A few initial impressions from the early aftermath of Alabama's 42-10 win over Missouri:
Tale of two games in Columbia yesterday afternoon. 'Bama used yet another strong start on the road to bury Missouri right out of the gates while quickly building a four touchdown lead, but it was a completely different game after lighting strikes forced a 38-minute delay. Once play resumed, very sloppy football became the norm, with the numerous miscues going as follows: Kick-off return for a touchdown allowed, lost fumble, dropped punt, three-and-out, field goal allowed, 22-yard net punt. Alabama, in fact, posted only one first down in the third quarter, and special teams were an unmitigated disaster. Missouri cut the lead to 28-10 early in the third quarter and at least threatened to make the game semi-competitive, but the 'Bama defense simply refused to relent, and finally the offense got back on track in the fourth quarter with two touchdowns to solidify the blowout.
Overall, just a very frustrating game to watch, and not necessarily just because of the mid-game swoon. 'Bama raced out to an effective 28-0 lead in the early stages, and it was exceedingly clear then that the game would be another snoozer barring a miracle. Then the long delay comes, and at that point a letdown becomes almost inevitable and then forty minutes of football remain, in terrible field conditions, against a team so bad that they may not even make a bowl game. In essence, it's two hours of mostly meaningless football with the fan base holding its collective breath and hoping that no one gets injured in garbage time.
Fortunately, though, even with an ugly stretch, 'Bama emerged from Columbia in relatively good health. The injury to AJ McCarron was obviously a tremendous scare, and for future purposes all should hope that he resists the urge to try abbreviated spin moves in the pocket with two defensive linemen about to deliver the blow, but he returned and seemingly avoided any serious structural damage to the knee. Hopefully his injury, whatever it is, will not make him more susceptible to sustaining a more serious injury in the weeks ahead, but it is perhaps reasonable to expect that his mobility will be limited next weekend against Tennessee. Not sure if Alabama can go into Knoxville and Baton Rouge and get wins with Blake Sims under center, but hopefully that will become a moot question with the continued health of McCarron.
After an ugly performance against an undersized Ole Miss front, a big rebound performance yesterday afternoon for the Alabama offensive line and tailbacks Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon. Together they went for over 300 yards and five touchdowns, averaging almost nine yards per carry along the way and for the most part they made it look relatively easy. Missouri has a strong defensive line, but it's an aggressive unit that heavily utilizes slants, stunts, and run blitzes, and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier deserves credit for anticipating the Missouri defensive playcalling and responding appropriately. Several times yesterday, including on the opening touchdown run by Lacy, Alabama just out-maneuvered the Tigers at the point of attack by attacking the temporal weaknesses in an aggressive front. Credit pre-game preparation and in-game playcalling for that.
Difficult day to throw the football given the horrid conditions, but AJ McCarron and company did well enough and were clearly put in a good position due to the dominant performance from the running game. McCarron had his typical efficient-even-if-not-explosive performance, and in the wide receiver corps Amari Cooper continued to solidify his claim to being the best player in the rotation. Meanwhile, Cyrus Jones saw significant playing time yesterday in the absence of DeAndrew White, and his presence is only likely to grow next weekend in Knoxville given the fact that Christion Jones was a bit banged up yesterday.
The running game received most of the attention yesterday, but the defensive line in particular and the front seven in general were just as important and impressive. Missouri threatened to make the game reasonably competitive in the third quarter, but the 'Bama front seven simply dominated the rag-tag Missouri offensive line and controlled the offense from the inside out. The running game was completely shut out, and with Mizzou frequently being forced into long down and distance situations, Kirby Smart and company were aggressive with blitzes and multiple pre-snap looks. Don't sugarcoat the obvious in that the Missouri offensive line was a rambling train wreck, but even so an absolutely dominant showing yesterday by the defensive line, easily its best performance of the year. Can the front seven do the same against a quality offensive line? Perhaps so, perhaps not, but either way the performance yesterday has to be considered encouraging moving forward.
Many have wondered if Alabama would continue to play with only two cornerbacks against spread passing offenses, and 'Bama answered that in the affirmative yesterday. Nick Perry, Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix, and Nick Perry were mainstays in the secondary, while third cornerback John Fulton played only spot duty. On the whole it was a relatively solid day from the defensive backfield, and at least there were no glaring shortcomings. There were some holes, to be sure, and 'Bama struggled to defend the various crossing routes at intermediate depths, but the pressure generated up front was generally so strong that Corbin Berkstresser and company couldn't really take advantage of any openings on the back end. As expected, though, the tale on this unit will still likely be told in Knoxville.
The bad news yesterday was that special teams largely reverted to its struggles of years gone by, and the blocked punt and a single booming punt by Cody Mandell were only exceptions to that general rule. The loss of Dee Hart proved large, as Christion Jones made two key mistakes in the return game, and a lack of lane discipline on the kickoff return allowed for an easy touchdown, after Cade Foster launched a poor kick that was both short and low. For the time being the return game is the key concern, as 'Bama once again had a true freshman returning punts. Christion Jones is an explosive athlete, but he is often too enamored with his own athleticism, and until he starts making better decisions Alabama simply has to find another returner.
In other quick hitters, DeMarcus Milliner is going to be a three-year player, he's down to his final eight weeks in Tuscaloosa. Deion Belue showed no ill effects of the shoulder injury suffered against Ole Miss. Kevin Norwood moved well yesterday and looks to be recovered from his lower leg injury. Not sure if Blake Sims can throw the football against quality competition, but he is the clear back-up now, and he can run the zone read with the best of them. Over-the-top body slam by LaMichael Fanning will likely earn him a one-game suspension from Mike Slive. Too aggressive? Probably, but I'd rather have a defensive linemen who you have to calm down rather than build up; it's the ones who roam around afraid of running into something who you worry about it. Not every day you go 2-9 on third downs and turn the ball over twice, yet still post 500+ yards of total offense and score 42 points. Landon Collins made his first major impact play in Tuscaloosa on the blocked put, though it likely won't be his last. True freshman Tyler Hayes is also seeing playing time on special teams. Jeoffrey Pagan played really well on the defensive line, and Adrian Hubbard made a legitimate impact rushing the passer. C.J. Mosley led the defense yesterday with 12 tackles, a TFL, a fumble recovery, a QB hurry, and a sack. Denzel Devall played well yesterday in late action.
All in all, 'Bama wins yet again in a blowout over another opponent that isn't particularly good. Largely same story, different week, though on the upside Alabama generally played better than it did against Ole Miss and didn't have near the injuries that it suffered against the Rebels either. Nevertheless, the first half snooze-fests will likely come to an end in Columbia. Tennessee is not particularly good, but the Vols passing game does expect to match up well with the 'Bama secondary, and in any event now 'Bama must fight its way through road trips to Knoxville and Baton Rouge while also having to fend off Mississippi State and Texas A&M in Tuscaloosa. If it can do so and emerge unscathed, 'Bama will earn a berth in Atlanta with a trip to Miami on the line, but doing so will be a very tall order. For the most part, it's been a slow and uneventful opening half of the season, but 'Bama will find out what it's made of in the next four weeks.