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Season Opener: Offensive Review

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Well, the first game is done and in the books. We're going to start the review by looking at the offense, and it's going to be broken down into four separate pieces, and then we'll wrap it up.

Personnel and Formations

Let's start things off with personnel, and look at it. Being quite honest, we didn't do a lot of substituting, except at wide receiver. Until late in the game -- when the reserves came in -- the same basic line-up played the entire game. Wilson was under center, the offensive line was as expected (Smith, Britt, Caldwell, Davis, and Johnson), Grant / Johns at tailback, and Walker / McCall at tight end. At wide receiver, however, we had a great rotation all throughout the game that included D.J. Hall, Mike McCoy, Nikita Stover, Matt Caddell, and Earl Alexander. As the game moved on into the second half, we really started to see the reserves. Upchurch and Coffee came in at tailback, and both looked good. The same goes for a variety of other players at other positions.

In terms of formations, it was an offensive guru's dream afternoon. All of those people, myself included, who pissed and moaned for four years about Shula's offensive sets, you can shut it up right now. We really did some nice things in terms of formations; honestly we did about everything you could imagine. We came out in the I-formation, the strong-I, the weak-I, trips, bunch formations, two tight end sets, the three wide receiver singleback sets (with a single tight end), the shotgun with a back and three wide, the shotgun with a back and four wide. Hell, we even lined up in a no-back set with Grant lined up out wide at receiver and Nick Walker, the tight end, in the slot. We might not score a point the rest of the year, but we're going to be the antithesis of vanilla in terms of formations.

Play-Calling

The bottom on play-calling is that it was vanilla as could be. Literally. In the passing game -- at least in the meaningful part of the game when it was relatively close -- we really did nothing. Generally speaking, it was all short and underneath, with a lot of curls and out routes. The deep passing game was simply non-existent. John Parker Wilson literally did not throw a deep ball all night. The deepest throw of the night was a ball that was thrown away in the red zone. Aside from that, the deepest throw of the night was about a fifteen yard corner route to D.J. Hall out of our own end zone.

The run game was not really any different. We ran the ball outside a bit, but it mostly stayed inside the tackles to the tailback. Generally speaking, again, it was pretty vanilla. We did some misdirection, but it was very limited, and I can't recall off-hand any guards pulling or anything of the sort. All in all, it was a lot of isolation runs to the tailback and a lot of runs bounced outside by Grant. As with the passing game, that'll change in the coming weeks.

One thing I did notice in terms of play-calling that I liked... no play-fakes in long-yardage situations. You know, no play-fake on third and twenty. I know that's not expecting much, but after the last four years...

All in all, it wasn't bad. It was fitting for the situation against such an obviously inferior opponent. Things will change next week.

Execution

Short and simple: We put up 52 points, almost 600 yards of total offense, and averaged over seven yards per play. Granted it was against a poor opponent, execution was good. Penalties, too, were limited, and we didn't turn the ball over.

General Notes

  • John Parker Wilson looked pretty good, but of all of the key offensive cogs, he perhaps looked the worst of the bunch. Again, I know everything that we did was very vanilla, but he never seemingly got settled. Perhaps the simplification of the offense really limited him a good bit, so I'm not quite sure what to make of it. He didn't look bad of course -- he played well -- but he just never seemed to get entirely comfortable in his reads and his progressions.
  • Terry Grant looked good, damn good. He's fast, agile, and has great field vision. He looked good on the runs to the outside (obviously), and he looked to be a better inside runner than most would give him credit for. It was also nice as to how we used him in a variety of situations. We used him nicely as a receiver out of the backfield, lined him up as a wide receiver, etc.
  • Jimmy Johns looked good, and honestly he looks leaner. The roster changes showed him as gaining weight, but he looks like he has slimmed up. We didn't see him used as a fullback (I imagine we'll see that next week), but he continues to look pretty good. Again, being leaner he just seems so much quicker and more agile.
  • Andre Smith... this guy shouldn't be playing college football, end of story. At least in terms of run blocking, he's a beast. Early on the in the game, we ran the ball left, and Andre was on the second level before you could even bat your eyes. He ended up driving some guy about twenty yards down field. He didn't get tested in pass protection, but the man has seemingly improved. For non-Alabama fans, that's scary. We better enjoy him this year and next, he probably won't be around for 2009. An NFL team will likely be waiting with tens of millions of guaranteed dollars for Big Andre.
  • Nick Walker looked good. We threw five balls his way, and ended up with five receptions. The forty pounds he dropped has paid off in a big way. I really cannot remember the time that we had a tight end this athletic. He has busted his rear in the S&C program, and it shows. If the name on the jersey weren't the same, I'd say it was a different player. That touchdown catch he had was a relatively poorly thrown jump ball, and he simply went up and took it away from the defender. If he continues to play like this, Walker will be a potent weapon in our offense. Always remember, a team with a good tight end can control the area between the hashes in the passing game, and that would add a whole new element to our passing attack.
  • The wide receiver rotation looked good from top to bottom. I expected Stover to get a lot of snaps, but he really didn't. I don't know if his hip pointer has held him back or what, but he didn't see the field that much. But nevertheless, the unit as a whole looked great, and the rate at which we were substituting players was a positive. Earl Alexander was particularly impressive (his 6'5 target makes for some easy throws). This is the deepest receiving corps that we've ever had at Alabama.
  • Greg McElroy played well in the back-up role, and honestly he looked more comfortable within the scheme than Wilson. Sure, it was against a terrible team, but nevertheless, solid play from the back-up quarterback is always a welcomed sight.
  • Glen Coffee looked well, also. The weight that he has dropped has seemingly changed his running style, and it's changed it for the better. The rushing attack was as potent with him in the line-up as it was with Grant and Johns.
  • Red zone production in the first half was not particularly good. We had three trips to the red zone, and it ended with one touchdown, one field goal, and one missed field goal. That's not particularly good. Sure, it improved in the second half, but still worrisome production when the starters were in the game. As I noted before the season, the red zone problems were a complicated problem a year ago, and there will be no easy fix. I expect things to be improved by a great deal (hell, how could they not be?), but we'll still occasionally have some problems getting it done in the red zone from time-to-time.

Wrapping It Up

Well, that about sums it up. The truth is that there's not much to analyze, honestly. We played a terrible team, and dismantled them accordingly. We didn't show much, and everything we did was tightly guarded. At bottom, you just have to note the positives, but also realize that this opponent was very bad, and that it's going to get much tougher. We'll see much more about the offense next week.