Crimson Tide Can Be Better

If you're critiquing Alabama's 25-17 win over Hawaii you're compelled to begin with the obvious. The game had the "feel" of an imminent blowout, and at times had the look of a wipeout, but the walkover never quite materialized.


Multiple reasons.

Alabama had a first-game starter at quarterback who made first-game mistakes while still putting together a commendable showing.

The Crimson Tide bogged down in the red zone four times and had to settle for way too many field goal attempts instead of touchdowns.

The ground game spun its wheels in the second half. Yes, Hawaii overpopulated the box like a rabbit hutch a lot of the time, but this Alabama team is supposed to be one of those that can run in spite of the numbers imbalance. Of all the negatives to come from the opener, the lack of a push from the offensive front was the most disturbing.

Two years ago, before instant replay, this game would have bordered on a blowout. Alabama would have scored touchdowns on the bungled Hawaii punt and the original call on a fade route to Keith Brown. Instead of 14 points, Alabama scored five on those reversed calls.

Alabama coach Mike Shula praised the officiating crew for its communication with the sideline on clock issues and the like, but they missed a couple of end-zone calls.

John Parker Wilson hit 16 of 29 passes for 253 yards, and had the second-best total offense figure in the SEC over the weekend. His completion percentage of 55 percent was plenty healthy.

And yet Wilson also fessed up that his evening could have been measurably better.

A little jumpy on a couple of flares to fullback Le'Ron McClain, Wilson overthrew them in the flats to cost the Tide a couple of third-and-short conversions.

He could have lofted an out-and-up to Keith Brown on a third-quarter series. The Hawaii cornerback had fallen and had no safety help on the play, perhaps due to a blitz, so Brown was running all alone down the right sideline.

"He killed the guy on that route and I should have just laid it up," said Wilson, who had a quick trigger on that play with a blitzer bearing down. "But it's one of those things. You watch film and learn."

Wilson was also tardy on an out route to Brown that was wide open, but a second's hesitation cost him a completion as the Hawaii defender broke back for a breakup. Then there was the near-miss touchdown on the fade route to Brown on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Matt Caddell caught three passes but had a couple of drops.

Just add four completions, including the two would-be touchdowns to Brown, onto Wilson's total and 20 of 29 for 302 yards begins to look like SEC player of the week numbers. That's how close Wilson was to a supersized performance.

The Crimson Tide brass should take a really hard look at their short-yardage running game. After chewing up rushing yards with Jimmy Johns in the backfield late in the second quarter, as soon as the jumbo backs went in inside the red zone, it's like the brakes went on.

When they tighten up the formation and run Tim Castille behind Le'Ron McClain between the tackles it seems like the universe knows it's coming and it's hard to create a crease with all that humanity bunched in there. Had Castille not wisely bumped a run to the left around end for a touchdown, the jumbo would have had a pretty dreary record inside the 10.

A seldom-mentioned nearly made play was the tipped pass on Hawaii's final drive that Ramzee Robinson almost, and maybe should have, scooped up.

It's unrealistic to expect anything close to perfection this early in the season from a team that turned over as much starting talent as the Tide did this season.

However, Alabama needs to tighten up several of these areas or run the risk of losing winnable games in the very near future.

In the preaseason, Shula compared this roster favorably to his 2003 team, mostly in terms of the all the new starters, and having mostly inexperienced talent behind those starters.

I was reminded of the "almost" theme from that 2003 season (picture Zach Fletcher hauling in deep sideline throws vs. Oklahoma with his toenails out of bounds) when Wilson and Brown almost unloaded a touchdown spree on the Warriors. Shula and Co. better hope the "almost" issues don't run in a loop again this season.

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