A few initial impressions from the early aftermath of Alabama's 40-7 victory over Florida Atlantic:
No one expected Florida Atlantic to mount any real fight in Tuscaloosa, and let it not be said that the Owls did not fulfill expectations. With the end result being readily apparent even four plays into the opening drive, the only questions lingering throughout the evening where just how big the margin of victory would become and whether or not any Alabama players would be injured. Even for the hometown homers, this was essentially the kind of boring contest that could make you yearn for the days of Southern Miss making their annual trek up I-20/59.
Offensively, the running game practically had its way and the offensive line dominated in the trenches. FAU hoped to use its quickness at the point of attack, due to their lack of size, to their advantage, but the Alabama line generally picked it up well. T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy combined to average over 6.5 yards per carry, and Kenyan Drake, Dee Hart, and walk-on Ben Howell later came into the game and carried the load with no real drop-off.
Much of the same goes for AJ McCarron and the passing game, where the Mobile junior threw for 212 yards and three touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier continued to call the short and intermediate crossing routes, and unable to consistently jam at the line of scrimmage, 'Bama receivers had clean releases and the FAU defensive backs simply could not match their speed in open space, a mismatch exploited all afternoon. Interestingly, though, Nick Saban continued to reiterate in the postgame that he did not think 'Bama was living up to its potential in the passing game, despite the solid numbers. Drops were also a problem throughout the day, too, so expect that to be a focal point during practice this week.
Defensively, it was effectively the Mismatch of the Century, with the defense allowing FAU only 110 yards of total offense on 45 plays, 61 of which came on the final drive against a unit that consisted almost entirely of true freshmen. In the first half Florida Atlantic could only muster 21 total yards of offense, and in general the FAU offense v. 'Bama defense match-up was tantamount to watching the Globetrotters take on the Washington Generals.
The hope coming into yesterday was that the spread attack of Florida Atlantic could test the Alabama pass defense with Ole Miss, Missouri, Tennessee, and Texas A&M looming on the schedule, but that never came to fruition. FAU quarterback Graham Wilbert went only 7-13 for 34 yards with a long completion of only ten yards, which is horrendous enough in its own right, but once you figure in the three sacks which lost 18 yards, FAU somehow managed only 16 passing yards on 16 passing attempts. Good luck wrapping your mind around that one. Oh, and 17 of those passing yards came on the final drive against the true freshman, which means that somehow FAU managed to have -1 yards passing three the first three plus quarters of the game. Mind-boggling numbers.
Special teams again continues to surprise most observers, with Cade Foster hitting two long field goals, Jeremy Shelley connecting on two short-range kicks, and Foster gathering six touchbacks on nine kick-offs. Cody Mandell only had one punt, which went for 29 yards, but that was a pooch punt by design which was well executed and which pinned up FAU deep on their own end. Jesse Williams also blocked a field goal attempt, though with a bad snap and the lowest of low kicks, if he had not blocked it three others probably would have. The only real concern was in the punt return game, where Christion Jones put the ball on the turf for the second week in a row. Perhaps related to that, Dee Hart returned punts in the second half, and he could see more opportunities in the week ahead.
The lopsided margin resulted in playing time opportunities for players further down the depth chart, and many took advantage of that yesterday evening. True freshmen in particular dominated the fourth quarter, and at one point yesterday the defense featured eight true freshmen on the field at the same time. The roster generally has good quality depth throughout, but even so Alabama has fielded more true freshmen this season than any since 2008, which will hopefully produce dividends during the next couple of years.
Given the overall foregone conclusion of the contest, the big concern yesterday was injuries, and by that measurement Alabama apparently escaped with no real setbacks. Back-up nose guard Brandon Ivory left the game in a boot, with what Nick Saban later described as an ankle sprain, but that lone injury notwithstanding there were apparently no other injuries of note to any meaningful contributors. Hopefully Ivory will return to form on short notice, but the run defense was a bit soft with him and Darren Lake in the game -- i.e. when there was no Jesse Williams manning the nose -- so his absence probably isn't the biggest concern in any event.
In other quick hitters, Phillip Ely took the first snaps after AJ McCarron left the game, but Blake Sims took over after Ely's fumble and played relatively well. DeAndrew White has developed a knack for toe-tapping touchdown receptions in the back of the end zone. True freshman Tyler Hayes not only played early on special teams, but finished the day second on the team in tackles. Kenyan Drake continues to impress. Seems safe to say that true freshman Cyrus Jones has passed redshirt freshmen Marvin Shinn and Danny Woodson, Jr. at wide receiver. Jeoffrey Pagan has become one of the top ends in the defensive line rotation, and he registered his first career sack yesterday. 'Bama put the ball on the ground four times yesterday, but only lost one fumble. No turnovers were generated by the defense yesterday, though realistically no one can expect the massive turnover margin to continue on a consistent basis. Derrick Henry, the highly-touted tailback/athlete prospect, was in Tuscaloosa for the game yesterday on his official visit.
All in all, yesterday evening was a boring affair but nevertheless a successful one. To paraphrase what Nick Saban said two years ago in the Georgia State postgame, "Well, we had to play somebody," and yesterday that somebody happened to be Florida Atlantic. With victory assured, truth be told only bad things can happen in such lopsided match-ups, but fortunately Alabama emerged essentially unscathed, and can now turn attention to more challenging competition this upcoming weekend against Ole Miss.