You know, every slugger needs to have batting practice. Every single boxer needs a punching bag. And every US missile launched must first blow things up at a target practice. Well, that’s exactly what the Kent State game was – practice. Yes, Mr Iverson, “we talkin’ bout practice!”
Listen, there isn’t really a whole lot to glean from kicking defenseless puppies to the curb, so this week’s review will be of the short and sweet variety – much like the Golden Flash’s visit to Bryant-Denny. Kent State came, they saw, they collected their check and merrily went on their way, offering little to no resistance to the mighty Tide. Put it this way, Key West (a.k.a. the Conch Republic) actually put up more of a fight in their “battle” for independence than Kent State did.
So, here we go – here are the items that caught our eye during the game. This week, we are paying particular attention to the young pups who stood out during their practice, er, game reps…
Alabama on Offense
The Tide offense could pretty much do whatever it wanted to do during Saturday morning’s breakfast of Champions kickoff. We abhor the 11 CST kickoffs and apparently they aren’t all that appealing to the defenders from Ohio either since Bama’s first six possessions resulted in scores. True freshmen Jalen Hurts and Joshua Jacobs totaled three rushing touchdowns while Blake Barnett won the “Where’s OJ “Waldo” Howard” by finding the tight end for his first touchdown since the Clemson game. Heck, Lane Kiffin even tried to raise the difficulty level by throwing touchdowns to middle linebackers (we see you Mack Wilson) but even that was successful! Here’s what we saw when we went back to examine the tape…
Mommas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be…: Saturday was a bad day to be a veteran running back for the Tide. Damien Harris left the game with what looked to be a gruesome injury on the first series of the game. Then, shortly thereafter, Bo Scarborough took a wicked helmet to the thigh. Yikes! For a moment, it appeared Alabama would be without their two veteran running backs for the foreseeable future. Bo has a thigh bruise (no shock there if you saw the hit) and Harris somehow just has a sprained ankle. The Harris injury was particularly disappointing as he was literally hitting his stride. He’s also the best blitz pick up guy at the position so his absence will be an issue in pass protection.
Wiggle, Wiggle, Wiggle: Joshua Jacobs may not be Shake N Drake but he dang sure jocked a Kent State defender with a sweet little wiggle. For a three star back whose only committable offers were to Air Force and New Mexico State, he’s been one helluva find. Kudos to the staff for their ability to identify talent and their fortitude to play them ahead of higher recruited players. Aside from his outstanding running ability, Jacobs is a threat in the passing game and he gave good effort when asked to pass block, too.
Who Are You: Well, hello there Cam Sims! Cam has seemingly been limited by injuries each and every season so it was really nice to see him make some plays Saturday. With Stewart and Foster suffering from knee injuries, suddenly Sims is having a chance to show us all what he can do. That little snag he made at the one yard line was a great back shoulder “hands catch” – nice to see him making plays.
Think of Me: Props need to go out to true freshman right tackle Jonah Williams. Andre Ware correctly stated that he’s been outplaying Cam Robinson and that was simply unthinkable at the beginning of the year. To perform well is one thing but to do it at such a young age….wow.
I Like to Move It: OJ Howard was a motivated blocker against Kent State, often leading the way for Jalen Hurts’ zone read keepers. Phil Savage mentioned that Howard did not appear in a lot of sets against Ole Miss so it was interesting to see him play an ton of snaps and inflict some damage each time he was asked to block. This was OJ’s best blocking game of his career (and I noted this by the third play of the second possession).
- Jacobs’ Ladder – The sky is the limit for this kid as he has vision, moves, speed and hands. His ability to run the zone read with Hurts is really going to be fun to watch in the upcoming games while Harris’ ankle heals up.
- Emmons – BJ Emmons was more highly recruited than Jacobs and he certainly showed well when toting the rock. Man he looks good with the ball in his hands. However, BJ needs a LOT of work in pass protection and this showed up several times on Saturday. Until he rectifies the blocking situation, he’ll be the third/fourth back in the rotation.
- Right Guard – As we’ve been saying for a while, the competition at right guard rages on between Alphonse Taylor and Lester Cotton. Cotton is the more talented of the two (far more athletic) and with Taylor committing yet another false start penalty (the only one of the day – hooray!) it will eventually be Cotton’s job to lose (he provided the two key blocks on Jacobs’ 24 yard TD run).
- Poise – Nick Saban probably appreciates Jalen Hurts’ poise even more than his legs or his arm. There were a few times that Hurts could have panicked but, instead, he calmly avoided danger and moved on to the next play. For instance, Hurts fielded a rolling snap and calmly attempted his play action fake before scrambling and throwing the ball away.
- Teaser, Teaser – Anyone who wonders why we fell in love with Blake Barnett only needs to see footage of the perfect throw that he made to OJ Howard for a TD. First, it was a rope. Second, it was thrown to the correct shoulder, allowing OJ to never break stride. Third, it was just pretty.
- Hitch – Hurts’ timing on the quick hitch/curl routes was outstanding Saturday. With the corners playing off, Hurts could pick up 8 yards on nearly every throw.
- Ridley – We didn’t really like seeing Ridley hurt his wrist and then later get drilled in the end zone. Ridley is our family’s jewels…
- Sprockets – Is Dieter German for drops? After catching 93 of 94 catchable balls last year, he’s averaging one drop a game this season. Barnett couldn’t have handed him the ball any better in the corner of the end zone but, yeah, he dropped it.
- Barnett – When he has a clean pocket and can step into his throws, he can be special. However, his sacks per pass attempt are pretty ugly. Barnett has been sacked four times in only 19 attempts. This means 21% of the time Barnett drops back, he gets sacked. By comparison, Jalen Hurts has been sacked only three times on 102 attempts, or 3% of the time he drops back to pass.
- Diggs – Trevon Diggs’ switch back to WR should be complete with Tony Brown coming back from suspension this week. Two of the first three plays of the second half were designed for Diggs. He will be special before his time is done.
- Kief – Derrick Kief hasn’t had many opportunities during his Alabama career but he made the most of them Saturday. How about that diving catch to convert a 4th down? Nice!
- Mack Wilson – I’m willing to bet whatever you want to bet that the TD Wilson caught was meant for OJ Howard, who was also wide open.
- Dallas Warmack – He showed well at guard during his time on the field, opening the zone read for BJ Emmons in the second half.
- Korren Kirven – He had some really nice moments at tackle, consistently turning his man out and opening up the left side.
- Matt Womack – Didn’t anchor well, at times and couldn’t sustain blocks on smaller guys.
Alabama on Defense
We are just going to spare you the commentary this week and just point out some stats that pretty much tell the tales of woe for the Kent State offense:
- Five first downs
- 1 of 13 on third downs
- 84 yards passing, completing just 7 of 16 attempts
When you are down 41-0 at half, I’d expect a 30-16 pass/run ratio. Instead, KSU ran the ball 30 times and just kept the clock moving, offering little challenge to the Tide defense. So, we’ll just concentrate on identifying a few young guys who stood out this week.
- Keith Holcombe – When this dude comes into the game, you know pretty quickly. Holcombe is phenomenal in pass coverage but this season he’s been rocking folks from sideline to sideline. Look for more playing time for Mr Holcombe (which will impact Rashaan Evans’ snaps, of course).
- Long Run – On the 42 yard run, there was a gap assignment bust that enabled the long gainer. Dion-Hamilton appeared to be late to fill the gap while Ronnie Harrison took a horrific angle. We wonder if Harrison is a little gun shy in run support after getting sucker punched last week by the Rebs?
- Minkah Fitzpatrick – Defensive coordinator Jeremy Pruitt blitzed Fitzpatrick at least a handful of times, resulting in 1.5 sacks and several pressures. Pruitt hasn’t really delved into his toolbox very much this season so it was fun to see him playing with Fitzpatrick out of the slot.
- Tim Williams – On two separate occasions Williams started outside but then knifed back inside, beating the tackle AND the guard. Dude is just so impressive.
- Anfernee Jennings – Every time #33 is on the field, he makes something happen. I saw him in two different All-Star games and he stood out during each one of them. Dude can play.
- Josh Frazier – He held the point extremely well during his time in the second half. Something to build on, for sure.
- Christian Miller – When #47 is in the game, he catches your attention immediately. Miller is known more for his speed than his power but he held the edge very well against the Golden Flashes. Speaking of Flashes, Miller flashes that speed and generates pressure on nearly every snap. Incidently, it was Miller who tackled the KSU QB inches short of a touchdown to preserve the shutout.
- Raekwon David – Big 99 held the point well and even disengaged from the offensive line for a couple of tackles. He has a long way to go but showed well during his brief time out there. At 6’7, 315, Alabama will want him to continue getting snaps along the interior of the defensive line.
Alabama on Special Teams
Adam Griffith – Perhaps the best thing that came out of the game was Griffith hammering home a 48 yard field goal that would have been good from 60. He stroked an absolute bomb and should be brimming with confidence going into the meat of the SEC season. On the season he’s hit 6 of 8 field goals – both misses are from the 40-49 yard range. The 48 yarder was the first one he’s banged home beyond 40 yards this season.
Xavian Marks – We first saw Marks at the scrimmage before the A-Day game this spring. At the time, he lined up at WR, RB, punt return and kick off return and it was obvious the staff was trying to find ANY way to get the ball in his hands. So, it wasn’t too surprising to see him house a long punt return this Saturday. Credit key blocks by Deionte Thompson, Keaton Anderson, Joshua Jacobs, Bo Scarborough and Shyheim Carter led the way. Usually it’s just a couple of blocks that spring a big return but nearly everyone on the punt return group provided an important block.
I probably should have led with this but we’d be remiss if we didn’t at least mention the firing of Les Miles in this space. I’ve read quite a few articles about the landscape of the SEC and, not surprisingly, the landscape looks a lot like Georgia after Sherman’s march to the sea. Nick Saban’s success at Alabama has resulted in a scorched SEC earth and the Lighthouse wants to shine a bright light on this subject.
For instance, did you know that 33 SEC coaches have come and gone since Saban was hired in 2007?
When Saban entered the league, there were five SEC coaches who had won national championships: Philip Fulmer, Urban Meyer, Steve Spurrier, Les Miles and Saban.
Today, there is one single solitary coach in the SEC who has won a national championship. That, of course, is Nick Saban.
The reason Nick Saban has been successful and has remained successful since he first won a national title at LSU is his ability to adapt and react to the changing times in college football. Instead of sticking to his old school power football ways, Saban has encouraged his offensive coordinator to implement any scheme that could help him win football games.
Remember Mark Ingram running the wildcat? Saban was a fast adopter of what became a widespread use of the Wildcat. Saban’s offense also implemented the Pistol and still uses it today.
While Saban has been kicking and screaming against the hurry up, no huddle offenses and the run/pass option plays that have caused him to lose sleep at night as a defensive coordinator, he’s recognized their usefulness on offense. Ever since Blake Sims was at the helm, Alabama has used some semblance of the hurry up, no huddle and has added the run/pass option plays, zone reads and even designed running plays for his mobile QBs.
Alabama currently has the top scoring offense in the SEC. Who would have ever guessed that in 2009? From 2008-2011, Saban’s teams were 1-4 against teams scoring 28 points or more. Since then, he’s been a respectable 5-5. Conversely, Les Miles was 4-5 against teams scoring 28 points or more but, since 2012, he’s just 2-8.
Saban changed with the times. Miles did not, confirming that Les was less of an offensive coach that Saban. Today, three yards and a cloud of dust will get your fired but thanfully Saban saw this coming several years ago and adjusted the way he recruits and the way he calls plays.
In Saban we trust. Why wouldn’t you?