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Initial Impressions from the Western Carolina Game

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Disaster averted.

Even coach was bored.
Even coach was bored.
Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The Alabama squad did what was expected of it on Saturday, dispatching an outmanned Western Carolina team in comfortable fashion, winning the Homecoming game by a score of 48-14. It was certainly a workmanlike performance by a Tide team that looked generally uninspired, which is hardly shocking considering that the game was sandwiched between last week's big win and next week's Iron Bowl. Indeed, the mission this week was nothing more than getting to next week healthy, which unfortunately didn't completely happen. In fact, at some points on Saturday the game played like a B-level horror film for Tide fans as some of the more indispensable players on the team laid on the field in pain. Thankfully, it appears that most of those players were simply nicked and won't be affected going forward.

Offensively the Tide got very little resistance in this one, rolling up 612 total yards that could have been more had the team been so inclined. The passing game was solid if not spectacular, showing a propensity for the big play under Blake Sims. It still didn't look terribly functional, as Blake had a few more bad misfires and receivers dropped some
additional catchable balls, but all in all it got the job done. Blake did throw one interception on a play where freshman WRs Ardarius Stewart and Cameron Sims nearly collided, leaving nothing but Catamounts in the end zone to catch a deep ball. Jacob Coker entered in the second half and looked good for the most part, showing off the big arm that he's known for while also losing some accuracy on passes that required a loft. Chris Black led the way in the receiving corps, catching six balls for 101 yards, hopefully providing a glimpse of things to come next season. Derrick Henry started the game at RB and ran well, garnering nearly eight yards a carry, though he did have a costly fumble on his own 12-yard line. Needless to say, ball security still needs to be addressed.

Defensively the Tide came out flat, a fact acknowledged by Saban in the post-game, allowing Western Carolina to complete two long passes on the opening drive to score first and lead 7-0. Tide fans will certainly lament an inadvertent whistle that gave WCU a mulligan on a third-down fumble then the subsequent push-off against Cyrus Jones that allowed the first of the big pass plays, but the fact is that a more focused Tide squad overcomes those plays and gets off the field anyway. To their credit, the first unit woke up for the rest of the first half, limiting the Catamounts to only one additional first down plus a TD on a highly questionable catch following the Henry fumble. As expected, the Tide completely snuffed out the run in this one, allowing negative yardage, and the Catamounts really didn't find any sort of success through the air either with a paltry 5.7 per pass, though Alabama did lose a few battles in single coverage. Cyrus Jones in particular had a rough showing in this one after playing well for the majority of the season.

At one point in the game it looked like a nightmare worst-case scenario for the Tide on the injury front as the list of casualties included none other than superstar WR Amari Cooper, LT Cam Robinson, DT A'shawn Robinson, RB Jalston Fowler, TE Brian Vogler, LB/ST ace Reuben Foster, and WR Ardarius Stewart. Thankfully, Saban said that the first four all had minor nicks and they could have played if needed. I would expect all of them healthy for the Iron Bowl. No word on Foster, but it sounds like Vogler and Stewart are much more questionable, Saban categorizing both injuries as "stretched knee ligaments," otherwise known as knee sprains. Fortunately the Tide has capable depth at blocking TE and WR, but we certainly hope that both men get well soon. Some Alabama fans complained of dirty play by the Catamounts contributing to the injuries, mainly citing two chop blocks that were seen, but I personally believe it was more a function of incompetence than anything else as the WCU linemen attempted to cut the bigger and far superior Alabama DL, failing to communicate well enough to know that one of their linemates would be offering help thus turning a cut block into a dangerous and illegal chop block. Let's hope that this was the issue and that there was no malice intended.

Cupcake games typically provide an opportunity for some young players to get in and shine, and yesterday's game was no exception. Tyren Jones got some extended playing time as TJ Yeldon was held out as a preventative measure and showed some nice vision and agility in picking up 75 yards on 11 carries. Altee Tenpenny also got some action, gaining 64 yards on 11 tries. Cameron Sims had a drop and the aforementioned confusion on the interception, but also caught three passes including his first TD. WR Robert Foster got some extended time as well and caught 4/40, with TE Malcolm Faciane adding two short grabs. Freshman PK Gunnar Raborn filled in for a resting Adam Griffith and converted two of three FGs and a perfect 6/6 on PATs. LB Tim Williams and DL Josh Frazier each had a late sack. Freshman DE Da'shawn Hand also got some extended action. At one point Shaun Dion Hamilton, Dillon Lee, and Rashaan Evans were all in the game together providing a potential glimpse of next season's LB corps. The feel-good moment came late in the third quarter as senior walk-on TE Michael Nysewander caught a TD from Coker, only the second catch of the scout-teamer's career.

That was about it. Now the Tide gets to focus on an Iron Bowl game with everything riding on it. Win and go to Atlanta as a heavy favorite to make the inaugural playoff. Lose and go to the Peach Bowl. Here's hoping the team comes out firing on all cylinders.