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Alabama vs. Kentucky Football 2016: Initial Impresisons

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That was a long, boring game.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

The most exciting part of the whole game was the fact that Greg McElroy was the TV analyst for the matchup, and he did a great job.

Alabama opened with a couple of lateral passes/jet sweeps to the sides of the field, and things were going well—two first downs on two plays— until Lane Kiffin decided to run the jet sweep again with the big-bodied Cam Sims. Maybe I’m not the one to question that, but it seems to me like Sims, with his 6’5” frame, is probably the worst candidate to receive a jet sweep. A couple of runs and a false start late, the offense was facing 4th and 7, and the coaches did not trust Adam Griffith to kick a 52-yard field goal.

Instead, Jalen Hurts dropped back to pass, scanned the field, and found a wide open Cam Sims on a crossing route for what looked like an easy first down. Unfortunately, Sims never found Jalen, and the football bounced harmlessly off of his giant mitts.

The Wildcats took over and had their best drive against the starting defense of the entire night— 36 yards and a field goal. What the Tide defense did to Kentucky yesterday should have been an R-rated movie.

The next drive was the start of the Josh Jacobs show, as he got the ball for four straight plays to keep moving the chains. The drive was looking promising until Bo Scarbrough happened. Hurts went to throw a receiver screen, while Bo was sure it was supposed to be a run play. He headbutted the ball out of Hurts’s hand as he was winding up to throw, and it rocketed away from the pair, right into the hands of a Wildcat defender.

The Tide defense, though, figured they might as well help the struggling offense out. Ryan Anderson and Christian Miller sandwiched Kentucky QB Stephen Johnson, forcing a sack-fumble, which Anderson recovered.

Alabama drove the ball up the field, but three incomplete passes in a row (one was a drop by O.J. Howard), stalled the offense as abruptly as me trying to drive a manual transmission. A field goal tied the game at 3-3.

Speaking of 3’s, the offenses then exchange three 3-and-outs between them, before Lane Kiffin finally remembered what makes an Alabama offense work: running the ball. Joshua Jacobs took six straight handoffs, rewarding the team with 58 yards and the first touchdown of the night.

A few plays later, Rashaan Evans chased a scrambling Stephen Johnson and stripped the ball, which was guided by forces unseen into the waiting hands of Ronnie Harrison, who ran the ball all the way back for another Tide touchdown.

The Tide strung together a nice 14-play drive with a beautiful mix of runs and mid-level passes that really showed what this offense has the potential to do, but a couple of stuffed runs and an incomplete pass led to Adam Griffith missing a 35-yard field goal, and the teams went into half time with a way-too-close 17-3 Alabama lead.

The Alabama defense continued to play with Kentucky with the ruthless ease of a lion playing with its food.

The offense turned more to the passing game (likely for practice reasons), letting Hurts work on his progressions and try to hit some downfield targets. On a rollout to the right, he hit a wide-open Calvin Ridley for a 46 yard gain, then did the same a couple of plays later for a 10 yard touchdown.

The next Alabama drive was all Hurts again, as he ran and passed the ball for a tune of 76 yards with no incomplete passes— including one dump-off to Jacobs who broke ALL of the ankles. The drive ended with a 19 yard touchdown strike to Ridley.

In his last drive, Jalen Hurts had perhaps his best throw of his young career. He dropped back into the pocket, bounced off of his back foot, and threw a 46 yard strike to Calvin Ridley streaking down the field, fitting the ball just over the defender and allowing Ridley to catch it in stride. Another Jonah Williams false start pushed the offense back a little bit, and they settled for a field goal, making the score 34-3.

With the game all but over, Kentucky drove down the field one last time to kick a field goal, and Cooper Bateman was allowed to close out the game with a few passes of his own.

Thoughts, impressions, and other infallible opinions

  • The Alabama offense was 64% on third down conversions. That kind of number probably isn’t sustainable, but man it was awesome. Despite some early passing game woes, I can’t wait to see Balloons’ success rate charts later this week.
  • Kentucky’s defensive backs were outstanding. With cornerbacks standing 6’3” and 6’4”, the receivers seemed to be unable to get any separation for most of the first half (and Sims dropped an easy one when he did). On top of that, Hurts’s deep ball accuracy seemed even worse that it has been. I think we miss ArDarius Stewart even more than we thought we would.
  • Then the second half happened. Calvin Ridley routinely torched the defense and Hurts connected with him on a variety of different mid range to deep routes, including probably two of the best throws of his short career so far. Ridley finished with 11 catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns
  • Hurts’s accuracy was a little down this week, completing 60% of his passes, but his yards per attempt (typically what I consider the best indicator of QB success), shot way up with 7.9. His deep accuracy is still scattershot and too often he stares down his receiver, but I also saw him go through progressions a few times and he made some NFL-caliber throws.
  • You have to start wondering if Josh Jacobs is going to take the starting job at running back, even after Damien Harris recovers from his ankle sprain. Jacobs has been nothing short of sensational in the last two games. He led the team with 100 yards rushing and was actually second on the team behind Ridley with 54 receiving yards. He’s as slippery as a bar of soap and runs with surprising power for his size too. Guys, we have a true freshman QB and RB, both of which could turn out to be superstars for at least the next three years.
  • Tim Williams only played a little in the second half, but he was an absolute monster. A sack, three tackles for loss, and two QB hurries marked his impact in only a few drives of playing time.
  • You know your defense is playing well when a defensive end, Jonathan Allen, has more tackles than any linebacker. Allen is a consistently outstanding player and will be one of the top players drafted next spring.
  • Rashaan Evans finally seems healthy. He contributed with 5 tackles, a QB hurry, and a strip-sack that Ronnie Harrison returned for a touchdown.
  • Again this defense is going to be legendary when all is said and done. Not only are they allowing almost no yards or points, but the defense/special teams has scored in every single game this season, outscoring the opposing offense in three occasions. Jonathan Allen, Tim Williams, Dalvin Tomlinson, Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson, and Eddie Jackson are all exceptional seniors. It will likely be a long time before we see a collection of both talent and experience at one time again.
  • I think Lane Kiffin is starting to settle on an offensive identity. He’s utilizing the run game a little more, and factoring in Jalen Hurts’s legs as a change-up, rather than a feature. The passing game is still trying to work out some kinks, but we saw a lot of promise with the Hurts-Ridley connection in the second half.