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Initial Impressions from the Auburn Game

Ugly is the word.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Well, what can you say about that one?

It’s not just the weird things that happen in that stadium. For whatever reason, the place seems to cause Alabama’s players to lose their collective minds. Let’s start with the obvious:

  • Bradley Bozeman snapped the ball twice in a row when Jalen wasn’t ready, though the team lucked out on the second one because Auburn had 12 men on the field. Of course, that didn’t matter because...
  • On the next play, Robert Foster inexplicably chose not to get a first down on a 4th down reception when all he had to do was fall forward with no one around. Instead, he tried to make a big play and gave the ball up.
  • Bo had a bunch of green grass in front of him on a third down swing pass. An Auburn corner made a feeble attempt to bring him down, simply by diving at his feet. Rather than cut back, Bo tap danced and just fell right over him.
  • Jalen threw a ball up for grabs in the end zone that should have been intercepted, but instead was almost caught for a TD on a spectacular effort by Hale Hentges. Alas, it was not to be, and on the next play...
  • J.K. Scott mishandled a long snap to squander a field goal try.

This game was a comedy of errors, and the coaching staff was not immune. Saban has lauded Brian Daboll for his work this season, and for the most part I concur, but why is the best running back on the roster in Damien Harris only getting six carries when they aren’t stopping him? For that matter, why did Kerryon Johnson get 30 carries while Harris, Bo Scarbrough, and Josh Jacobs got six apiece? It isn’t like there were no holes to run through. In fact, the line did a pretty outstanding job in the run game when given the opportunity. You could have put Shank Taylor in the backfield on Bo’s TD run and he would have gone in untouched. Alabama’s third down conversions were atrocious again, but distance was a major contributor. The game plan boggled the mind.

Defensively, they did OK. Auburn had a great plan to attack the weaknesses. We’ve said for weeks that Levi Wallace’s lack of speed would be exploited at some point, and Ryan Davis did just that, outrunning him across the field on a few occasions. The Tide actually did a really nice job against Kerryon Johnson, holding him to only 3.5 yards a carry. Dylan Moses turned his ankle at one point, but was able to re-enter the game, and Mack Wilson was able to do some things. I’m still waiting for an OSHA regulation against stepping on the football field as an Alabama linebacker. Climbing a metal ladder covered in ice with a live wire dangling next to it seems to be safer.

Some folks won’t want to hear it or acknowledge it, but the primary difference in this game was quarterback play. Jarrett Stidham managed his offense beautifully. This wasn’t a freakish Stephen Garcia/Trevor Knight performance with a bunch of deep balls dropping just over the hands of Alabama defenders. In fact, Stidham didn’t attack downfield much at all. He simply distributed the ball quickly against the blitz, sold the fakes on screens, made great decisions on when to scramble, and finished with 75% completions for an 8.5 average plus 12 runs for 51 yards.

Meanwhile, Jalen Hurts reverted back to the same kind of performance we have seen against better defenses: locking on to one receiver, failing to pull the trigger, bailing outside the pocket rather than stepping up into it, trusting his feet more than his eyes and arm. He’s no longer an inexperienced QB, folks. In fact, he has more starts under his belt than Stidham. Take out the meaningless 65-yard garbage time pass on the last play of the game and he managed a whopping 108 passing yards on 22 attempts, which doesn’t count the ones that he pulled down and tried to run. The kid tries hard every time out and does some great things with his legs, but that is simply not winning QB play.

Again, you have to wonder about the offensive strategy. The staff knows that this team runs better than it throws. Perhaps Auburn’s front looked so dominant on film that they thought they wouldn’t be able to run and game planned accordingly, but an adjustment needed to be made in-game. Mayne Auburn’s linebackers really were banged up, and they were the reason that all those holes were open. We’ll never know, but we do know that success was had in the limited chances the backs were given.

Talking heads claim that Alabama is likely to get in if Wisconsin or Oklahoma lose next weekend, and maybe they are right. Saban was lobbying in the postgame presser for them, and as fans we should appreciate another eleven win season. Win or lose, those young men leave it all on the field for us every weekend. Still, it’s hard not to feel like we wasted the junior year of a dynamic talent at running back who could have put up historic numbers if given the opportunity, and that stinks.

At this point we sit and wait, and hope the staff can analyze this film to figure some things out.

Roll Tide.