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Initial Impressions From the West Virginia-Alabama Game

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Some thoughts and notes in the aftermath of Alabama's 33-23 victory over the West Virginia Mountaineers

RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

"There was a lot of chaos. Once everybody calmed down and just got back to playing basic football, lining up and striking, we were good to go."- Denzel Devall

Sounds about right.

Where to begin...

How about with WVU's HUNH offense? What surprised you the most, honestly? Was it how WVU successfully and continually attacked Bradley Sylve, and Eddie Jackson remained on the sideline? Perhaps it was their success running the ball between the tackles in the first half or how we failed, again continually, to stop their WR screens? Or maybe it was Clint Trickett's efficient  29-45 and 365 yard stat line?

Offenses who deploy the HUNH, especially the air raid variety, will score points and gain yards, this is inevitable. Even Oklahoma State and their former walk-on quarterback, scored 31 points and tallied 370 total yards (WV only totaled 393), against an FSU defense who is primarily built to stop spread/HUNH offenses. So, maybe just maybe, the sky ISN'T falling after-all.

I heard complaints about the defensive line's ability, or lack there of, early in the game to pressure Trickett and collapse the pocket. While the criticism is valid, to an extent, the aforementioned WVU success running between the tackles on early downs, allowed for short 2nd and 3rd downs, rendering the pass rush ineffective. However, when the defense held ground on early downs, and forced Trickett to stand in the pocket, the defensive line's pass rush ate, and ate well. (3 sacks for 25 yards).

I thought Xavier Dickson played well and set the edge nicely on some outside run attempts. And once the defensive line asserted itself in the 2nd half, which must have come after Saban's pleasant half-time speech, DJ Pettway, Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson all had nice outings. The oddest stat for the defense? A'Shawn Robinson doesn't show up on the stat line as having recorded a solo or assisted tackle. In-fact, his name is absent altogether.

And much has been said about our linebackers, mainly Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland. Foster at times seemed lost and his hair on fire style of play was held back by tentativeness. Ragland was misdirected at times and his one single solo tackle has to be of concern. However, for now, I'll give the two a pass, as it was their first game as starters and neither are expected to be three down players the rest of the year.

The tender spot on the defense, and oh boy is it sore today, was found on the back end, with Bradley Sylve receiving most of the unsightly attention. Here's a statement I didn't think I'd be making today- Cryus Jones was impressive. (BTW, he led the team in tackles with 5.) Maurice Smith also saw action and by all accounts (my own mainly) played well.

As for Sylve, unless this was opening game jitters, his instincts are lacking and technique faulty. Getting beat at the line of scrimmage by a speedy WR can be excused, but failing to turn your head to find the ball while it is in the air, repeatedly, is inexcusable. The touchdown pass in the 2nd quarter was particularly damning, because if he just turns to find the ball, he was actually in position to intercept or at the least knock the pass down. Something has to change here.

The safeties played.....well? Maybe? Perry played okay, I guess, and I don't remember hearing Geno Smith's name called once, though he did record a solo and assisted tackle.. Landon Collins had the best play by all defenders with this hit but wasn't the force on the back end we needed him to be.


It just seemed that our safeties were a step behind the WVU wide receivers all night. Maybe it was great play calling by Holgorsen, perfect reads by Tickett, an element of the Air Raid offense, or mental mistakes by our DB's, but something was off. Jarrick Williams and Sylve both seemed soft against WR screens, allowing long runs after the catch. When was the last time Alabama was this susceptible to screens? Texas 2009?

The hope for the defensive backs is that by the time Florida comes to town in three weeks, Eddie Jackson will return fully healthy and sure up a group that was consistently abused for much of the night.

As for the Offense...

What can really be said about either Yeldon or Henry? Both played exceptionally well and having both of them in the back field should be an NCAA violation. Kenyan Drake made an appearance late in the game but we need to put an APB and silver alert out for our tight ends, especially OJ Howard.

The offensive line, sans Leon Brown, played well but I haven't been able to watch  the replay, so that observation could be ill advised. Center Ryan Kelly struggled at times with the smaller, faster WVU nose tackle, but again, that's to be expected. Luckily he won't see a NT that small the rest of the year. Cam Robinson and Arie Kouandjio locked down the left side and from what I saw, which again could be wrong, didn't allow many hurries or tackle for losses.

Right guard is the weakest link for this line and I was surprised Dominick Jackson didn't see any time there, especially with Brown's struggles.

I guess what I'm saying is that the offensive line looked much better against West Virginia than they did this time last year after playing Virginia Tech. Take that for what it's worth.

As for the passing game...

After the game, you either were impressed by Sims (likely because your pre-game expectations were so low) or your hands are tired this morning from all the hand-wringing...

And I'm stealing this from JTad- I want a Bama fan to look me in the eye and tell me he trusts Sims to complete mid-range throws in tight man....

The fact is, we can't, at least not with what we saw from his performance last night. Sims did impress, though not enough to make me confident in his down the field passing ability. The one long pass attempt that was dropped by Christion Jones (he had two bad drops actually) was a dead duck all the way and the 4th down roll out deep corner pass to Amari was high school level passing. Let's not even discuss the two dirt hoppers he threw in the 1st quarter. (Memories of A-day are bouncing through our head)

Looking at Amari Cooper's stat line, your first inclination might be excitement, but when you then look at the rest of the WR's production, sadness quickly over takes you.

RECEIVING

No.

Yds

TD

Lg

Amari Cooper

12

130

0

24

DeAndrew White

6

73

0

38

Christion Jones

3

31

0

22

Chris Black

1

8

0

8

Cooper doubled up DeAndrew White's reception total and 38 of White's 72 yards came on one play, with 33 of those yards coming after the catch. Take away that one play and White had 5 catches for 35 yards or 7 yards per catch. #ugh Even Christion Jones 3 catches for 31 yards is misleading with the single long of 22 yards.

This is just an observation, but in my opinion, though Sims played better than many of us expected, the quarterback battle was not settled last night. The way the game played out, inserting Coker into the game would have likely been misguided. Had the defense played much better, maybe we see Coker before two minutes left in the game but that's not how the story was told. The defense was barely holding WVU back and the offense needed continuity, not further confusion.

I expect to see more Jake Coker against FAU and Southern Miss, and hopefully by the Florida game, we'll have a better idea of where we stand with Sims or Coker. But for right now, after one game, I have my concerns about Sims ability to make the tough throws against the top end defensive backs he'll see later in the year. I think that's fair.

Other random thoughts...
  • Outside of the kick off returned for a touchdown, our special teams units were the high point of the game and will be a strength for the team all season. Griffith had the best showing from a Bama place kicker since the 2011 national title game and JK Scott was well worth the scholarship. His first punt was simply magnificent..
  • It was good to see Chris Black get some time and his 3rd down run after the catch was impressive. With DeAndrew White out a week or two with a separated shoulder, he'll finally get more opportunities.
  • Did Robert Foster or Raheem Falkins play?
  • Did anyone else notice that Adam Griffith's kick offs went much deeper into the end-zone AFTER he made a long field goal? I did. Hopefully he can do the same after touchdowns..
  • Lane Kiffin called a good game, IMHO. There were a few questionable calls (the fade to the endzone from the 10 yard line comes to mind) but all in all he did better than expected.
  • As many people have pointed out, Dillon Lee needs to see more time in sub-packages and not just in Dime situations.
  • The crack back block by Amari Cooper was a sight to behold.
  • How many times are we going to say, "Maybe X team was just underrated?" after seeing said team play against our defense?
  • Maybe West Virginia was just underrated and not as bad as we all expected them to be?
  • Thank you refs for some REC'ish type calls that extended 'Bama drives.
  • Additional thanks to the WVU wide receivers who had fat fingers, especially on third down.

In the minutes and hours following the game, I had my doubts about this team's ability to win an SEC West title, let alone the SEC or national title, with Sims at the helm. But after watching LSU struggle against Wisconsin and how Auburn looked versus Arkansas, my hope grew, albeit slightly.

The fact remains, on the first weekend of college football no team looked unbeatable, not even the defending champs with their returning Heisman trophy winner. So all is not lost and indeed the sky is not falling. In the coming weeks, as the young talent on this Alabama teams matures, maybe we see the growth needed to compete on the highest level, but maybe that growth never comes and this team isn't the national title contender we hoped for. (Which means they never were) And frankly, if that is what comes to pass, that's okay. For now, let's take it one game at a time and just enjoy the ride.

Roll Tide