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Initial Impressions from the Tennessee Game

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Alabama 52, Tennessee 24

NCAA Football: Tennessee at Alabama Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Alabama won big, even covering a large spread in the process, and to many Alabama fans it almost felt as if they’d lost. Indeed, all of this happened, among other things:

  • A lost fumble in the red zone
  • A roughing the punter penalty on 4th and a mile, followed by a coverage bust TD
  • A blocked punt deep in Alabama territory
  • Several bad drops
  • Multiple coverage busts
  • A missed field goal

Despite all of that, the Tide walked away with a 28 point victory in SEC play.

It’s good to be king.

A few impressions:

Alabama continues to make too many mental mistakes

Much has been said, including by Nick Saban, about a need for more on field leadership to show up. Perhaps that is the issue, but whatever it is that continues to cause miscues like those listed above, plus delay of game penalties and miscommunication on the offensive line that led to free rushers in the backfield, is going to have to be addressed if this team is going to win anything. If they keep winning, the Tide will eventually have to play teams who can reasonably match their talent level, and such miscues will likely prove fatal to any championship dreams should they continue.

Alabama still needs to be able to run the ball better, but the run defense was outstanding

It was a bit frustrating that Alabama could find so few running lanes against a defense that ranks 52nd in rushing defense and surrendered 562 yards on the ground in two games against Florida and Ole Miss. Brian Robinson and Roydell Williams combined for only 136 yards on 34 tries, which simply isn’t good enough. There are still issues on the offensive line that will need to be addressed over the bye week.

On the other side, though, the rushing defense was stellar. Tennessee came into the game 5th in the nation at 249 yards per game, averaging more than five yards per carry on the season. Alabama’s defensive line had its second consecutive strong outing, allowing the linebackers to run free and hold the Vols to only 64 yards on 26 carries.

Bryce Young’s confidence is growing

Bryce still needs to show a bit more decisiveness when the defense is giving him running lanes, but he played an outstanding game last night. His passing line of 31/43 for 371 yards is strong enough when you don’t consider that Jameson Williams and Jahleel Billingsley each flat out dropped perfectly placed balls for what should have been huge plays. He did run the ball more too, pulling it down 10 times for 42 yards and two scores. That’s a great sign, and if he starts to take off just a bit sooner when he sees the defense dropping off, this offense can become nigh unstoppable. Assuming, of course, that they catch the ball.

Will Anderson might be the most important player on the team

Seriously, put this man in bubble wrap. He lives in the other team’s backfield and is essentially Alabama’s pass rush. Last night he had 1.5 of the team’s three sacks, and was around the ball when Phidarian Mathis got his solo. Anderson now has 8.5 sacks, with Mathis second on the team at 4.5. No one else has more than two. Anderson is also second on the team in tackles, which is an incredible feat considering the position he plays. The main reason for this is that an absurd 16.5 of his 53 tackles have come behind the line of scrimmage, which leads the nation. Byron Young is second on the team with 7.5 tackles for loss. Will has been more vocal since the Texas A&M loss, and the front seven has responded with its best two outings of the season. Coincidence?

Coverage busts could be an Achilles’ heel

The pass defense was actually pretty good most of the night, particularly the tackling. Still, the night was stained by a few busts in coverage that can no longer be called uncharacteristic. The problem here is that there really is no excuse, as the secondary has all kinds of experience. Many teams have gone to an overly simplified, soft zone scheme in effort to make teams drive the ball down the field a few yards at a time, but as of now Saban is still resisting that shift. It’s not going to be a fun film session in the secondary, and it doesn’t seem as if anyone is immune to mental lapses back there.

Special teams had a rough night

What more can you say about it when they allow a blocked punt, get flagged for a boneheaded roughing the punter penalty, and miss a field goal? That miss was weird, too, falling to the ground in the end zone. Yes, Will Reichard has been outstanding overall and it was a long try, but he has plenty of leg to make a 54 yarder. In fact, the 45 yarder he made would have been good from 54. Still, that’s a minor quibble compared to the mental gaffes on the aforementioned plays. New special teams coordinator Drew Svoboda has some work to do.

Alabama now heads into a bye week that it likely needs. Brian Robinson looked a little banged up at times, once taking himself out of the game, but he gutted through whatever it was. Saban has mentioned that he has been nicked up. Henry To’o To’o has seemingly used his hands better in the last couple of games, so perhaps his elbow is healing up. A week off can’t hurt him either, and perhaps the Tide can get Drew Sanders back with two more weeks of rest.

Besides a bit of healing, the Tide will have extra time to work on themselves rather than an opponent. Almost every year some sort of lineup shift comes from the bye week, and you have to wonder if some shuffling on the offensive line will be attempted. JC Latham was seen at guard with the first team after Emil Ekiyor seemed to hurt his arm, so that will be something to monitor. Hopefully the OL and secondary can both use the extra time to work out some of the kinks in communication.

This team feels so close to greatness, but is being held back by its own lapses in execution. The typically tough November looms, so it’s time to start running on all cylinders if they want a shot at a championship. We will soon see what this group is made of.

Roll Tide.