Well, that was a fun one.
Facing the first conference test of the young season, the Tide managed to cover a sizable spread in pounding Florida 42-21. A few initial impressions from the game:
What can you say about the offense as a whole when the team rolls up 650 total yards while converting 75% on third down against what was supposed to be a very good SEC defense? The passing game was ridiculous. Blake Sims was outstanding for the most part, putting up the first 400 yard passing game at Alabama under Saban. While still not his strength, he even showed the ability to stretch the field when needed, opening the game with a beautifully thrown sluggo route to a wide open Kenyan Drake who had absolutely torched his man for the 87-yard TD. Sims also showed off his mobility, avoiding the pass rush masterfully and gaining a couple of first downs on his own. Amari Cooper continues to look like the nation's best WR as he dominated the much-ballyhooed matchup with future NFL first-rounder Vernon Hargreaves, going over 200 yards with three TDs. Never in Alabama history have we seen a WR that consistently gets himself open like this. Enjoy watching him, folks, this kid is going to be an All-Pro very soon. When Sims got nicked up momentarily, Jake Coker came in and hit Cooper for a short TD as well. DeAndrew White played pretty well in his own right- outside of a fumble- and OJ Howard finally got on the board with a couple catches, but at this point it's fair to legitimately wonder if anyone can cover Cooper. Derrick Henry played admirably in the role of second-half battering ram, gaining 111 yards on 20 carries while clearly outshining a nicked up TJ Yeldon.
While it's hard to quibble with the overall outcome, Alabama's offense also did its best to keep Florida in the game with costly, inexcusable mistakes. After starting the game with the aforementioned TD catch, Kenyan Drake fumbled the football on the first play of Alabama's second possession, giving Florida the ball at the Alabama 30 and leading to Florida's first TD. DeAndrew White also fumbled early after a nice gain. Sims had two bad turnovers as well, first fumbling the ball on a designed QB run with Alabama driving deep into Florida territory then throwing an inexplicable interception on the opening drive of the third quarter. The good news is that Blake will likely learn from the pick, as the ball should have never been thrown considering the fact that there was a pass rusher flying in his face. He needs to use the athletic talents he has been given there to either create a throwing lane or take off and get what he can rather than attempt to side-arm the ball around a defender, especially considering the situation. Pre-snap penalties were also a problem as Alabama inexcusably failed to line up properly on the first play of the second half, negating a big gain, and there were a few false starts mixed in. Sims also drew the ire of Coach Saban once, failing to maintain awareness of the play clock in drawing a delay of game flag. Thanks to these errors, the game was unnecessarily in doubt well into the second half despite Alabama holding an absurd three-to-one advantage in total yards. The mistakes will absolutely have to be reduced dramatically if Alabama is to win the West.
The offensive line continues to be a work in progress. While they performed reasonably well in pass pro for most of the afternoon, Dante Fowler blowing past Brian Vogler a time or two in a terrible matchup for Alabama notwithstanding, the interior of the line failed to get much of a push in the run game before wearing down the Gators late. To be fair, Florida has some big time talent up front, but the OG position continues to be a legitimate weakness and Kelly has proven at this point that he simply can't handle bigger NTs without help. One would have to think that Dominick Jackson will be getting a long look at RG during the bye week as that position continues to be something of a turnstile with neither Leon Brown nor Alphonse Taylor distinguishing himself. The good news is that the tackles once again appeared to be fairly dominant as a pair. Cameron Robinson has to be one of the best true freshman left tackles in SEC history and Austin Shepherd continues to be the rock of the unit.
Defensively, Alabama had a great day in the box score but film will reveal that they were buoyed by some putrid play by Florida. Driskel missed several wide open receivers and Florida had a couple of critical drops. That said, the defensive line was pretty stout, with Jarran Reed showing out in particular as A'shawn Robinson drew extra attention inside. Florida's two top RBs never managed to get anything going on the ground and, while recording zero sacks, I felt that the line managed to collapse the pocket reasonably well all afternoon while rushing only four. This will be critical as the team continues to work on a talented secondary that was missing some pieces and is still navigating through typical growing pains. To be sure, there were way too many open receivers, particularly across the middle. Jabriel Washington was burned once again, looking completely lost on a simple seven route in man coverage for a first quarter TD. He did redeem himself later with an INT. Bright spots in that unit were Tony Brown, Maurice Smith, and Landon Collins. Collins made two beautiful plays on the ball, garnering a PBU and a big second half pick. Geno Smith was a bit uneven at FS but showed flashes, interestingly keeping Nick Perry on the bench even after his first-half suspension had expired. I am still hopeful for this unit and think the bye week might be coming at a perfect time for the coaches to settle on a rotation.
Kicking game woes reared their head in this one after an outstanding start to the season in that department, as JK Scott shanked a first half punt and Adam Griffith missed a FG and failed to keep one kickoff in bounds. Not too concerned yet since both specialists had been perfect coming in, but something to keep an eye on going forward. Return game was adequate but nothing special.
Plenty to work on during the bye week, but you simply have to be encouraged by the way Alabama dismantled a decent SEC team, treating them like a school from the Sun Belt. The 649 total yards gained eclipsed the record for yards allowed in Gator history, previously held by the great Tommy Frazier-led Nebraska team in the ‘95 national championship game. Lane Kiffin has proven to be easily the best coaching hire from the past offseason, and appears to be having a ball finding ways to utilize the weapons at his disposal. That Alabama has an offense that is capable of rolling up 500-600 yards a game against a unit like Florida to go with what will undoubtedly be a top 5 unit on defense has to be a sobering thought for the rest of the conference. If this team continues to grow, the sky is the limit.