A few thoughts from the early aftermath of the 62-13 victory over Duke:
- Now that is the offense you dream about, right? Admittedly Duke is terrible defensively, but even so 60+ points and 600+ yards of total offense is spectacular production any time you play a BCS opponent. After three games the offense is still seemingly flawless, and to date we have been able to do just about whatever we wanted to do whenever we wanted to do it. Clearly you cannot expect things to go this smoothly every week, but if the offense has to carry this team later in the year, at least the early returns indicate that it should be well equipped to do so.
- Defensively, I wish I could say the first half performance against Duke, where we allowed 13 points and gave up over 200 yards, was an anomaly, but that wouldn't be accurate. The harsh truth of the matter is that, as of right now anyway, we don't do anything particularly well on defense. We do not rush the passer consistently, we struggle to cover on the back end, we do not get penetration in the interior running game, we do not collapse the edge on outside runs, we do not tackle well, and we do not get stops on short-yardage situation. That's about all you can do on defense, and we don't do any of it particularly well right now. Saban explicitly dubbed the first half defensive performance "shit," and it's hard to argue with him over that summation. At the very least, the defense is nowhere near the level that we expected it to be at this stage, even given all of the personnel turnover in the offseason.
- After getting only one sack on 42 passing attempts against Duke -- with the lone sack coming in garbage time -- for the moment at least we can say the UA pass rush is anemic, and the coverage issues on the back end were by no means a major surprise. Perhaps more concerning -- and perplexing -- long term, however, is our struggle to stop the run. By all accounts we were expected to be stout against the run, and we haven't been close to that to date. We've been decent-at-best against the run, struggling to shut down the interior running game with opposing offensive lines consistently holding the edge on outside runs, and once again the opposing tailbacks found success against the Alabama defense. The good news, I suppose, is that we don't face very many high-end rushing attacks this year, but even so that's a minor fact of relatively little consolation. Giving up almost 150 rushing yards to Duke is particularly disheartening given their struggles in establishing the run, and you do have to wonder just what would happen right now if we happen to stumble across a good running game. Part of it, of course, is our tackling woes, but our poor tackling has nothing to do with the almost complete inability of our defensive front seven to get penetration into the backfield. Another week goes by, another week our front seven gets neutralized at the line of scrimmage, and another week where we languish near the bottom of the country in tackles for loss.
- The price of victory was high once again. Fortunately the Marcell Dareus fears were quickly put to rest, but William Vlachos injured his foot and Luther Davis sustained some sort of leg injury. The reports were that Vlachos could have returned if needed, but the injury to Davis was thought to be more severe. Let us hope that the Davis injury, much like the shoulder injury to Chris Jordan a week ago, turns out to not be near as serious as initially expected.
- Marcell Dareus played well today in his return, despite not showing up everywhere in the final box score. He was disruptive in the running game, provided some pass rush, and constantly demanded double teams. Even so, as a whole we still didn't rush the passer well and we still struggled in coverage on the back end. The takeaway point is that adding Dareus back to the lineup is obviously a major addition because it puts an elite, impact player on the field, but even so it's not going to make all of our other defensive issues magically disappear. His return is a considerable positive, but not a cure-all panacea for all that ails us defensively.
- Mark Ingram needed all of one play to establish that he was completely healthy following his knee surgery two weeks ago, and his open field cut late in the first quarter was one of the more impressive open-field moves he has made since arriving in Tuscaloosa. All in all, he showed no ill effects from the surgery, he was able to cut on a dime, the acceleration was there, and defenders continued to just slip and slide off him (showcasing all of the lower body strength). We'll likely never know for certain, but based on his quick return I would probably venture to say that the surgical team actually found no real structural damage to his knee when they operated on him, and that he could have played a week ago against Penn State had we needed him.