The Kentucky game pretty much marked the end of the preseason fun for Alabama and now it’s time to get down to business. With Arkansas, Tennessee, Texas A&M and LSU on the schedule in the upcoming weeks, it’s now officially go time for the Tide.
So what have we learned thus far in the season? For one, we’ve discovered that Alabama’s depth at running back actually goes four deep instead of just two deep. We’ve learned that Alabama’s defensive team speed is as advertised and their pass rush is just as fierce as ever. We’ve learned that, once again, Alabama has one of the most talented teams in the country…and we’ve learned that a little child shall lead them.
The offensive line has been a work in progress but they played their best collective game of the season against Kentucky. Perhaps the season long game of musical chairs has ended and now the starting five can simply grow and improve together.
The few ills of this team appear to be easily be remedied, as we learned in the Tide’s routine physical Saturday night. What did we see in the film review? Doctor, doctor – gimme the news…
Alabama on Offense
It’s funny to think that the Tide’s offense is struggling when the team has scored 220 points in the first five games but when you really boil things down, there is plenty of room for improvement. Bama’s defense and special teams have combined for seven touchdowns this season so the offense is really only responsible for 171 points this season.
The first half hasn’t been too kind to the Tide this season with slow starts against USC, Ole Miss, Western Kentucky and now Kentucky. Jalen Hurts continues to struggle with the deep ball, usually throwing late or missing the receiver altogether. Meanwhile the line has obviously been a work in progress.
However, we’ve seen a number of revelations this season, as well. Damien Harris emerged as a lead back. And, once he went down, young Joshua Jacobs quickly picked up the baton and carried it for 154 total yards (100 rushing, 54 receiving). And for all of Hurts’ struggles, he continues to dazzle with his legs and he’s performed well enough as a passer to connect with Calvin Ridley for 11 catches and 174 yards! With each and every game, we see Jalen Hurts and the Tide offense take steps towards becoming a big time offense and this week was no exception.
Jacobs’ Ladder: Josh Jacobs may be putting himself in line for equal time in the Tide backfield after back to back outstanding performances against WKU and KY. We expected to see the speed and wiggle from Jacobs and he more than exhibited that on a swing pass where he made two dudes miss in a phone booth. But Jacobs has shown tremendous power and leg drive that allows him to lean for extra yards (he even moved a pile for about five yards). His six carries in a row resulted in 57 yards, a touchdown and perhaps an equal role in the Tide’s backfield!
Love Hurts: I didn’t realize that Hurts was the first true freshman to start at Alabama since Vince Sutton in 1984. That’s just mind blowing to me. Hurts looked very good at times with outstanding throws to Robert Foster, Calvin Ridley and a bullet to Cam Sims on 4th down (which he inexplicably dropped). But, then there were a couple of late deep throws and he once again missed some wide open receivers, including OJ Howard being uncovered down the sidelines. Hurts remains a work in progress but, make no mistake, the work is progressing.
Blitzin: One very serious thing appeared on film and that was the number of blitzers that came free on a sprint to the QB. Corner blitzes and delayed blitzes confused the line and resulted in early pressure. To Hurts’ credit, he calmly rolled away from the pressure and threw the ball away. But – if I’m a defensive coordinator, I’m blitzing the Tide like crazy.
- Cam Robinson – This was one of Cam’s best games this season. He and Hale Hentges opened a huge hole for Jacobs on a long run 28 yard run and Cam consistently moved the line of scrimmage. But, best of all, it was awesome to see the big man fired up and passionate about football. Maybe he’s about to be the Cam we all know and love…
- Damien Harris – It’s remarkable that Harris played in this game and, frankly, we wish he hadn’t. There was no need for him to play in this game but that pretty well tells you about how much the staff trusts him on third downs as compared to the other three backs.
- Cam Sims – He needs to catch the ball if he wants to earn more reps. That was a bad drop on 4th Sure the ball was behind him but that’s a ball he has to catch.
- Under Center Deep Shots: On four different occasions on first down, the Tide lined up with Hurts under center, two tight ends and a single back in the backfield and took a deep shot. That’s been classic Kiffin – spread out the defense and run the football or line up heavy and throw it deep.
- Bubble Screens: Twice Alabama ran a bubble screen to one side of the formation and flared the back out of the backfield to the other side. This put Harris and Jacobs in one on one situations which they will win every single time. However, on one play Kentucky blitzed from the bubble side and Hurts should have seen this and thrown the bubble.
- Third and Short: One of my favorite aspects of this team is the fact that when it comes to 3rd and 1 or 3rd and 2, this team is going to slam the ball down the defense’s throats. The Tide line has really become a people moving force and they have been able to reestablish the line of scrimmage for the past couple of weeks.
- Bo Knows Fumbles: Bo fumbled against Ole Miss and he caused a fumble when he ran into the throwing arm of Hurts this week. Sigh. Tough to get more snaps when you are putting the ball on the ground.
- BJ Emmons: The film was very, very kind to Mr Emmons this week. He ran the football very, very, very hard but he also was clean in his blitz pickups and even caught the ball out of the backfield. He’s earning more and more reps.
- Pulling Blockers: Jalen Hurts ran a zone read keeper that somehow resulted in OJ Howard and Bo Scarborough leading the way as pulling blockers. Sweet play!
- Jalen Runs: Hurts ran the ball 18 times versus Ole Miss, 11 times against WKU and just nine times against KY. A few of those runs were the result of Hurts escaping the blitz.
- Bateman: When Cooper Bateman entered the game it was interesting to note that Saban kept the first string OL in the game and asked Bateman to throw the ball five times.
- Fast Forward: I thought Lane Kiffin did a nice job of speeding up the pace when he sensed the KY defenders were completely out of gas.
Alabama on Defense
Similarly to the Kent State offense, the Kentucky offense really didn’t offer much of a challenge for the Tide defense. Kent State gained 166 yards while Kentucky could only muster 161. Once again the Bama defense thwarted every attack and, once again, it came up with an attack of its own – scoring on a Ronnie Harrison 55 yard fumble return.
There isn’t a whole lot to glean from an offense featuring a second time starting QB, a child playing left tackle and a lack of playmakers at the skill positions. Tim Williams served his first half suspension and then came out firing on all cylinders. Honestly, he can make a case for being a top five pick just based on his second half pressures. Yep, it was a dominant effort from start to finish – here’s a compilation of what we saw in Tidebits…
- Tim Williams: We’ll stick to football here and not judge his actions that resulted in a first half suspension. We’ve long been touting Mr Williams as a sick pass rushing speed demon but over time he’s added a plethora of moves to go along with his speed off the edge. Now you see him get underneath a lineman’s pads and bull rush him into the QB. You can also see him dart up the field and then knife inside for an inside pass rush. Kid’s got it all.
- Pruitt: This was the most aggressive game plan that Jeremy Pruitt has called this season. He brought backers, safeties, slots and we think we saw one of the managers blitz on one snap. It appeared as though Pruitt was just spinning the wheel to dial up the blitzes of misfortune for Kentucky.
- Edge Containment: Often, these blitzes resulted in setting the edge and forcing the Wildcat backs back into the middle of the line. Film study revealed the Kentucky backs liked to bounce the ball outside so this was an effective tool in eliminating that threat.
- Five for Fighting: Kentucky did a really nice job in forcing Alabama to play with four down linemen and just one linebacker. This created a seven on five for Kentucky but Alabama’s line eliminated this threat.
- Reuben Foster: His deflection of a pop pass saved a touchdown. Kentucky dialed up a great play call but Foster’s instincts and ability to play pass coverage snuffed out the pass.
- Eddie Jackson: Man oh man what a play this kid made! Kentucky had a perfectly timed screen called against an Alabama blitz, leaving three Wildcat linemen running free against one lone Alabama defender. However, that one defender was Eddie Jackson and he diagnosed the play immediately and dropped the receiver before he could break free. Outstanding play by Jackson. Later, Jackson stopped a well executed pop pass intended for the tight end.
- Flea Flickers: Remember the flea flicker that WKU ran to perfection for a 70 yard gain? Kentucky dialed up the same play but this time the Tide had the single receiver double covered.
- Rashaan Evans: While Evans still struggles to contribute at the linebacker position, he is still a damn good edge rusher. It was his edge rush that allowed him to rip the ball out of the Cats’ quarterback’s hands. 55 yards later, Harrison scored yet another defensive touchdown for the Tide.
- Wildcat Success: If there was one problem with the Tide’s defense, it was the interior of their defensive line against the wildcat formation. Once Da’Ron Payne left the game, Josh Frazier got blown out at the point of attack in the middle of the line. Kentucky also successfully moved Jonathan Allen with some double team/combo blocks, as well. Meanwhile, Evans struggled with his runs fits and the creases in the run defense were born. Look for Arkansas to combo the heck out of Allen on the ground.
Alabama on Special Teams
I love watching Eddie Jackson return punts – that man so smooooooth. With chaos all around him, Jackson calmly busted off an 17 yard return amidst a ton of traffic. Oh, and Xavian Marks nearly popped another return, racing around the corner for a 15 yard return that nearly went the distance.
Adam Griffith’s miss was well struck so we aren’t too concerned about the missed kick. Meanwhile JK Scott continues doing JK Scott things, with his one punt going 58 yards. I’d say his leg must be feeling pretty fresh.
Tony Brown. Ugh. Catch the ball.
It wasn’t exactly Don Larsen’s perfect game but Alabama continues to improve little by little every week. The Tide’s offense desperately needs to start faster and Hurts continues to need work on his timing. But, the offensive linemen are coming together and they are becoming the road graders we are accustomed to seeing as Alabama fans. Between the skill players at wide receiver and tight end, the much improved running game and the threat of a Jalen Hurts scramble, there’s an awful lot to defend for an opposing defense.
Defensively, the Arkansas game will be an interesting challenge for this speedy group of defenders. Gone is the bump and thump at linebacker as Saban has replaced his 260 lb thugs with 235 lb cheetahs. While this is wildly successful against the spread attacks of today’s game, it will be very, very interesting to see if the Alabama defense can thug it out with the bullies of Arkansas and LSU.