Alabama faced its first test of the season last night when the Texas Longhorns visited Tuscaloosa, and things didn’t exactly go as planned. The Longhorns executed better on both sides of the football and in the end left town with a signature 34-24 victory. If you want to look for a silver lining, the last time Alabama lost a September game was 2015 when Ole Miss took down the Tide in Bryant-Denny, and that season turned out well.
It’s natural to overreact, and make no mistake, there were some very concerning elements at play last night that we will delve into. Problems have to be exposed before they can be addressed though, and the staff will now have an opportunity to see them laid bare on film. There is precedent for championship teams looking awful early in the season. The first that comes to mind is 2014 Ohio State, who was embarrassed by Virginia Tech in Columbus then found their stride down the stretch to win a national title behind a third string QB. Breaking in a new quarterback can be messy, particularly when that quarterback is trying to live up to the legacy of three consecutive first round passers.
But there is no more room for error, and if this season is to be salvaged there must be urgency in addressing the failings. Some impressions:
The offensive line was a disaster
Early in the game, Alabama was able to lean on the Texas front and gash them for some pretty substantial yardage. That didn’t last long, however. When the night was done, Alabama’s running backs managed only 63 yards on 20 carries. Milroe added 44 yards on 15 carries, but six of those carries were sacks. He was effective when he took off, which didn’t seem to happen often enough.
Seth McLaughlin has to learn to snap the ball, or someone else has to play that spot. Milroe was picking the ball off the ground on what seemed like at least a third of the downs, and Seth was called for two illegal snaps. You have to believe that this job will be up for grabs this week. Is James Brockermeyer ready to live up to his recruiting ranking? Kadyn Proctor was up and down on the night, allowing pass rushers to cross his face a couple of times. Now that teams have that on film, he is going to see all the stunts and will need to adjust. Texas has a talented, experienced front and were expected to win some battles, but it was lopsided in their favor.
Most of the other issues likely came down to communication up front, which can happen early in the year. Hopefully they can get it ironed out.
Milroe needs to become more risk averse until the game slows down for him
If you recall, freshman Jalen Hurts became something of a meme for refusing to throw the ball even to wide open receivers. Last night, we saw why that was Saban’s approach to the young signal caller. Milroe has a similar skill set to the one Hurts had at the same stage of their careers, but twice he turned it over trying to fire the ball into zone windows. That 2016 team was able to be successful by playing to the defense. Nobody is suggesting that this year’s defense is anything resembling that unit, but in this particular game they stood up and had Alabama in position to win the game. Alabama lost by ten points, and Texas scored ten points after Milroe’s interceptions. The last one essentially gift wrapped a touchdown to make it a two score affair.
Until and unless Milroe is able to improve in his ability to read defenses and understand when he’s being baited, he is going to have to be risk averse and embrace the idea that every drive needs to end with a kick. Pull it down and use those wheels, Jalen.
The receivers stepped up to help Milroe
The most positive development of the night was the play of a maligned WR corps. I remember two drops: one from TE Amari Niblack and one from RB Jase McClellan. Jermaine Burton, Isaiah Bond, Kobe Prentice, and Malik Benson all had some great moments last night. The interceptions weren’t the only questionable throws into traffic, and this group made some pretty athletic plays to pull a few of those in. Bond in particular looks ready to be a superstar... if we can get him the ball consistently.
Where is Justice Haynes?
Jase McClellan had some moderate success early, but none of the running backs who saw action are going to scare anyone. We heard so much about Haynes and watched him show out in the spring game. He did have some lingering injuries, so perhaps he’s hurt? In any case, it would be nice to see him get an opportunity.
Alabama got no pressure on Quinn Ewers
The run defense held up well until the game was all but decided, but to say that Alabama’s pass rush was anemic might be an understatement. The roster is littered with former five star edge rushers, but it seems that none of them can beat college tackles. It’s baffling, and the lack of pass rush is what allowed Texas to complete those slow developing deep shots.
Malachi Moore looks ready to fill Brian Branch’s shoes
Malachi Moore played like a grown man last night. He was all over the field, and seemingly embraced a leadership role. It was great to see him flying around the way that he did. Caleb Downs was apparently sick, as they said during the broadcast that he “lost his lunch” on the sidelines. Perhaps that contributed to his uneven play and he will likely grow into the leader of the back end, but for now it’s pretty clear that it’s Malachi’s secondary.
Trey Amos and Terrion Arnold failed their first test
Coming into the season, one of the big questions was the outside corner spot opposite Kool Aid McKinstry. Amos came in after a big year at the G5 level and Arnold had reportedly made strides in camp to hopefully live up to his five star billing. Sadly, it was a disaster over there. Arnold got beat and had to grab a receiver on multiple occasions, and Amos was victimized in ugly fashion on the backbreaking TD pass to AD Mitchell. On that play his hips looked stiffer than Saban’s before the replacement. Someone had better step up over there or teams are going to keep firing deep shots at them.
Despite all of the exposed flaws, it was a winnable game
Texas is projected to be a strong team this year. They returned a ton of starters and brought in some high value transfers, including Mitchell. The Longhorns managed to expose all of the flaws above, yet Alabama could have won the game anyway by just completing the ball to Jase, recovering one of the fumbles and not getting flagged on one of the two TDs that were called back. Yes, Texas left some points on the field with dropped passes as well plus a missed field goal, but the point is that this was still a competitive affair.
To be clear, there was nothing fluky about this win for Texas. They were absolutely the better team last night, and may well be the better team in general. There is still plenty of talent on this Alabama roster though, and plenty of season left to come together. We’ll see how many of these flaws can be addressed, and how many can’t. This is going to be an intriguing season. It’s been a long time since Alabama went into SEC play with zero expectations, but that’s where we are. Maybe that will remove some pressure and let them focus on getting better. If not, we just don’t have a contender this year.
Let’s see how it all unfolds, shall we?