Where Will Tide Show Improvement?

One of the accepted truisms is that a football team makes its greatest progress between the first and second games of the season. Sometimes it isn't obvious because the second game is played against a much tougher opponent. Sometimes it just doesn't happen.

In 2008, Alabama was almost flawless in an unexpected rout of a favored Clemson team in the season-opener, but followed that up with a lackluster performance in the second game against Tulane.

Last week Alabama had an impressive win over seventh-ranked Virginia Tech, but no one would suggest it was a flawless performance. That's because of the final score, a 34-24 Crimson Tide win. More than that, it is because Alabama trailed in the game at halftime and going to the fourth quarter.

In truth, the only thing close about the Alabama-Virginia Tech game was the score, and that was because of a handful of poor plays. Special teams gave up a kickoff return for a touchdown and another long return (and penalty) that led to another. The offense gave up an interception that led to a field goal. And Bama's defense gave up a long pass and a long run that led to scores.

A second game in which there is improvement in those areas—particularly kickoff coverage, which was not good in 2008 either—would be at the top of a list on where Bama could show improvement against Florida International.

Alabama has its home opener at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday in Bryant-Denny Stadium against the Golden Panthers. FIU will have to wait a week to show how much it improves between Game 1 and Game 2. This is the season opener for Florida International.

One thing to look for is Rolando McClain's return to a poised and effective leader. His loss of composure in the opener can't be excused, but can be understood. McClain is the ultimate competitor.

Crimson Tide quarterback Greg McElroy showed great improvement as the game went along. He was 2-12 at one point and finished 15-30 passing. He hit key passes to set up scores and a touchdown pass to Mark Ingram to end the scoring.

While it's admirable that McElroy is willing to struggle for extra yards when flushed, it would be nice to see him throw the ball away, or at least learn to slide. We don't know much about back-up Bama quarterbacks, and we don't want to have to learn because McElroy is on the medical list.

Now that we've seen a bit of the Wildcat offense, let's see some of it with freshman tailback Trent Richardson. That's not a slam against Ingram, who was Southeastern Conference Offensive Player of the Week, or Roy Upchurch, who also had a fine game (except for an unfortunate fumble). But Richardson's three runs gained about twice as much yardage as might have been expected.

Some have called for Bama to open up the Wildcat with the occasional pass. The jury is out on that. When a non-passer is throwing the football, is the advantage to the offense because of surprise or the advantage to the defense because the tailback is not an accomplished passer?

We also want to see Leigh Tiffin make every kick, the offensive line continue to gel, cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Javier Arenas get interceptions, wide receiver Julio Jones return to 2008 form, and defensive end Brandon Deaderick have a normal week.

And we want to see Alabama win.

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