Folks, this week we played a truly abysmal team. In their only other game, Florida Atlantic was beaten 55-7 by Nebraska and gave up 784 yards of offense to the same team that needed a 58-yard TD pass with 20 seconds yesterday to defeat lower-division McNeese St.
Things went as expected. The Tide cranked along and got some good experience for its quarterbacks and cornerbacks, the points of concern. Overall, the offense was not stoppable by this team, racking up a cool 620 yards in a 52-minute game, and Bama was inside the FAU 5 when lightning mercy-killed the game. The defense was less dominant, and hard to judge against the hapless Owls attack, but never allowed FAU inside the 30.
It looked like somewhere between a quarter and a third of the fans were still braving pouring rain in the 4th quarter of the blowout, but most had given in to the better part of valor. Even in a crappy game, though, stuff happened, so let's talk about it.
Last week I caught a lot of flak in the comments for stating my opinion that the quarterback competition was already over. There are some new facts on the board this week, and I expect there will be a few more folks agreeing with me by now. Specifically, if being significantly outplayed by Sims wasn't enough, that play at the end of the first half where Coker took his time and rolled out to get more space after taking the snap with only 7 ticks left and Bama in easy field goal range was the kind of thing that Saban doesn't forget. Bama also had to call timeout to prevent delay-of-game penalties twice while Coker was at the helm.
Not that Coker was an unrelieved disaster by any means. His physical talents are indeed of a high order both in arm strength and mobility, and while his deep throws were mostly off target, and sometimes well off target, he didn't throw a pick. His decision-making was not bad at all considering his inexperience, and he showed nifty execution on a screen to Yeldon. He will get more valuable game time next week and measures up as a better backup than Bama has had in the last few years. Indeed, he may yet get another shot at the starting job if Sims screws up badly.
Will he? As I pointed out last week, Alabama can still be a championship contender with Sims at the helm so long as he avoids mistakes and throws accurately. I expressed fear (based on A-Day play) that Sims could be a turnover machine against tougher opponents, but it is far from a foregone conclusion that Sims won't prove me wrong as he gets the timing of the game down.
If so, he could be a pretty good quarterback, even good enough to lead a team that has everything everywhere else all the way home--which could make a heckuva story.
Sims was quite accurate yesterday, even throwing a strike on a 17-yard crossing pattern to Christion Jones in his last possession at the helm and barely missing on a throw off a rollout to Jones that went nearly 40 yards in the air without ballooning as all of Sims' downfield throws did last week. It's true, though, that Bama threw underneath significantly more often with Sims at the helm. His 8 first-half completions averaged a stupendous 0.25 yards past the line of scrimmage. Sims showcased nifty moves in ankle-breaking two Owls tacklers in the broken field and now hasn't been sacked in two games and 46 passes.
Kenyan Drake was a shoestring away from a 74-yard TD on his first "carry" (a swing pass from Sims that traveled backward, and was therefore officially a running play). His next swing pass opportunity turned into a 39-yard touchdown. Drake also made the special team play of the day with a high-speed solo tackle of an Owl kickoff returner at the 13-yard-line.
Otherwise, Bama's backs were competent but not explosive. Derrick Henry looked mortal for once, carrying only five times for 23 yards, with a longest run of 6 yards.
T.J. Yeldon had 7 carries for 43 yards and probably gets the statistical credit for another touchdown-killing fumble, although perhaps not the fault. Yeldon was obviously not looking for the handoff, as Fowler faked a block and then swung right to look for the pass, and another receiver went into the end zone (both were covered). Even if it was Sims' fault, T.J. didn't show good awareness on the play; the hand-off was in the right place, but not only did Yeldon fail to secure it, he to all appearances didn't even notice the ball as it bounced off his arm to the turf and rolled right between his legs.
I think it's safe to say that Tyren Jones is in the upper crust of 4th-string running backs.
Amari Cooper hauled down 13 passes for 189 yards and exploded for 20 yards on an end-around on the game's first play. Cooper is off to a sensational statistical start and is obviously healthier than he was at any point last season. If he keeps this up, he'll be a serious Heisman candidate, but can he stay healthy long enough to catch the 150 passes he is on pace for? I'm really enjoying Amari's play, but at the same time I'd like to see the rest of our talent utilized a bit more.
It was nice to see some significant Chris Black for the first time in his three years at the Capstone after the little glimpses last year were so tantalizing. Black did not disappoint, and I have to wonder if he isn't Bama's second-best receiver even when DeAndrew White is healthy. That's not meant as a slam on White who is an all-around excellent college receiver, but Black is one of the most explosive players on the team. #1 didn't break one, but he was a shoestring tackle away from a TD on his first reception.
Ardarius Stewart looked good, too, especially when he fought back against coverage to grab a slightly underthrown Coker deep ball from a defender with decent position. I'm not at all sure that starter Christion Jones is any better than the fifth-best receiver on this team.
I am told by reliable sources that Bama's tight ends played in the game.
Alabama's running game was not as strong as the passing game, but one got the sense that was by design, as the Tide's coaches were more interested in seeing how the two quarterbacks ran the passing game than in maximizing offensive officiency. Indeed, efficiency maximization wasn't necessary as Alabama was largely able to do what it wanted against the porous FAU "defense." And while the running game was not explosive, it was consistent: every single called Alabama run gained at least two yards until Tyren Jones was tripped up in the backfield running behind the 2nd-string line in the 4th quarter--and even on that play, Jones missed a big hole on the right side.
Pass protection was again excellent. Other than the coverage sack/blunder at the end of the first half, Tide quarterbacks had plenty of time to throw.
Arie Kounadjio committed a stupid chop block penalty in the second half, although I'm not sure he actually even reached the guy whose legs he was diving at for no reason at all at the end of a play. The same guy turned in perhaps the nicest blocking play of the game with a hustling downfield block on a Yeldon screen.
Otherwise, Alabama's offensive line didn't have much in the way of either mistakes or big plays. You could call it solid, you could call it workmanlike, or you could just yawn and turn away.
After being scarcely visible last week against West Virginia, A'Shawn Robinson turned in a stout performance. On one play, he beat his man off the snap, forcing the quarterback to roll away and straight into Reggie Ragland's arms for #19's sack. He later showed good mobility from the nose tackle position by helping Ragland make a big third-down run stop on a sweep.
Ryan Anderson had a big sack to end FAU's only real scoring attempt, and got good pressure on another play. Dalvin Tomlinson also got good pressure a couple of times, although he allowed the Owls quarterback to escape when he appeared to have him pinned in.
Jarran Reed had a second good read on a screen in as many weeks. Jonathan Allen wasn't the standout player he was against West Virgina, but he was solid against the run and on one play shot the gap to stone the running back two yards behind the line.
Overall the unit was solid, giving up only 57 yards rushing, 31 of which came on one play. The nature of our competition in the young season is such, however, as to make it difficult to judge whether the 2014 line will improve on the 2013 line's mediocre pass-rush performance.
Trey Depriest's return was welcome but not spectacular. He was in on four tackles, but took a bad angle on a 16-yard screen completion, one of the Owls' few big plays. #33 had good coverage and forced an incompletion on the 4th-and-1 middle screen when FAU had made its deepest penetration of the day, to the Bama 31.
Depriest's biggest contribution may have been in liberating Reggie Ragland. #19 led the team in tackles with five and also had a sack and a tackle behind the line and an opportunistic fumble recovery. He looked more comfortable in pass coverage, perhaps because he was playing alongside the veteran Depriest. He made the stop on the Owls' first running play, holding it to two yards, and later covered most of the field to keep FAU's one real weapon, Lucky Whitehead, from turning the corner.
Tim Williams was spotted in the 4th quarter - making a stop at the line of scrimmage, no less. Don't be surprised if Williams plays his way back into serious playing time by the end of the season. That is, if he can stay ahead of the impressively athletic Rashaan Evans, who made a big sack to go along with stellar special teams play.
Reuben Carter had a quiet game off the bench, but was credited with two tackles.
I have consistently expressed doubt that we would see a healthy Eddie Jackson this fall, including as late as in this very column last week. Maybe I was wrong.
While we have yet to see Jackson maneuvering and cutting with a dangerous receiver downfield, as the FAU quarterback never threw an accurate pass in his direction more than 5 yards past the line, the early returns are quite encouraging. Jackson played more physically than Cyrus Jones or Bradley Sylve have at the corner. He had a big early stick and later caused a fumble, albeit on a 16-yard reception, FAU quarterback Greg Hankerson's longest completion of the game. He seems to have forgotten during his time away from the game that you are supposed to wrap up when tackling, but otherwise showed little rust.
It was only five months ago that Jackson supposedly tore an ACL, and had surgery. Was it only a minor tear, more like a sprain? Was the surgery a scope? This injury generally takes about 15 months to recover from; the world basically stopped turning when Adrian Peterson came back from an ACL tear surgery after only nine months and played well, so how can Jackson be back at it after five months? Is this a breakthrough in medicine, or do we not know the whole story? I'd sure like to know the details, but in the meanwhile we could be looking at some great and very surprising news if Jackson actually plays well and at close to his full abilities this season.
Cyrus Jones had another solid week. I wouldn't put much stock in his two penalties, as both were ticky-tack and one should not have been called. He had a couple of nice one-on-one tackles of running backs near the line and also caused a fumble.
Last week I noted how much more physical Nick Perry played than he did last season. This week Nick embarrassed me by getting stoned on a run up the middle. To be fair, it was probably more of a matter of Perry's poor technique, as he went for the collision instead of the wrap-up, but it was the Owls' biggest play of the day, a 31-yard gain. I should point out that Perry did show that hint of physicality again this week, though, when he took down a back one-on-one in the broken field in another play.
Jabriel Washington got the most playing time he has seen during the competitive part of a game and made a nice play on a third-down screen pass to stop the Owls on their first possession. Geno Smith covered well but ran straight into the blocker and was taken out on an 11-yard screen pass and also let a very pickable ball go through his hands. Maurice Smith didn't see much action but made Bama's best pass coverage play of the day when he looked back, picked up the ball, and batted away a well-thrown 15-yard out
Adam Griffith looked solid again, two for two with two solid, accurate kicks, and again both kicks were up and away quickly with a high angle.
We did not punt. We probably could've kept on playing through today and would never have had to punt against this team.
Christion Jones couldn't get anything going in the return game, but don't start thinking Cyrus Jones is going to take his job away just because he made a big play when he got a chance to bring back an FAU punt. A minor downfield collision with Derrick Henry probably kept Cyrus from housing it. I wouldn't be surprised if Cyrus ends the season averaging 70.0 on punt returns.