Ok folks, the first real test of the season is finally here. It’s Ole Miss week and everyone in and around the Crimson Tide program should be pretty jacked up for the matchup against the Rebels. Hugh Freeze’s bunch has done the unthinkable by beating Nick Saban two years in a row, becoming the only SEC team in the last two years to beat the Tide. So, this week is about retribution. It’s about redemption. It’s about reestablishing the dominant SEC world order. And it’s about time…
And that was probably the mindset of the players going into the Western Kentucky game…
You know last season’s debacle against Ole Miss has been shouted at the players since January. It’s been replayed during the spring and it’s been a rallying cry in fall camp. There are currently pictures posted in the weight room of Ole Miss players dancing around after beating the Tide.
But before Bama could focus on the Rebs, first there was this little matter of disposing of little ole Western Kentucky. So when it’s 103 degrees on the field and playing an opponent that doesn’t inspire, well…anything…, then sluggish play was probably to be expected. However, when the Tide committed 12 penalties, botched formations and personnel groupings, dropped passes and spent most of the day being discombobulated on offense then you get what you get. And what you got was the least satisfying victory in the Saban era (per Saban) and multiple “ass chewings” that left the players and the coaches with a lot less junk in their trunks.
So what the heck happened? Let’s just get into it, shall we?
Alabama on Offense
What a cluster. It’s been a very, very long time since we’ve seen a Nick Saban coached team resemble a Mike Shula coached team but that’s exactly what we witnessed this past weekend. Substitution penalties. Illegal formations. Delay of game penalties. Holding. Sacks. False starts. Bad snaps. Dropped passes. The naughty list goes on and on and on.
When you start a true freshman quarterback then you have every right to expect some illegal formation and delay of game penalties. Part of the quarterback’s responsibilities are to make sure the formation is set, the line is set and the play clock is not at zero so you can probably put those penalties on the young QB.
However, when you are starting a true freshman at QB then the parts and pieces around him have to be a rising Tide that lifts all boats. Instead, the offensive line, receivers and running backs at times acted as torpedoes that repeatedly struck the ship beneath the waterline. With Alabama playing behind the chains all afternoon long, it was essential for plays to be made whenever they were available but the sure handed Gehrig Dieter (no Sprockets dance this week, fella) dropped one touchdown pass and the enigmatic TE OJ Howard dropped another. Sigh.
And the changing of the QBs did nothing to stem the tide of trauma. With Blake Barnett at the helm, the OL committed a holding penalty that killed one drive and then Bradley Bozeman snapped one to Northport that killed another drive. That snap seemingly landed closer to the Black Warrior River than Barnett and after Saturday even the Black Warrior River looks cleaner than the Bama offense. Where did it go wrong? Where, if anywhere, did it go right? Let’s dive in and see if we can’t cleanse the muck of the WKU game off of us…
Ridley’s Believe it Or Not: Our W2W4 was pretty spot on this week and we even got relatively close to getting the score right (insert applause here). But the one thing we felt the most certain of was the re-emergence of Calvin Ridley on offense. The first play of the game got saw the ball go to Ridley on the fly sweep/pass and 8 catches later the Tide phenom had 129 yards and a touchdown. There was more meat on this bone, though, as Hurts threw behind Ridley on a 51 yard pass that should have been a TD and he overthrew Ridley on another fly pattern down the sidelines, as well. But, Ridley was a beast and that was refreshing to see after his lack of touches in the USC game.
Hurts So So: If Jalen “Hurts so good” against USC then he was just so-so against WKU. He had some outstanding moments with the bomb to Ridley and strikes to Dieter and Howard in the end zone that were both inexplicably dropped. Hurts also had beautiful long strikes to Dieter (40 yards) and Stewart (52 yards) and finished the day completing 23 of 36 passes for 287 yards and two touchdowns. Were it not for the two drops, Hurts would have thrown for well over 300 yards and had four TDs instead of two. Awesome, right?
Love Hurts: You have to take the good with the bad with a true freshman QB. Formation issues. Delay of game penalties. False starts (we think there’s a cadence issue). Taking bad sacks. Not running the zone read correctly. These are the things that drive coaches crazy and these are the things that are keeping the Tide as a very average group on offense. For much of the first half, Hurts appeared to be playing without a sense of urgency and his nonchalance in the backfield cost him on two sacks. Even his runs looked, well, nonchalant as evidenced by his 1.7 yards per carry average on 11 totes. He also continues to underthrow his receivers on deep balls and fails to put enough air underneath the ball to allow his receivers to adjust to the flight of the ball. The stats look awesome for him and, again, he was betrayed by two bad drops. However, we continue to see areas of improvement for the true freshman when we put on the film. This may be unpopular with you, gentle reader, but it’s true nonetheless.
The Dance: Another W2W4 nugget we passed along was about the continued shuffling along the OL. You’ll recall the line was shuffled just five days before the USC game and, four drives into the WKU game, it was shuffled once again. Big Alphonse (Shank) Taylor entered the game at RG, a position he started at all of last year. However, instead of moving Ross Pierschbacher back to LG (where he started all of last year) and taking out Lester Cotton, Alabama kept Cotton in the game at LG. Interesting. On the series before, Pierschbacher was beaten badly for a sack so perhaps that was the deal. We’ve been telling y’all for a while that Alabama has significant issues along the OL and until those issues get resolved then you can continue to expect uneven performances for Alabama’s offense. What do I mean? Well, all the shuffling of the big uglies led to: one horrifically awful snap, four false starts and two holding penalties. And while the two sacks were both on Hurts, the offensive line generated just 13 yards of rushing offense in the first half. At our house, we call this FUGLY.
False Start Me Up: Alabama’s offense was plagued by four false starts. The offenders were: Cam Robinson, Alphonse Taylor, Jonah Williams and Korren Kirven. On two of the penalties, it appeared there were multiple offenders who left their stances slightly before the snap so we are wondering if this is a cadence issue. Cam Robinson has been guilty of a false start against USC and against WKU which is very unusual for him. The anticipated frenzied decibel level that awaits in Oxford probably does not bode well for a line that seemingly can’t get off the ball at the right time so this could be a major issue.
It’s a Mistake: Most folks seem to forget that Saban’s first blow up of the afternoon occurred on the second drive of the ball game. On 3rd & 2, Hurts ran the zone read and handed the ball off to Bo Scarborough for a loss of one. Had Hurts kept the ball, he could have waltzed into the end zone because WKU had misaligned, putting five defenders on the side that Bo ran into. Saban blistered both Hurts and Kiffin when Hurts came to the sidelines. *Note: Cam Robinson was blown up on the play. He’s been very average thus far this season.
Give Us Dirty Laundry: I’ve watched and rewatched and rewatched the epic rant that put Saban & Kiffin on ESPN and every other nightly news network in America and here’s what I think occurred…
On the play in question, Robert Foster came in motion and Blake Barnett stupidly called for the snap before Foster had cleared past the center. The ball hit Foster in the hands and then hit the ground where WKU recovered. The blame for the fumble appears to be Barnett’s and Barnett’s alone (though some could say the center could have just snapped the ball on his own however that seems unlikely).
The fun ensued on the sidelines when Saban clearly screamed at Kiffin that there shouldn’t have even been a receiver in motion on the play. This stands to reason as they were just trying to run a dive play to run out the clock so it’s a fair question to ask why Kiffin put a receiver in motion in the first place. However, instead of letting Saban have his say, Kiffin very clearly said something back to Saban and it was apparent that Saban was rather displeased with Kiffin’s response. Off came the headset as Saban wheeled around on Kiffin and read him the riot act. It was tough to decipher what exactly was said but it looks like Saban is explaining to Kiffin that it IS Kiffin’s responsibility as HE (Kiffin) is the coach!!! Once again, instead of taking his punishment and going straight to his room, Kiffin once again responded with something other than “my bad” and Saban’s tirade went from “pissed” to “someone please have a cardiologist on standby.” So, it appeared to us that Kiffin’s responses escalated a bad situation into a national news situation.
- Damien Harris continues to solidify his hold on the #1 RB position. How? Blitz pickups. He’s been assignment sound even if he hasn’t necessarily stoned blitzers every time. He also performed well catching the ball out of the backfield so that’s an added bonus.
- A buddy of mine texted me about Jalen Hurts’ crow hop that he uses before delivering a long strike. The time it takes him to load up, crow hop and chuck it down field may cost him down the road.
- The staff put in a couple of “roll left” plays for Hurts just to keep things on balance. He delivered nicely moving to his left.
- Our second favorite Hurts throw was one where he executed a play action fake and then looked right towards Ardarius Stewart. Hurts came off his first read and checked it down to a wide open OJ Howard – excellent work thru his progressions. Our favorite throw was the strike to Dieter on a long crossing route – dang, that thing was GORGEOUS.
- Ardarius Stewart sure is fun to watch. His draft stock is on the climb.
- Robert Foster looked a little lost the first couple of times he caught the football but it was nice to see the staff get him involved with screens this week. He can be yet another playmaker.
- Good to see OJ Howard make a contested catch across the middle. Hadn’t really seen that from him very much.
- That ripped throw from Blake Barnett to Stewart was an NFL throw. That was on 3rd & 15 and the trow was a frozen rope. On his next throw he airmailed one over an open Ridley who was very clearly frustrated by not getting the ball. Sigh.
- Alabama was outgained on the ground 37 to 13 at the half!?!
- The numerous bunch formations Kiffin used did not appear to be effective at all. Harris had an 11 yard run on one bunch but, outside of that, it was a bunch of nothing.
- BJ Emmons looked very good and even picked up a blitzing linebacker.
- There was a delay of game on a field goal attempt. No, seriously.
Alabama on Defense
I think we’ll look back on this performance and marvel at Alabama’s ability to dismantle the high profile, highly successful offense of WKU. The Toppers threw for over 500 yards last week – folks, that’s hard to do against tall grass let alone a D1 defense. WKU was third in the nation in scoring last season – seriously, they good! But, Saban has been recruiting to defend this style of offense now for three years and he has the gazelles out there to snuff the life out of these spread offenses. Man, oh, man the speed on the field that Alabama has to play with is just crazy. Anyway, let’s quickly run thru some things that caught our eye in the film review…
- Shaun Dion Hamilton continues to impress with his speed and quickness at LB. He ran down a WR screen on the first play of the game. Then, on the second play, his coverage on the RB forced the WKU QB into a sack. We expected WKU to test him in coverage and he was outstanding.
- Jeremy Pruitt blitzed twice on the second possession. Once Harrison blitzed while Foster and Anderson fell off into coverage and on the next play Foster blitzed up the A gap and delivered a big hello to the WKU QB.
- Trick or Treat? Did you read our W2W4? We told ya these trick plays were coming. The first flea flicker was nearly a trick AND a treat when Marlon Humphrey ripped the ball out of #2’s hands after a long gain. With four crimson jerseys there, somehow WKU’s WR recovered his own fumble. Later, the Toppers dialed up a reverse pass but Ronnie Harrison easily picked it off, probably once again prompting Scott Cochran to scream “run another trick play, b-tch!”
- Marlon Humphrey was on the WKU 26 yard line when he saw the flea flicker unfolding to #2 (Taylor). When the ball was thrown, Humphrey had already backtracked to the WKU 32. When the catch was made at the Bama 47, Hump had hit high gear and was only four yards behind the receiver! Wow! What recovery speed. Taylor has tremendous speed but Hump walked him down and ripped the ball out easily.
- Anthony Averett was attacked on the first play of the game with a deep ball but he defended it well. Later, they went at Averett again in the corner of the end zone but, again, he was in perfect coverage. He even came up and held the edge on a running play. Excellent game by #28.
- Rashaan Evans played a good bit at LB and showed he still has a ways to go with shedding blockers. Two of WKUs longest runs were with Evans at LB. However, he was pretty solid in pass coverage so that was very good to see.
- Ronnie Harrison goes 100 mph all day, every day. He may be my favorite Saban safety and we’ve had a ton of good ones. He’s awesome in coverage but man he waxed some dude (#20) with a vicious hit on the WKU RB.
- Between Harrison and Jackson, I don’t think Alabama’s ever had two safeties with this kind of range. Again, perfectly suited to defend today’s offenses. Both had a pick and, with the pass rush Bama has, they will have many, many more this season.
- Bama looked like they busted a coverage on a motion man out of the backfield. WKU had three receivers on two Tide defenders and the resulting screen pass was a nice gainer. Look for Ole Miss to employ some motion out of the backfield this week.
- Ryan Anderson is a helluva pass rusher but he actually showed well in coverage Saturday.
- Hootie Jones made an excellent play on the ball the one time he was challenged in coverage.
- The Toppers ran a draw against Bama’s dime defense and it was very successful. The Tide goes very light in their dime look so I anticipate more teams will try to run at our dime package in the future.
- Dalvin Tomlinson is fun to watch on the interior of the line. On one play this week he tossed #51 aside like a rag doll and rumbled onwards for a big sack.
- Da’Shawn Hand and Dakota Ball both showed well during their opportunities, as did Christian Miller. Miller has so much potential…
- Think Alabama didn’t want WKU to score that last touchdown? On the drive before that, Pruitt blitzed three different times – more than he had blitzed the rest of the game.
This week’s W2W4 was one of our best ones ever as we even correctly predicted that Western Kentucky’s starting QB would get knocked out of the game. Man, we were rolling this week with the preview! That’s right, “it’s rollin’ baby, it’s rollin!”
This week’s W2W4 for the Ole Miss game will be a bit of a mystery as we’ll almost have to treat Ole Miss v Florida State as two separate games. At first, Direct TV (or first half) Ole Miss looked like the best team we watched during the opening weekend but then Cable TV (second half) Ole Miss looked like a disheveled mess with some incontinence issues. We suspect the truth is somewhere in the middle with them. I guess it Depends.
But, as we alluded to after the USC game, Alabama’s biggest opponent on the schedule is Alabama.
Twelve penalties. Multiple missed assignments. Poor reads. Late throws. Dropped passes. Formation problems. And turnovers. These are the things that Nick desperately wants to coach out of this team because he sees the tremendous potential they have for yet another championship run. But, until the Tide can eliminate their internal issues, potential is all they have. Potential to be great. Or the potential to lose to an inferior opponent.