Following a long offseason we were finally treated to some Alabama football, albeit against a lesser opponent than we have become accustomed on opening weekend, and the Tide didn’t disappoint. In previous seasons we have seen Alabama struggle far more than they should with some Group of Five opponents, but this was not an issue against Utah State. A few impressions:
The run defense was outstanding.
All of these impressions come with the obvious disclaimer that Alabama will see much tougher opponents going forward, but the defensive line dominated. Justin Eboigbe stood out in particular after not garnering much attention from the beat writers during camp. Henry To’o To’o was flying around all over the place and we saw some outstanding tackling from the secondary.
The pass defense, too!
“Will Anderson and Dallas Turner terrorized the QB” will likely show up in every iteration of Initial Impressions this season, but they did just that. In fact, Utah State coach Blake Anderson pulled starting QB Logan Bonner to keep him from getting hit. He seemed to suggest in his press conference that the officials were swallowing flags on roughing the passer. You can be the judge on that one, but it sure seemed like a lot of clean shots.
The corners really weren’t challenged much thanks to the ferocious pass rush, but they seemed to be in phase. Kool Aid McKinstry made a beautiful break up on a back shoulder throw. The Tide didn’t manage to force any turnovers, but it’s tough to complain about 57 passing yards on 22 attempts.
The wide receivers eased some concerns.
The starting group of Kobe Prentice, Jermaine Burton and Traeshon Holden all looked outstanding. To be sure, there are still some timing issues with Bryce to work out on fades and deep balls, but in general the route running was crisp and the hands were sure. Burton is a technician out there. He didn’t gain a lot of yards with his five grabs, but two went for touchdowns. Holden matched the five receptions and two touchdowns with a few more yards, and Prentice looked like the run after catch specialist that he was billed to be. Tide fans should be feeling much better about this group.
The offensive line is still a work in progress.
Utah State came in with an aggressive gameplan featuring plenty of stunts and blitzes, and the Tide didn’t handle them as well as we, or Nick Saban, would like. While the overall rushing numbers look stout, the success rate won’t be too pretty. Pass protection was better than run blocking, as most of the hits Bryce took came on free runners that he was responsible for. There was one awful whiff from Robbie Outzs. The running backs seemed to do an outstanding job picking up blitzes.
Bryce used his legs more, but needs to slide.
Few predicted that Bryce Young would run for 100 yards to lead the team in rushing, but that’s exactly what he did. Most of it came on one long scramble down the sideline for over 60 yards. He decided to try and juke people in the opening field on a couple of occasions, leading to unnecessary hits. While I love the aggressiveness, he needs to slide. He is too important on this team.
The backups are still quite raw.
Saban has expressed concern about the “twos” and there were plenty of errors when the starters came out of the game. Jalen Milroe started out with a couple of really nice throws but threw a pretty bad interception, and the passing game just didn’t click after Bryce left. Playing nearly a half of football against Utah State without scoring a point isn’t good. Of course, the backups on defense managed to preserve the shutout, so that’s something.
The running backs looked explosive in space.
While there wasn’t a ton of running room inside for much of the night, Jahmyr Gibbs showed great vision and speed to the edge. We saw a ton of two back looks as expected, and Jase McClellan scored two touchdowns through the air. Of course, Gibbs finally got loose for a big play late in the game as well.
Special teams were solid, with one hiccup.
Will Reichard was outstanding, hitting all nine of his kicks while allowing zero kick return yards. James Burnip hit his one punt for 51 yards, but the other one was blocked. It was late in the game and I don’t know if it was the starting punt team up front, but that is still a concern. Kool Aid McKinstry looked like a legit threat at punt returner.
On to Texas.
We will learn quite a bit more about this team when they play in Austin next Saturday morning, but you couldn’t have asked for a better opener. The team was fired up and, while we can’t say the same about late game execution, they maintained intensity for the full 60 minutes. The coaching staff will have plenty to coach up in practice this week, but the Tide emerged healthy and victorious, and looked like a team ready to live up to its top ranking.