A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the 24-3 victory over Penn State:
- If there was one thing that separated Alabama from Penn State last night it was Trent Richardson. He dominated the Penn State defense and he was the lifeblood of the Alabama offensive attack. With the lone exception of the first touchdown drive where went no-back the entire drive, everything that we did went through Richardson in some capacity. And, while it gets little credit, Richardson is just as good of a receiver and a pass blocker as he is a runner. In hindsight, nabbing Richardson out of the Florida panhandle was arguably the single most important recruiting coup in the Nick Saban era. Without him on the Alabama sideline last night, it's an entirely different game.
- With all due respect to the Nittany Lions -- and I am admittedly fond of PSU -- they really did not impress me last night. They looked to be a solid team, but for the moment nothing much more than that. Evan Royster looked like a cog, the offensive line looked relatively weak, none of the skill position players really stood out, and Trent Richardson and our offensive line toyed with their front seven like a cat paws a ball of yarn. In the weeks leading up to this game I wrote that if we lost to Penn State we were likely in for a much longer season than most expected, and I still think that holds true. Penn State is a solid team who may have an outside chance of challenging Ohio State for the Big Ten championship, but I still believe that we have a few opponents on the schedule this year who will ultimately prove to be better than the Nittany Lions. No vitriol in that, just my honest take.
- Let no one say that the price of victory was not high last night. This was a physical game, and the injury toll showed that. James Carpenter went out with an ankle injury, DeMarcus Milliner went out with an apparent hamstring injury, and Chris Jordan looks to miss an extended period of time with a shoulder injury. The Injury Gods have not been kind to us this year.
- In hindsight, the game-changing play last night was the long and winding fumble and subsequent return by Robert Lester. While the officials ultimately rewarded that ball to Penn State, without the fumble the Nittany Lions have a first and goal inside the Alabama 10-yard line, trailing 14-0. Instead it was 1st and 10 PSU inside their own 5-yard line, and with a quick stop Alabama soon found itself leading 17-0. That fumble by Chaz Powell completely changed the flow of the entire game.
- Allowing only three points to Penn State is obviously the end result you hope for, but the actual defensive performance was not commensurate to the point tally on the final scoreboard. Penn State struggled to put points on the board, but they did move the football at times, and their lack of scoring has more to do with their inability to protect the football in the red zone than anything else (not to mention a key dropped pass on third down that would have given PSU another red zone opportunity). We played poorly enough defensively to give them several opportunities, but the Nittany Lions simply couldn't take advantage of them.
- Points notwithstanding, it was somewhat of a poor effort by the defense. We didn't let their running game go wild, but they did go over 130 yards and averaged over four yards per carry, so it was far from a dominating performance in the trenches. And that was the highlight of the night. Beyond that, we couldn't get stops in short-yardage situations, we tackled very poorly, the pass rush was often non-existent, the defensive backs struggled to cover in one-on-one situations, and we had a plethora of blown assignments. The final point tally was great, but the actual performance itself was much less so. Rest assured Nick Saban and Kirby Smart will have plenty to complain about in film review sessions. Don't kid yourselves about only allowing six points in two games, this unit is clearly a work in progress at the moment.
- The lack of a pass rush clearly has to be one of the biggest concerns we have moving forward. We knew we would have some issues on the back end, but to only have one sack after two games and 50 passing attempts by opposing quarterbacks, who were protected by bad offensive lines, is very disheartening. We did affect some passes tonight with pressure, of course, but you would have hoped for much more. The absence of Marcell Dareus and the ankle sprain to Courtney Upshaw certainly played a role in all of that, but everyone else needs to play better as we move forward instead of just expecting those two to be saviors. I'll be blunt, if we go to Fayetteville with the pass rush we've had the past two weeks, our offense better be prepared to score points in bunches.