Another week, another blowout of an overmatched opponent.
Following what should now be a patented game-opening quick strike from Tua Tagovailoa, this one to Devonta Smith, the TIde hit a little rough patch. Jaylen Waddle muffed a punt, squandering a three-and-out that would have likely gone a long way toward ending this one even sooner than it was. A game Ole Miss bunch took advantage of the short field and punched one in, forced a punt on the ensuing possession and then managed to grind out a 65 yard drive on 13 plays that ended in a field goal. Much to the dismay of Alabama fans everywhere, the Tide actually trailed 10-7.
Of course, at that point everyone remembered who was who as Alabama ripped off five straight TD drives, while forcing five punts in between, to go up 45-10 with about 12 minutes left in the third quarter. Alabama had rolled up around 400 yards of offense while allowing 170 and 102,000 sweltering bodies begged for a mercy clock. Unfortunately there was still enough time for Ole Miss to find some garbage time success and set off a hissy fit across The Yellowhammer State. When it was all said and done, the Tide won 59-31.
You have to start with the passing game again since it continues to look unstoppable. Tua has now completed 76% of his passes on the season for 1718 yards, 11.6 per attempt, and 23 touchdowns in five games against zero interceptions. If Alabama plays 15 games again this year, you’re looking at a pace of 5,154 passing yards with 69 touchdowns. Yes, the competition will get tougher, but his minutes played will increase as well, and it’s unlikely that this defense will make Nick Saban comfortable enough to sit on, say, a 17 point lead this season. Tua and Smith both set school records, the former with six touchdown passes and the latter with 274 receiving yards and 5 touchdown receptions.
The offensive line had its most complete game of the season. Ole Miss managed to get home on a couple of blitzes, but outside of that the pass protection was as outstanding as you’d expect it to be when looking at the passing stats. Most pleasing to the Alabama faithful was Alabama’s ability to run the football. Najee Harris and Brian Robinson combined for a healthy 131 yards on 19 carries, an outstanding 6.9 clip. After the game, Saban groused about the offense “not controlling the game” since they played only 67 snaps and lost the time of possession, but I think that’s just a matter of even the head man adjusting to this squad. The offense averaged an absurd 8.6 yards per play again and rolled up a boatload of points, Coach, and there is no negative spin to that.
Saban’s defense has always been his calling card, so it’s easy to understand his point of view. He is accustomed to keeping defenders on the sideline until they have reached a certain level of competence, but he may not have that luxury in some of the games this season. Just put the twos in there, and if they screw up you can trust the offense to get it back. I don’t see anyone slowing this offense down much, at least through October, so you will probably see more 80+ snap counts for the defense.
OK, on to the defense. As we’ve talked about for a few weeks now, they are who they are. The front seven is a very young, albeit talented, group that is prone to missing some assignments. John Rhys Plumlee was starting his first game for the Rebels and they came out with a scheme to suit his skillset. Quarterback runs always stress the defense since you get an extra blocker, and when you have a guy with that kind of speed to the edge, it’s very difficult to play against. Still, both Chris Allen and Anfernee Jennings could have done a much better job setting the edge. It seemed that Terrell Lewis largely shut it down in his limited snaps.
Of course, there was too much room to be found in the middle of the defense as well, partly because Ole Miss was running single-wing style misdirection but also because we just don’t have the horses inside that we are accustomed to. Justin Eboigbe was listed as the starter at DE but fellow true freshman Byron Young was in on the first Ole Miss TD drive, and he looked his age. Both D.J. Dale and Lewis were somewhat limited, which certainly didn’t help. Shane Lee being the Mack linebacker in dime is going to be a problem against fast QBs as well. He just couldn’t beat Plumlee to the edge. Much work needs to be done in trapping these types in the pocket and making them throw. Some hate the concept of the “mush rush” but that’s exactly what you need to do against a QB who is much better as a runner than a passer.
When Plumlee did throw, there was little success to be found. The best play of the game was kind of a circus catch at the sideline of a poorly thrown ball that is pretty well impossible to defend in man coverage. Patrick Surtain II gave up a deeper throw as well, though he was in decent position. For those who lament the scheme, however, understand that while it did allow a few plays, the end result was once again a very subpar passing line: 10/28, 141 yards, 5.0 YPA.
Special teams were a mixed bag as usual. Waddle has the one muff but also a couple of really nice returns. Brandon Kaho blocked a punt and recovered it for a touchdown. Skyler DeLong didn’t fare very well as the punter while Joseph Bulovas made one field goal from 36 and missed one from 28. Get well soon, Will Reichard.
All told, the offense was its transcendent self and the defense was very good when it needed to be. The Tide will now roll into the bye week having been unchallenged in its first five games, but plenty to work on and a trip to College Station up next that will be the toughest test to date. The seasons with two bye weeks are kind of a bummer for fans, but with all of the youth on this defense it’s probably fortunate that it fell that way this year. May the boys come out rested and healthy, and ready to take another step forward in two weeks.