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Initial Impressions: Alabama defeats Kent State

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The Tide finally played a complete game against the overmatched Golden Flashes

NCAA Football: Kent State at Alabama Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

If you didn’t catch it, Nick Saban said after the game that the team responded this week by finally putting together a full 60 minute game. The Tide shut out Kent State (thanks to some help from replay officials) 48-0, with the bench players getting time for almost the entire second half.

The first drive of the game by the Tide was a conglomerate offense that was both reminiscent to the Tide offense of the early Saban years and with the influence of more modern concepts. It was an eight play drive, consisting of only one pass attempt: an eight yard-dump off pass to the running back. A blend of read options and jet sweep fakes, Damien Harris racked up 18 yards on four carries, Calvin Ridley got seven yards on a jet sweep on the second play of the game (as opposed the first like usual), and quarterback Jalen Hurts kept two read options for 37 yards and the touchdown.

It was a methodical pounding of the football, but in a way different from times past. It is looking like the offense and Lane Kiffin is settling on this style as the identity of this team.

Unfortunately, Damien Harris hit the ground awkwardly on his fourth carry, knocking him out of the rest of the game. Word is that it was a high ankle sprain. Most of the time, these injuries will end up being about a three week recovery, but it all depends on the severity.

The Alabama defense was caught standing around and watching airplanes in the sky on Kent State’s first play of the game as running back Justin Rankins scampered off right guard for 47 yards. That was the last time they had any decent offensive plays until late in the 4th quarter.

With Damien Harris out, many would have expected 230-pound man-child Bo Scarbrough to pick up the slack; instead, true freshman Joshua Jacobs entered the game with some wiggle and explosiveness that will remind many of former Tide running back, Kenyan Drake.

On the second drive, Jacobs skirted and sidestepped defenders to the tune of 27 yards and a touchdown. Meanwhile, Bo Scarbrough had a sensation back shoulder catch and moved the chains, then Jalen Hurts launched a 31 yard strike to the towering Cam Sims down the right sideline, who snatched the ball out of the air over the defender at the one yard in a such a fashion that we usually only see with teams playing against Alabama.

The rest of the quarter showed Kent State repeated going three and out while Jalen Hurts continued to spread the ball around and work on his deeper passes. Joshua Jacobs repeatedly broke ankles, and B.J. Emmons nabbed some occasional carries to show his explosiveness.

Again, the defense rarely gave even a single yard to Kent State. The line was disruptive, Reuben Foster removed some souls from bodies, and the secondary was almost never even tested.

Blake Barnett came in to lead the offense in the second quarter, and his first drive was a disaster. An incomplete pass and two sacks highlighted his opening performance, but he returned on his next drive to throw a beautiful strike to a crossing O.J. Howard, who defied physics yet again to outrun everyone to the endzone.

A punt return for a touchdown by Xavian Marks near the end of the half let the Tide end with a 41-0 lead. Kent State’s first drive went for 5 plays. One other drive had four. Outside of that, the rest of their drives were either a three and out or a turnover.

On the Tide’s first possession, Jalen Hurts got one more run with the first offense before the benches were cleared. A 13-play beauty consisting of runs, intermediate passes near the sidelines to move the chains, and a few scrambles ended with my favorite play in all of football. At the one yard line, Alabama lined up in the I-formation and faked the hand-off to B.J. Emmons. Freshman linebacker Mack Wilson, lined up at full back, leaked into the endzone as Hurts rolled to right and tossed the ball to the linebacker-turned-fullback, who juggled it before cradling the ball on his way to the ground. Alabama took the lead 48-0, cleared the benches, and then proceeded to run clock for the rest of the game.

Thoughts, opinions, and other hot takes (all accurate, of course)

  • Kent State gained 166 yards today. 105 of those were against the second and third team defenses. So the Golden Flash offense gained 61 yards against Alabama’s main defense... 47 of which came on a bust on the first play of the game. Outside of that, they gained 14 yards on 27 plays. Kent State isn’t good, but that was an unbelievable defensive performance.
  • Alabama only had two penalties today. One was a false start by Alphonse Taylor (look! it wasn’t Cam Robinson!). There were no other pre-snap and other shot-in-the-foot style yellow flags that have plagued this team thus far in the season.
  • Jalen Hurts completed exactly two thirds of his passes, with most of the misses on deeper shots down the field. The deep ball was his main weakness in high school, and, as much as it is a part of Lane Kiffin’s offense, he doesn’t have it down yet. His 31 yard strike to Cam Sims down the right sideline was probably his best throw of the season, though.
  • Most importantly, he averaged 6.8 yards per attempt. In my experience, this simple state is one of the best indicators of not only QB performance, but often wins as a team. I usually want to see a QB get at least 7 Y/A in college to be happy with his performance. 6.8 isn’t quite there, but it was much higher than the 5.1 Y/A he put up against Ole Miss last week. On the season, Hurts is averaging 7.2.
  • How about Cam Sims? He lead the team with 4 catches for 54 yards, and was definitely the most targeted play. Nick Saban mentioned him specifically after the game, expressing his pleasure and how well Sims has been playing, saying that he’s finally completely healthy for the first time in his career.
  • It looks like the offense line is down to just a battle at RG between Alphonse Taylor and Lester Cotton. Neither one played particularly well, but Ross Pieschbacher, Cam Robinson, and Jonah Williams all played very consistently to my eye. Bradley Bozeman did alright, but had some pretty bad snaps too.
  • Trevon Diggs is going to be good. There are a lot of receivers in front of him right now, but the kid has a lot of talent. The amount of playing time he’s getting as a true freshman proves that.
  • Same goes for Joshua Jacobs. His shiftiness today almost looked to be NFL-caliber. With Damien Harris trying to come back from an ankle injury, he’ll have to fend off Bo Scarbrough and B.J. Emmons, who both also looked impressive in limited touches, but will have the opportunity to really strut his stuff the next couple of weeks.
  • Tim Williams, man. He only had two tackles and half of a sack, but was within inches of taking someone down almost every play. No offensive lineman could block him for longer than a second or two, and, yet again, got held quite a few times without it being noticed
  • And how about the rest of that defensive line? Dalvin Tomlinson, Da’Ron Payne, and Jonathan Allen are making the loss of A’Shawn Robinson and Jarran Reed look almost negligible. With Reuben Foster, the best linebacker currently in football, right behind them and Tim Williams and Ryan Anderson rushing the edges, few offenses are going to have much of a chance.
  • The secondary didn’t get much work today. Minkah Fitzpatrick got a couple of sacks on blitzes, but the front seven was so dominant that the secondary had a boring day. But hey, the best secondary is one that doesn’t even have to do anything.
  • The second team nickel package consists of Levi Wallace, Aaron Robinson, and Shyheim Carter. That’s two true freshmen and a walk on. All three played well, but let’s hope that Marlon Humphrey, Anthony Averrett, or Minkah Fitzpatrick don’t get injured this season. Especially before Tony Brown works his way back in from the suspension.

That was a solid win that saw the Alabama offense begin to settle on an identity. The interior of the offensive line still has some work to do and Jalen Hurts has to work on his touch and timing on deeper balls and going through his progressions. But I saw a lot of positive things about this offense, including a renewed dedication by Lane Kiffin to the run game.

Again... This defense, man.

That’s it for today. Enjoy the rest of the afternoon getting to watch other games around the league with no anxiety over the Bama game.

Roll Tide!