel for them being displaced," Rader said. "It has put their football team in a closed environment without classes. They have been concentrating on nothing but Alabama insofar as football. And you know they will be very happy to finally play a game. This situation has given them an opportunity to become closer as a team as they have gone through the adversity together."
Jay Hopson is the new Southern Miss defensive coordinator, and because the Golden Eagles have not yet played, Alabama does not have a videotape to watch of how USM will play defensively. Rader said the staff had watched videotape of how USM would be expected to play, and also looked at some Ole Miss videotapes from last year from when Hopson was with the Rebels. But, Rader said, what Southern Miss has traditionally done bears no resemblance to what Mississippi did last year.
"We'll make our gameplan based on what we see, not on guesses," Rader said. "But I'm sure we'll be making adjustments after the game starts."