A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the Tide's 48-3 thumping of San Jose State:
While we knew that the triumvirate of Julio Jones, Marquis Maze, and Darius Hanks would comprise the starting unit at wide receiver, the San Jose State game largely revealed the depth rotation. Brandon Gibson is clearly the #4 receiver, with Earl Alexander and Kevin Norwood rotating in when needed. Kenny Bell looks to get some opportunities as well. No major surprises, but nice to know nevertheless.
- From the outset, the most important takeaway from this game is the lack of serious injuries. Never forget that dominant teams have far more to lose in games against cupcakes than they have to gain, and with regard to injuries, 'Bama dodged the proverbial bullet tonight. As of this writing, the only reported injuries were minor ankle sprains to Courtney Upshaw and D.J. Fluker, with both expected to be healthy enough to play against Penn State. Big sigh of relief.
- In general, the offense performed as well as could be reasonably expected. We moved the ball at will, we prevented turnovers and negative plays, we were efficient in the passing game, we stretched the field vertically, we consistently moved the chains in the running game, and we generated big plays on the ground as well. Sure it was East Popcorn State, but the underlying point remains that this offense has the potential to be extremely good and they did nothing tonight that would cause anyone to become bearish on their expectations moving forward.
- Nick Saban said earlier in the week that Greg McElroy had a better-than-expected fall camp, and it showed tonight. He looked sharp, moved through his progressions with ease, and threw the ball with command and accuracy. And when A.J. McCarron came in, he looked game-ready as well, and truth be told he would be a starter at the majority of BCS programs at this point. Personally, I would feel confident with either in the game moving forward.
- If Trent Richardson is not better then Mark Ingram, then Mark Ingram is on some level normally not occupied by mere mortals. It's hard to imagine a more physically-dominant player than Richarson. As good as he looked as a true freshman last year, he looks to be going to another level now.
- Last week I wrote that we really do not know what to expect out of Julio Jones because he has never been remotely close to 100% healthy while at Alabama. We do know that Jones is healthy now, however, and if his performance yesterday is any indication, it's going to be a special year in Tuscaloosa. We haven't seen him display the kind of raw athleticism that he showed yesterday since he stepped on campus.
Eddie Lacy may have been on the receiving end of a coaching moment at halftime, but I don't think there is any doubt now that he is the #3 tailback. He was better in pass protection than Goode, and as a runner there was really little comparison between the two. Lacy was more productive overall, more of a physical runner between the tackles, and was more of an explosive threat. Goode performed pretty well in his time on the field, and I don't have a doubt that he could play and play often at many BCS conference schools, but he's just the victim of a ridiculous amount of talent in front of him at Alabama.
D.J. Fluker had a solid night, but he is clearly still a work in progress. We gave him some help at times -- probably more than any other lineman -- and he stayed in the game longer than any other starting offensive lineman. From the initial look, it seemed like we were trying to give Fluker all of the snaps we could, and he only came out when he nicked his ankle. I think the right tackle position could still be relatively fluid at the moment, and he may not have that starting job solidified like some may think. At the least, I think the totality of the events surrounding his performance made the late offensive line re-shuffle make a bit more sense.
The defensive front seven was definitely stout, but not necessarily immovable as it typically was a year ago. We generally won the battle in the trenches, but San Jose State was getting some decent surges at times and with better tailbacks they could have had at least some success on the ground. Given the massive size, talent, and depth disparity in play here, with a team like Penn State coming to town, I cannot help but think the game film will entice their offensive coaches to try to run it right at us. With Cody and McClain gone, Dareus suspended, and Jerrell Harris playing inside, those guys have to be particularly intrigued at the thought of doing so, especially with a true freshman quarterback.
The pass rush was quiet tonight, with the sole sack coming on a safety blitz from Robert Lester, but I wouldn't read too much into it. We were relatively vanilla in terms of blitz packages tonight, and truth be told we didn't get very many opportunities. San Jose State only threw 19 passes on the evening, and with nearly all of them being of the short and intermediate varieties, that largely kept the UA pass rush at bay. We ought to be able to rush the passer with the best of them, but we'll see for certain next week.
We all knew of the depth at linebacker, but given the early contributions by true freshmen C.J. Mosley and Jalston Fowler, it may be even better than expected. Mosley looks to be as natural of a linebacker as possible, and it's clear that he will be a key contributor in 2010, and Fowler looked solid in his own right. The fact that both of those players are back-ups says far more about the quality of talent in front of them than it does about their own shortcomings.
While it may change moving forward, we did at least get an early look at the personnel used in the defensive backfield when we go to nickel and dime packages. DeMarcus Milliner was the third corner, with DeQuan Menzie moving inside to play the star position in the nickel when Milliner came on the field. In the few times we went to the dime, from what I could tell, Mark Barron played the star and Will Lowery came into the game as a safety. That may change moving forward, but for now it does not seem like John Fulton, Burton Scott, or Phelon Jones are major factors in the defensive backfield.
Robert Lester made a couple of good plays -- specifically the interception and the sack -- but I'm afraid it seemed pretty clear that he was the weak link of the secondary. He missed a couple of tackles and took some bad pursuit angles on others, and in general looked a tad bit shaky. He didn't necessarily look bad, mind you, but if I were an opposing offensive coordinator he would be the one I would be looking to exploit in the defensive backfield. I'd stay away from Barron and Kirkpatrick, pay close attention to Menzie, and set my sights on Lester.
All in all, the defense looked like a work in progress. We're big, physical, and I think quicker than we were a year ago, but even so we looked a bit weaker at the point of attack, and it seemed like almost every throw down the field was a defensive adventure for one reason or another. The overall numbers look good in the post-game aftermath, and clearly this is a deep unit blessed with loads of raw talent, but we've still got plenty of room for improvement.
Special teams looked pretty good, surprisingly enough. Cade Foster had a couple of touchbacks, made his field goals, added a nice tackle, and Cody Mandell boomed two 50+ yard punts. On the downside, Mandell also had an 18-yard shank, Foster had a couple of short kick-offs, there were some adventures fielding punts, and none of the kickers had to do anything under any semblance of pressure. The early returns were encouraging, mind you, but moving forward it is still going to be an adventure every time the special teams unit comes on the field.
Overall it was a very uneventful game that largely went as expected. Alabama dominated, to the surprise of no one, and was vanilla in the operation of doing so. A few red flags surfaced here and there, but games like this are so lopsided that they are ultimately of very little use for evaluation purposes. In this environment, your strengths look unstoppable and the opponent is so inferior that they are generally unable to expose any weaknesses you may have, so very little actual knowledge can be distilled. Truth be told, in the aftermath of this 48-3 thumping, we really know very little, if any, more about our team than we did this time a week ago. In the final analysis, all we can really say is that we disposed of a vastly inferior opponent like we should have and that we avoided any serious injuries in the process of doing so. We'll know much more of what we are made of in six days time. Hope for the best.