Alabama just played a game where they outgained the opponent 383-197, Yeldon and Drake combined for just under seven yards a carry while the opposing top rusher ran for less than three, and the opponent managed a paltry five yards per passing attempt. Why, then, does the game feel so unsatisfying?
First off, the positives. After a rocky start, TJ got going and ended up with a career high 159 yards rushing. Drake averaged 7.0 per carry in the backup role, OJ Howard managed to get loose for another explosive play in the passing game, and Norwood made another beautiful grab in the end zone. Cody Mandell was absolutely ridiculous punting the football averaging 55 a punt while downing two inside the 20, and Cade Foster made all his kicks. The defense was stellar for the most part, allowing the aforementioned 197 total yards and rising to the occasion multiple times when put in a bad position by the offense. CJ Mosley continues to be a manchild in both the run and pass game- if he continues to play this way his NFL stock will be off the charts by season's end. The defensive line was stout, allowing only 52 yards rushing on 29 attempts against a solid offensive front that averaged better than 200 yards against LSU, Texas A&M, and South Carolina. Christion Jones caused a fumble on a kickoff with a vicious hit that drew a reaction from the crowd. The defense and special teams certainly appeared to be of national championship caliber.
So, about that passing game...
I don't know what was going on with AJ last night, but I certainly hope it was temporary. His accuracy and timing were off, he didn't have his regular patience in the pocket, and his velocity appeared to be down. He uncharacteristically turned the ball over twice with interceptions including an indefensible, horrible heave off his back foot deep in Bulldog territory with the Tide up two scores and looking to put the game away. There has been speculation that something is physically wrong with AJ, perhaps his shoulder, and as cringe inducing as that may be it is something for Tide fans to keep an eye on. Completing only 18/32 for 187 yards and two picks is simply unacceptable for a three-year starter at QB with elite weapons all over the field. At this point I'm willing to chalk this one up as simply a bad day for him but time will tell. Pass protection was solid all night, allowing one sack and very few hurries. I recall only one blatant drop, by Christion Jones near the sideline.
The running game was somewhat inconsistent but ended up strong statistically. The dreaded fumbling issue showed up again as Yeldon and Drake each managed to put one on the turf. Yeldon's led to the Bulldogs' lone score while Drake was bailed out by the defense after coughing it up inside his own 25. Needless to say, these are the types of mistakes that decide games between equal adversaries and must be avoided if the Tide is to repeat as SEC or national champions. The number two CB spot still seems to be in flux. Cyrus Jones was beaten a couple times, once in particular late in the game when De'Runnya Wilson flat-out dropped a TD pass that would have made the score much too close for comfort. Geno Smith has seen increased playing time in the slot since Sunseri went down and seemed to acquit himself well.
I think the best thing you can say about this game is that the Tide managed to go on the road in the SEC without their best game and still dominate everywhere but the scoreboard. Tide fans should be able to take comfort in the reality that the low point total was largely self-inflicted while also having concerns that these same mistakes could show up down the line in more critical situations. The Tide still looks like the strongest team in America in the trenches, especially on defense, and a wealth of playmakers should make this team virtually impossible to defend. Next week the team gets a breather before what should be a fun Iron Bowl. Here's hoping the team gets the kinks ironed out by then and that AJ's issues were of the temporary and mental variety rather than injury.