Start drinking heavily?
Let's recap the statistical scorecard for the first scrimmage of Fall practice: Greg McElroy and A.J. McCarron completed a mind-boggling 80% of passing attempts despite throwing 59 passes. Combined, they threw for eight touchdowns and averaged over ten yards per attempt. If we were to view the performance through the lens of quarterback ratings, McElroy would have posted a Playstation-esque 230.4 passer rating. And it wasn't just one receiver lighting up the secondary either... despite throwing for about 700 yards on the day, somehow not a single receiver broke the 100-yard mark. The tailbacks may have "struggled" somewhat, by the ridiculous standards set by the passing game, but nevertheless matched Al Bundy's record of four touchdowns in one game, er, scrimmage. All in all, the offense somehow racked up 13 touchdowns in what was probably only about a 100 play scrimmage.
Anyone else need a drink right now?
Now, as the supposed resident pessimist, let's step back from the ledge just a bit. We were razor-thin in depth in the defensive backfield regardless, and that only became thinner with the dismissal of Rod Woodson and the heat-related medical condition forcing Kendall Kelly's absence. And, considering that, with the in-scrimmage injuries to Menzie, Milliner, and Lester, who even knows for sure exactly which players were in the game for most of these reps? I don't know exactly the names, but I can largely assure you that it was Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Burton Scott, Nick Perry, Jarrick Williams, and then a whole bunch of walk-ons that you have never heard of.
So calm down a bit in that regard. A lot of the raw numbers were probably just inflated due to the injuries and the general attrition in the defensive backfield. In that sense, it is not that big of a concern given that many of those players will never see the field this Fall unless the major run of injuries continues.
With that limited qualifier out of the way, however, I must say that the point remains that this scrimmage looks pretty brutal. I don't care about the context, you see anything even in the same ballpark of the numbers we saw today, and it's ugly. Very ugly. Some people may not want to admit it, but for now it seems like this defense has a long way to go. In his post-scrimmage press conference, Saban constantly referred to mental mistakes, a lack of intensity, young and inexperienced players, and overall immaturity. And this comes roughly 48 hours after he publicly questioned the development of the linebacker corps, which we all thought would be a strength heading into the season. Quite frankly, he has clearly been upset with our defense so far this camp, and there is really no positive way to spin all of this. Rest assured he wasn't just moaning and groaning for nothing.
And I know what some of you are thinking, "Eh, it's just a scrimmage, it's not like this is a real game, right?" Well, that's obviously true to an extent -- no, clearly scrimmages are not real games -- but it's very misleading. While they don't ultimately count in the win-loss column, scrimmages very much do matter in every other regard. It's not like the coaching staff and the team are just sitting around bored one day and then they decide to put on a scrimmage like it's some spur-of-the-moment pick-up basketball game. There is very much a reason why they play these things, and why they put players in danger of serious injury in order to conduct these scrimmages. They have major, tangible impacts on player development, evaluations, playing time distributions, and, well, everything else for that matter. You can't just throw all of this stuff out the proverbial window because it's not a "real" game; scrimmages are important and the player and unit performances in them make a difference.
We've talked a lot here at RBR in recent weeks and months about how the offense needs to become even better in 2010 to compensate for the expected declines with both the defense and special teams units. In that regard, it's a positive to see the offense performing at such a high level, but I'll be the first to admit that unless the defense ultimately comes together better than they looked today, it's not going to matter what the offense does. If your goal is repeating as national champions, the defense is simply going to have to do better than this, I don't care how well the offense ultimately performs.
The good news is that we are still unbelievably talented defensively (with even more talent on the way in the 2011 recruiting class) and we still have Nick Saban on our side. Combined, in time, at some point those two things will produce yet another elite defense that dominates opposing offenses with brutal force. It will happen, it is a question of when, not if. Unfortunately, the results of this scrimmage hints that the transition from all of the personnel loss from the 2009 defense will not be nearly as seamless as everyone had hoped. This unit will get to where we all want it to go some day, but after today's performance I must say that day may be further off than we would all like.