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Initial Impressions from the Auburn Game

Alabama’s passing game showed up in a big way.

NCAA Football: Auburn at Alabama Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

Well, hope you didn’t blink because yet another Alabama football season has passed us by. The Tide went out in resounding fashion at home, taking down Auburn by a 49-27 score in a game where Alabama couldn’t stop the run and the vistitors couldn’t stop the pass. In the modern era, it’s easy to figure out which side is likely to win in that scenario.

The team definitely played inspired football even when they were getting pushed around a bit on defense, and the fans brought some noise that seemed to affect Auburn at times, even as rain dampened the festivities.

A few impressions:

Bryce Young had one of his best games in Crimson

The health of Bryce’s shoulder has been a question ever since he returned for Tennessee, and last night he looked no worse for wear. His 189 passer rating was the second best of the season iagainst Power Five schools, behind only the Vanderbilt game. He spread 20 completions out to nine different receivers, and the passing game looked like the deadly weapon we all hoped it would be coming into the season. Jermaine Burton and Ja’Corey Brooks looked like a fine pair of outside receivers, Kendrick Law and Isaiah Bond looked good in the slot, and Robbie Ouzts joined Cam Latu’s party at tight end. Even Traeshon Holden caught himself a touchdown after being virtually invisible for a couple of games.

This is also the third game since the LSU loss, after which Saban commented that they would be looking to run more RPOs and play action rather than the dropback passing game that featured more of what Bryce does best, and he seemed to adjust well. He still doesn’t look terribly comfortable getting the ball out quickly, as evidenced by an airmail to Jahmyr Gibbs for what would have been a huge gain and his only interception that was an obvious misread. He appears to be a QB who simply likes to get a scan of the field before pulling the trigger, and he looks more comfortable when he is able to do so.

There is no question about his arm talent once he cuts it loose, and his escapability is probably his best overall trait. It was great to see him have a huge game, with 343 yards on only 30 attempts and three TDs.

The run defense is light on the edges, and it hurt them

It has been evident for a while that Saban may have overcorrected a bit when it comes to fastball offenses. There is no way to sugarcoat the fact that this team just doesn’t have the physical ability to hold up against teams that run heavy on the edges. Even between the tackles, you see Alabama’s smallish inside linebackers routinely get moved. This isn’t something that there is an immediate internal fix for, but you have to wonder if an adjustment will be made in the offseason, or if Saban is willing to live with it in exchange for better pass rushing and tackling in space.

Alabama finally won the turnover battle

This is something that Saban has harped on all season, and there were still two interceptions left on the table. But, Alabama did manage to recover two fumbles and win the turnover battle. This was a key to the game as they capitalized on both opportunities.

Third down efficiency was off the charts

Alabama faced only nine third downs in this one, which means that the charts will probably look pretty strong. Best of all, they converted six of the nine for a whopping 66.7% conversion, while holding Auburn to only 28% on 14 chances. The Tigers did convert two fourth downs to bring their total conversion to 42%, but the Tide still clearly won in this key area.

There were still way too many penalties

Discipline continues to be an issue for this team, as they hit triple digits in penalty yardage yet again. It’s not one particular offender either, and it’s hard to put a finger on why it keeps happening, but penalties are just part of the story of this team. Expect there to be heavy emphasis on this in the offseason.

Saban started the politicking right away, and tore into the fanbase a bit

Saban wasn’t two minutes into his press conference when he started talking about Bryce being “healthy now” when he wasn’t earlier in the season, when Alabama dropped those two games. He kept talking up the fact that they lost two games by four total points, on the road, and that they are a good football team that he hopes others will recognize. He was very clearly trying to influence the College Football Playoff Committee.

He also lashed out at the negativity from “supporters of the program” this season. He reminisced about when he first got to Alabama, how the program was all about positivity as 95k showed up for A Day and the fan support was off the charts compared to now, where there are certain expectations and a season like this one is considered a disappointment. He reiterated again that nobody was more disappointed by those losses than the players and coaches. As usual, he has a point as the team is going to be ranked no worse than sixth on Tuesday.

As far as the playoffs go, the Tide can do nothing but sit and wait. First up will be Tuesday night’s ranking in which the committee will telegraph whether Ohio State or Alabama will have the most likely chance to sneak in at the 11th hour. Georgia is in no matter what, and Michigan likely as well, so whoever is ranked 5th will need USC or TCU to lose while the 6h ranked team will need both to lose.

Frankly, I don’t think either of them is going to lose which means after an offseason of all the hand wringing over the same few programs dominating the playoff there will be two new participants. Opinions will differ on whether USC making it a year after going 4-8 by hiring a head coach who brought his QB and other Oklahoma starters along with him, and transferred in the Biletnikoff winner, may or may not be good for the sport, but that is the current state of affairs.

So, that’s about it at this juncture. Nothing we can do but sit back, watch, and hope for the best. Alabama will either manage to sneak into yet another playoff which will set off a firestorm of complaints, or they will get the opportunity to reset the program for next season.

Either way, we’ll be watching.

Roll Tide.