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Initial Impressions: Alabama vs. Fresno State

That went well.

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

Who schedules a wedding on a Saturday in the fall in Alabama? My friends, apparently. Anyway, as such, the Initial Impressions are a little later this time around.

But hey, it was Fresno State. Alabama won by an easy margin and nobody got hurt. That’s the important bits anyway. Since you’re already here though, I’ll add a few of my thoughts.

The big question that’s been on everyone’s mind since the playoffs last year is how Jalen Hurts will improve as a passer. We saw some glimpses in A-day. Then we saw a little potential growth in the Florida State game, but it ultimately left more questions than we entered with. Many of us expected Coach Daboll to use this game to practice Hurts’ deep and intermediate passing while forcing him to stay in the pocket.

Instead we got a game plan more akin to an air raid mixed with an inverted veer read-option based running game. Hurts ended up going 14-18 for 128 yards and a touchdown on the night, with most of his completions coming on an onslaught of curls, comebacks, slants, and quick outs. Plus a 23-yard TD up the seam to tight end (!!!) Hale Hentges.

And I think Daboll deserves a lot of credit for that. Last week, he saw his passing offense shut down when FSU brought constant blitzes and pressure while the receivers were all working on longer-developing routes, leaving Hurts with the option to either throw at receivers facing the wrong direction or take of running.

This week, Fresno came out and gave the Tide receivers a lot of cushion. So Daboll called a lot of short, timing passes to get the ball out of Hurts’ hands almost immediately and repeatedly punish the Bulldogs.

I also think that the best two throws of the night for Hurts were both incomplete in back to back plays. The first had him try his first read, move to the next, had him step up into a collapsing pocket, and then would have made the throw on the sidelines, but was hit in the leg after the offensive line let two rushers through, so the ball did not quite make it to his receiver.

On the next play, he threw a beautiful slant to Ridley, but the defender got away with a questionable interference and ended up stripping it from him.

Probably my favorite play that Daboll called on the night was Hurts’ second rushing touchdown from about 10 yards out. He sent Bo Scarbrough in motion to the left and faked the swing screen to him that the offense ran a couple of times against FSU and had already done once today, then Hurts took off to the right for a touchdown. It was very Kiffin-esque (the good part of Kiffin-eque, anyway).

Tua Tagovailoa got his first action in Crimson today as well, and finished 6 out of 9 for 64 yards and a touchdown. His game plan was mostly the same as Hurts’, throwing mostly curls and quick outs. He did have one exceptional throw while running a boot leg to his right and launched it across his body to hit Xavian Marks on the right sideline for a 24 yard gain.

The first offensive line pretty much had their way with with the Bulldogs’ defensive linemen as Hurts ran for 154 yards on only 10 carries.I think only one of those was a scramble, if I remember correctly. The rest were read options or QB draws, for which Fresno State had no answer. Damien Harris and Bo Scarbrough pretty much did whatever they wanted each time they touched the ball, and combined for 68 yards on 12 carries before giving way to freshman Najee Harris to get some playing time.

Najee did well with 13 carries for 70 yards, with some nifty moves, including one spin that would have made Eddie Lacy jealous. But he is very obviously a freshman still, and missed some open holes and tried to bounce the ball to the outside too often.

It was still mostly the Calvin Ridley show for the receivers, but the QBs did make it a point to get the ball to just about everyone at least once. Cam Sims had three catches, Robert Foster and Irv Smith had 2 each, and Henry Ruggs, Hale Hentges, and Xavian Marks all had one. Plus all three running backs caught at least one pass as well.

Though the first team defense held Fresno to only 3 points, I imagine that they will get a bit of a talking to from Coach Saban and Coach Pruitt about effort. The defense as a whole seemed to be a bit lackadaisical in trying to get to a ball carrier in open space (especially on WR screens), and whiffed more tackles than I’m used to seeing from an Alabama defense.

Along the defensive line, it looks like Raekwon Davis is totally ready to go, and despite senior Josh Frazier’s impressive game last week, Davis looks to be ahead of him in the pecking order. And Da’Ron Payne is still a freakish defensive tackle that will chase down ball carriers down the sidelines when the rest of the defense isn’t making tackles.

Jamey Mosley looks like the starter at Jack linebacker in base nickel packages, but freshman Chris Allen rotated regularly with him, and was generally the go-to guy in 3rd and long situations. Dylan Moses also saw a good bit of time on the edge as well, and continues to display his ridiculous athleticism. Almost every time I watched, he would speed by the offensive tackle and then do this crazy limbo move as he bends around the corner to try and duck under the tackle. He never quite got to the QB, but his balance and core strength while doing that move was impressive to watch.

Levi Wallace looks to have entrenched himself as the starter at right cornerback over Trevon Diggs, and played well all night, though he did seem to have trouble fighting off blocks when screens were thrown to his side. Anthony Averett also got his first career interception. Minkah Fitzpatrick continues to be amazing.

The special teams had one gaffe when they let a kick be returned for 60 yards, but our lord and savior J.K. Scott slowed down the returner just enough for Keith Holcombe to catch him from behind. Other than that, the unit executed everything else without a problem, though with no big plays for us either.

All in all, the game went about as well as we could have hoped. We won. Got to see some freshmen and other young players. Nobody got injured. And neither unit performed quite well enough to be able to escape a lesson-giving from Nick Saban afterwards.

What else could an Alabama fan ask for?

Roll Tide!