The Quarterback Battle
It's just that the two University of Alabama quarterbacks who played against Kent State on Saturday didn't generate that much heat. It's not that they were awful. AJ McCarron, the sophomore who started the game, did pretty well. Phillip Sims, the redshirt freshman who alternated with him, at least until he started the second half with two interceptions on two series, had good moments, too, mixed in with some plays where he looked as shaky as a tambourine in an earthquake.
No one knew it at 11:19 a.m., but by around 2:30 p.m. Saturday, fans had a pretty good idea that the A.J. McCarron era at the University of Alabama might be underway.
Coach Nick Saban will probably continue to rotate each quarterback throughout the practice week, but McCarron made the most of Saturday and should enter the week as the leader in the race to be the Tide's No. 1 quarterback.
McCarron and Phillip Sims were both given an equal chance to run Alabama's No. 1 offense against Kent State in what coach Nick Saban termed an audition for the starting quarterback position. The results, while not conclusive, clearly favored the third-year sophomore from St. Paul's.
Neither A.J. McCarron nor Phillip Sims did anything to clear it up on Saturday. It’s safe to say that no matter how well or poorly either played in the team’s 48-7 win over Kent State, both could play again on Saturday when Alabama travels to Penn State. But for fans looking for clues as to whom should or will get the bulk of the time, this game didn’t provide any.
Saban doesn't want a quarterback controversy, but he could be creating one by not making a decision. Apparently he thinks he can avoid the controversy by shielding the players from the media. I halfway expected the quarterback section on the final stat book to be blank.
McCarron looked smoother in delivering more passes on time than Sims. Yet every now and then, McCarron got into gunslinger mode and forced the type of pass that got him spanked by Saban last year. Sims telegraphed one interception and apparently missed a hot read on another while getting hit.
Maybe we'll find out who the leader of the offense will eventually be during the heat of the battle next Saturday at Penn State. It’s when the pressure is on within a hostile environment that someone will have to step up and lead the way - basically sink or swim. At that point, maybe no more questions will be necessary.
Kent State players got a warm welcome from Alabama fans after helping Tuscaloosa rebuild from the April tornado that devastated much of this college town, and they appreciated it. Once the game started, the Crimson Tide weren't nearly as welcoming.
The statistics shouted. The players shrugged. Alabama's defense dominated Saturday, the statistics said. "It wasn't perfect," free safety Mark Barron said. "We had some mistakes out there. I feel like we came out and had a good day, but it wasn't perfect."
Alabama helped to restore a sense of normalcy in this town simply by playing football. The second-ranked Crimson Tide disposed of Kent State 48-7 on Saturday, using the season opener to unveil a quarterback competition between AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims, though their performances were largely upstaged by the Tide's stout defense.
"When you play with young players at quarterback, there's a lot of things that can happen," Saban said about his young signal-callers. "AJ, having a little more poise, having played a little bit more, probably played with a little more poise today, but we have a lot of confidence in Phillip and in most cases he plays extremely well. I think he learned a lot out there today and I think he will be a very good player for us here."
"You always don't want anybody to score," linebacker Dont'a Hightower said. "We've got our defensive goals to keep the offense to 13 or less points, so we met our goal. "We're pleased, but we're not satisfied with the way we played."
Now out of Ingram’s shadow, Richardson will look to anchor the Crimson Tides’ rushing attack. Even though he had three touchdowns, his 37 yards were bested by fellow running backs Jalston Fowler and Eddie Lacy. Early in the fourth, 63 of Fowler’s 69 rushing yards came on a two-play drive that ended on a lengthy 49-yard run. Lacy also contributed 58 rushing yards and a touchdown of his own.
Marquis Maze shined in his first game as the Tide’s primary receiver, racking up eight receptions en route to 118 yards and a touchdown. With Darius Hanks having to sit out in order to use his medical red-shirt and Duron Carter not playing due to the lack of preparation he had with the team, Maze carried much of the weight of the passing game on his shoulders on Saturday.
For just the briefest moment in the second half, it became important to watch the Alabama offense. Roused from what senior center William Vlachos called a "lull," the offense marched 76 yards in eight plays under co-starting quarterback AJ McCarron, capped off by Trent Richardson’s third touchdown run of the day.
Six different Tide defenders got a share of the four sacks, with linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive end Quinton Dial each collecting solos. Linebacker Dont'a Hightower went without a sack last year, but he earned a piece of one in the first half after blowing through a blocker to reach Keith.
The Golden Flashes may not have quit, but they didn't look sharp, either. Every pass to junior receiver Matt Hurdle was an adventure. The special teams had major issues, including a bad snap that punter Matt Rinehart couldn't get off that set up an Alabama TD. And punter seemed like the only position where KSU had an edge.
"Well that was obviously not the way we wanted to start out," Hazell said. "I'm frustrated that we didn't execute offensively, but I thought the defense played well once we settled in. Our special teams didn't play very well. We dropped a punt, had one dribble back and our kickoff returns weren't good enough. We need to stay together as a team though. I believe we will, but we need to get a whole lot better by next weekend."
The Darrell Hazell era at Kent State is off to a frustrating start. First-year Golden Flashes head coach had to know a loss to the University of Alabama was probable. But while getting blown out 48-7 by the No. 2 ranked Crimson Tide at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday, the Flashes looked slower and sloppier than Hazell had expected.
The Recovery Effort
The physical wounds that Alabama long-snapper Carson Tinker suffered when the tornado struck on April 27 are nearly gone. The gash that opened his right ankle has diminished to a scratch. The scar on Tinker's right wrist, where he underwent an operation to reattach a ligament to the bone, is red and raised. It is ugly, and it is healing. "I got scars all over my body," Tinker said. "It's not like I focus on that or anything. But when I look at myself in the mirror, I know that God has blessed me with another day."
Satur day was a good day in Tuscaloosa. Alabama was playing football again. There was a bit of cloud cover and a steady breeze that kept the temperature bearable. And thoughts of tornadoes and storms seemed to be miles away. For this town, that last part was the most important.
September means football in Alabama, and for Crimson Tide fan Donna Rasco of Shelby County, it’s time to root for her favorite team at Bryant-Denny Stadium. But the usual enthusiasm that builds up in weeks before the first kickoff was tempered because of the tragedy of the killer tornado that tore through the heart of Tuscaloosa in late April.