The good news about this one was that apparently most of the AP voters weren't watching, as our #1 votes only went down from 59 to 56, but as for the game, it was a hot mess. The offense racked up 338 yards against a team that was giving up an average of 434.3 coming in, and that against Colorado, Tulsa, and Cal Poly. (Yes, Cal Poly, whatever that is, out-performed our offense yardage-wise with their 367 yards against this team.)
The defense was at least respectable, holding the Rams to 279 yards, under the 345.5 average they racked up against the aforementioned lightweights, and part of that is attributable to McElwain's knowledge of how to get guys open short and middle against Alabama - either looking for seams in the zone, or having guys count off and then release into the flats - and another part to the absence of starters Deion Belue and Jarrick Williams. But Bama fans have gotten used to seeing their teams do better than to hold their foes a little under their average, and the Tide didn't force a turnover until Trey Depriest registered a badly-needed strip in the 4th.
The injury watch is a bit concerning, as Belue, Williams, Amari Cooper and Anthony Steen, none of whom played Saturday, are all among the guys Bama can least afford to lose. Whether any of those guys can play against Ole Miss is an open question: Williams apparently suffered a nasty eye-poke against A&M that has only now been publicly revealed, and didn't practice all week; Belue has a turf toe, an injury with an infamous capacity to linger; and Steen not being cleared to go the week after a concussion is worrisome. Cooper's issues may relate to a vaguely-described foot injury he apparently suffered during August scrimmages; one would figure they also may relate to his disappointing performance early in 2013.
Nevertheless it was a win and the score wound up in the semi-respectable category, although there was a horrible moment or two early in the 4th quarter when even the final outcome didn't seem assured. Let's hope we can attribute this to playing to the level of the opponent, but you need to be doggoned optimistic not to notice some significant holes n Alabama's squad in the early part of the 2013 season.
In other news, if you were optimistic about the D because of the performance against Virginia Tech, be aware that the Hokies did not score in the first two overtimes Saturday against Marshall.
With the running game all but non-existent and the defense less than smothering, it was all on McCarron to win this game, and win it he did with consistently accurate passing. But at times it seemed his decision-making wasn't what it might be for a fifth-year senior.
AJ came out in the 3rd quarter looking positively Stableresque, by which I mean he was forcing the ball into covered receivers and getting away with it by virtue of outstanding accuracy and imagination. But that's not AJ's normal game, and it had me worried we might see a pick - which we did, when McCarron, off a scramble, either badly underthrew a throw-away or made an extremely ill-advised decision to chuck a floater toward a well-covered receiver.
Most of McCarron's errors Saturday were mental, not physical. What I'm talking about is our third-down passing. Here are all of AJ's third-down completions for the game:
- 3rd and 12 - completed 3 yards downfield
- 3rd and 7 - completed 6 yards downfield
- 3rd and 9 - completed 1 yard downfield
- 3rd and 5 - completed 4 yards downfield
- 3rd and 7 - completed 1 yard downfield
- 3rd and 13 - completed 2 yards behind the line
- 3rd and 12 - completed 4 yards downfield
It's even worse than it sounds, because only two of those passes were to guys who had any running room, and really, right there is much of the reason for our offensive failures. Most of those throws were to guys who were not only short of the first down but also solidly screened away from the marker, and the only two that were completed relatively close to the sticks were to receivers who were immediately stoned upon reception. AJ's aversion to making bad plays is often rightly appreciated, but you've got to take a few chances on 3rd down, and on most of those plays McCarron at least had a chance to hang on to the ball and look for another receiver.
AJ underthrew DeAndruw White on the first possession on what would've been a long TD but it wasn't so badly underthrown as to keep the play from turning into a nice gain anyway, and later he was too high to an open OJ Howard down the middle, but generally his passes were spot on the money. The long TD to White was very nicely thrown, with both accuracy and zip.
I'm not totally convinced AJ is fully-recovered from the ingrown toenail or double foot amputation or whatever was allegedly bothering his wheels pre-season. He has seemed a bit reluctant to scramble so far this year, and perhaps not quite full speed when he does. AJ is never a burner, but when he's healthy you wouldn't call him a lumberer, either.
We rushed for 66 yards against these schlubs. Coming in they were giving up 175.7 a game to the aforementioned extremely light schedule. What the unholy cat yack. I mean really.
For the record, I can't really pin it on the backs, other than to say I hope that the experiment with Fowler as a feature tailback is over. Yeldon tripped over his own lineman in the backfield right when we didn't need it, but he ran hard and was, as always, a handful to tackle. Tenpenny and Drake showed some bounce and elusiveness, too.
As for blitz pickup, a concern after the Tech game, three times a Colorado St. outside blitzer came totally free, but I don't really pin this on the backs, as they were never in the vicinity. Seemed like more of a scheme problem, and perhaps something that can be looked at. Only once did it cause a sack, and that was on a play when another guy came free up the middle and McCarron had nowhere to turn.
I find myself wondering if Yeldon was already in Saban's doghouse before his little gesturing difficulties popped up, as even a short next-game suspension is perhaps a little harsh for that particular sin. There's no doubt that Coach Saban is not keen to publicize either the names of his doghouse tenants or the terms of their leases, and Yeldon certainly spent a lot more time on the bench in the first quarter of the A&M game - before the gesture - than I would've expected.
It's not surprising that the backup tailback spot is still unsettled, but it is surprising that nobody is really making a serious push for it. I expected the problem to be the opposite, too many guys making serious pushes, but unfortunately that difficulty has not arisen. Just a thought, but I wonder if we overdid it by signing so many bright high school stars, leaving not enough of Burton Burns to go around and therefore no single guy who has been coached up enough to lay serious claim to the backup spot.
It's a little early for DeAndruw White to be fully recovered from last year's ACL, and my eyeball test says he's not quite 100%. Nevertheless, the man is finding ways to get open, there's no doubt about that, as he caught one deep TD ball and would've had another with a more accurate throw. If he is still slowed, watch out when he's not. Regardless, he's playing well now.
And he made the block of the game, too. On Yeldon's 38-yard carry in the 2nd quarter, Brandon Greene did a nice job of sealing the line of scrimmage, but two Rams were running free toward the ball-carrier behind the line. White came zooming in from the sideline like a missile, knocked one defender flat on his patookus, and screened the other guy off and right out of the play. If you get style points for a pancake and style points for taking two guys out with one block, then give DeAndruw double style points on that one.
Greene made a nice block on the Yeldon run, but later he let his guy beat him inside on a pass rush. McCarron had no chance to spin away from the rusher, as that happened to be one of the three plays where an outside blitzer came free.
O.J. Howard is playing an increasingly large part in our passing game. The young man is dangerous with the ball and knows how to shake loose without it. He also made at least three nice blocks.
Chris Black got his first touchdown, managing to show on a single play both his potential and, perhaps, why he has so far gotten so little chance to exercise it. After catching a flat pass from Blake Sims, Black accelerated like lightning once he got going and scored an easy touchdown. The problem was that he hesitated momentarily after catching the ball and before taking upfield, when in fact there was no cause at all for hesitation, as O.J. Howard and Derrick Henry had completely taken out the lone defenders on that side of the field, pushing them in opposite directions no less, and leaving a gaping hole that I could've scored through.
Meanwhile, Christion Jones was seen in a new role: possession receiver. He grabbed everything thrown at him and finished with 9 catches for 90 yards.
The Tide didn't have as many glaring errors and missed blocks as we had in the Virginia Tech game, but what we did see was a glaring inability to push Colorado St. off the ball. Time and again Bama backs had nowhere to go except into the pile at or near the line - there's no one lineman's name that can be called when that happens, it's a group failure.
At least it wasn't usually well behind the line, as was so often the case against Tech. Ryan Kelly had some problems, though, as he was pushed well into the backfield twice, including once when Yeldon tripped over his leg for a 5-yard loss, and Kelly gave up penetration and a loss a third occasion when his man spun off his block. Arie Kouandjio pulled to lead-block around the left end early in the game, but then completely whiffed on a speedy defensive back who blew up the play.
Cyrus Kouandjio got beat on a circle route for a sack.
There are not very many successful run blocks to talk about here, as the nice blocking on Yeldon's long run fell to receivers and we didn't really have another open run. (Yikes.) Drake ran behind Shepard and Vogler for his TD.
Despite the two sacks, pass-blocking was again decent. If the line can consistently control the blitzers, the linemen seem to be able to handle their guys. I'm pretty sure Bama has been passing more frequently in competitive situations this year than previously, and there's a reason.
This was one of those games where the defensive line didn't really put up any stats, but stats don't always tell the story on this position grouping and they didn't this time. Line play was solid both against the run and against the pass.
Once again the defensive line got an unspectacular but consistent pass rush push and Rams quarterback Garrett Grayson rarely got a chance to get set and look downfield. Xzavier Dickson, who has shone as a pass rusher this year even though he hasn't seen the field all that much, was the only lineman credited with a hurry, but Grayson looked consistently short of time, throwing the ball away or exiting the pocket unceremoniously over and over. Stinson, Pagan and Robinson all got close to the Rams QB at least once.
And there was nothing doing on the ground, as Brandon Ivory looked both strong and agile in plugging holes, probably the best play I've seen from him. Colorado St. got only 51 yards rushing, including 16 from Grayson. The running backs had 19 carries for 35 yards and their longest run was 9 yards.
This aspect of Bama'ms play can scarcely be faulted.
Hubbard was all over the field in the first half, with nice TFLs on a screen pass and an outside sweep, and forcing a couple of hurried passes. He was too quick and strong for the Rams to stop. He wasn't as evident in the 2nd half, and I wonder whether that is because McElwain schemed him out or because he got winded.
Mosley overran a screen on a 3rd and 7 play in the 3rd quarter, leading to a first down, but it was a rare miscue. He easily led the team with 9 tackles, including a nice TFL after shedding a block on a run play and a good recovery to shut down a screen that looked like it was going somewhere. He was credited with two hurries.
Depriest forced the key fumble in the 4th quarter that snuffed out Colorado's remaining hopes after those hopes had stayed alive way too long.
Not only was our defensive backfield depth considerably lightened by injury, but it was further lightened by Saban's obvious displeasure at last week's "coverage" of Mike Evans. Neither Cyrus Jones nor John Fulton was injured, but neither was on the field for the first play, although Fulton wound up seeing a fair bit of time and leading the DBs in tackles with six, including a nice individual play stringing out a quarterback scramble with zero help when the Rams had made their deepest penetration, to the Bama 16 in the 4th quarter.
Instead, Eddie Jackson and Bradley Sylve got the starts, and neither was burnt during the game for any kind of big gainer. Maurice Smith saw a fair bit of action, too, with four tackles of his own, and maybe he is our lucky charm. Coming free on a blitz early in the 4th, Smith over-ran the QB, who took off to the right with some running room - only to fumble after Depriest mauled his ball arm. It was the turning point of the game, as McCarron found White for a touchdown on the next play and Colorado St. would not threaten again.
Hasean Clinton-Dix had a decent game, and he has seemed to have a decent game every week. But so far, while Clinton-Dix looks like a dependable starter, the All-American/first-round pick talk of the pre-season seems a bit overblown.
I didn't really get a chance to watch Landon Collins trying to cover a wideout running across the field - and I wanta see that before jumping to conclusions - but he looked good, fast and physical. A guided missile, just like he always is on punt return coverage. He's an exciting guy to watch, with a potential to be an impact player.
Sunseri got excellent pressure twice early, including blocking a pass back into the QB's hands and immediately tackling him for a loss, the equivalent of a sack. He also forced a third-down throw-away after an excellent cut on a delayed blitz. But he bit on a play action on State's initial possession and got burned for a 27-yard gain.
Considering how many defensive backs missed this game - Belue, Williams and Nick Perry were not in pads - I saw precious little Geno Smith, and when I did see him it was getting burned after making penetration into the backfield on a quick out. Smith even face-masked on the play, which wasn't called.
Overall, the results were not terrible, but they certainly weren't great. Even though he was under consistent pressure, Grayson threw for 227 yards and was not intercepted. That's 6.0 yards per attempt, which is mediocre to be sure but he was only averaging 6.2 coming in against, let's say it again, Colorado, Tulsa and Cal Poly.
If you're generous you can blame it on McElwain's schemes, but whatever the reason Colorado St. had too many guys open. Let's hope Belue and Williams are back soon.
Kickoff coverage continues to make me very happy. This has been a thorn in Bama's side for years now, and maybe I'm counting my chickens, but so far this year I am just not feeling the worry on kickoffs as in recent years. On Saturday Bama kicked off six times, all six were returned, and only the last return made it to the the new touchback starting-point of the 25 - respectively, the Rams' KO returns were to the 18, 17, 24, 23, 22 (the 12 after the holding penalty), and the 29.
Cody Mandell flirted with a couple of deep pins, but they both turned into touchbacks. On the season, he is averaging a spiffy 47.2, with an even spiffier 43.9 net average.
Cade Foster had his first two field-goal attempts of the season, both from 46 yards. The first had plenty of distance and missed just left, and while the second one wasn't struck as cleanly it cleared the lower right-hand of the bar with a good few millimeters to spare.
It's still exciting when Christion Jones fields a punt, but not necessarily for all the right reasons. He had a slight bobble grabbing a bouncer just before getting hit. I would not have minded if he had let that one go. But hey, he caught it.