14 September 2008
There really isn't much to criticize or complain about Alabama's offensive performance against Western Kentucky. The Tide amassed 557 yards en route to 41 points in a game that saw the Tide both run and pass effectively.
John Parker Wilson made his first big mistake of the season, a second quarter interception that led to Western Kentucky's lone touchdown. Otherwise, he played a much more solid game than in week two.
When he handed the keys to the Tide offense over to Greg McElroy he was 17 of 27 for 215 yards with two touchdowns and the one interception. Throw in 23 yards rushing and he ended up with 238 total yards on the day, enough to move him past Brodie Croyle into first place on the Alabama career list for total yards.
The criticism for John Parker in the first two weeks centered on a lack of downfield pass completions. He wasn't perfect with this in week three, though there was a much more concerted effort to establish this part of the Tide offense. In all he completed five passes of greater than 15 yards with all of them coming to members of the wide receiver corps.
He took a step forward in this game, exactly what we needed to see as the Tide moves into SEC play. There is certainly room for better play, but John Parker looked much more comfortable in running the offense this week.
Greg McElroy got his first playing time of the season, coming into the game at the end of the third quarter and leading the Tide on an impressive 14 play drive that ended on fumble near the end zone. For Greg it was more of the same of what we saw last season in his brief playing time.
He was 4-6 for 61 yards, keeping his long drive alive with two completions on third down. One of those was a long conversion on a short crossing route to Terry Grant that he turned into a big gain. The other came on a nice pitch and catch to Will Oakley (who was also seeing his first game action of the year).
To my eyes there is still a clear separation between Wilson and McElroy, though Greg does look capable if circumstances required that he be the guy for period of time.
Popular walk-on Thomas Darrah earned his way onto the field for the Tide's final drive. He did not attempt a pass in the 11 play drive that ended the game, but his mere prescence on the field might be a clear signal that Nick Saban and staff have decided to redshirt freshman QB Star Jackson.
One other quarterback did see playing time on Saturday. In a small indication of the fact that Nick Saban does care about his players, and does care about "the little things", walk-on redshirt freshman Robert Ezell also played on Bama's final drive. He didn't take a snap, instead he lined up at wide receiver. Where he played is meaningless, though. He got to have the experience of playing for the University of Alabama, on the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium, in front of sell-out crowd. Kudos to the coaching staff for getting him out there, and congratulations to Robert.
The statistical numbers for both Glen Coffee and Mark Ingram could have been spectacular, headline grabbing type numbers. At the half Coffee had 11 carries for 97 yards (an average of 8.8) with a long of 51 yards. Ingram walked into the locker room at half time with nine carries for 51 yards (an average of 5.7) with two touchdowns. It looked very possible that Alabama might have two guys go over 100 yards rushing.
Neither guy took a snap in the second half.
Instead the bulk of the carries in the second half went to Terry Grant and Roy Upchurch. And while there was a slight drop off in production, both guys proved very capable. Upchurch averaged 4.8 yards per carry on his 11 carries, which gave him a total of 53 yards. Grant averaged slightly better, 4.9 yards, on his eight carries, giving him 39 yards.
Grant added a touchdown, his first of the season, and a big 22 yard gain on a 3rd down reception from Greg McElroy. It looked like Upchurch was on his way to his second career touchdown when a fumble near the goal line curtailed Bama's longest drive of the day.
All four guys did their job in pass protection much, much better than last week. That was a focus in practice all week, and it paid off, with all four guys very effective in pass protection.
Demetrius Goode got his first game action, after flirting with a move to cornerback. He got seven carries behind a very reserve offensive line, and totalled 21 yards. His career is still very young; something that is easy to forget in a game of instant gratification. It will be interesting to see where he is in six or seven weeks when his knee has had more time to return to full strength.
Wide Receivers and Tight Ends
After two weeks of limited contribution to the offense the wide receivers finally got involved. The receivers accounted for 16 of Bama's 21 completions and 232 yards. Most of the work came down field as well, something that the fans have been clamoring for cine week one.
Julio Jones led the way - why do I get the feeling that I'll be saying that a lot over the next couple of years? His five receptions for 66 yards were both career highs, and he added his second career touchdown. The TD was impressive in its simplicity, with him catching a short pass and easily discarding the defensive back to get the extra few yards for the score. He also did a great job of reading a corner blitz and adjusting to a hot route, something that was a focus this week in practice.
Mike McCoy got more involved than we've seen him, pulling in three receptions for 42 yards. For the second straight game he adjusted poorly to a deep ball, and back-pedaled to try and make a catch on a ball that was slightly over thrown. He needs to run through the ball and complete his route. John Parker Wilson doesn't throw the best deep ball in the world, and he needs his receivers to help him by finishing the route.
Marquis Maze continues to be an integral part of the offense, and made another circus catch; a short gain that saw him juggle the ball at least three times before pulling it in while being hit. He dropped an easily catchable ball in the third quarter on third down when he looked to take his eyes off of the ball to see how much room he had to run. The Tide came immediately back to him on 4th down and he made a big play. He ended with two catches for 25 yards.
Earl Alexander, Nikita Stover, Darius Hanks, and Will Oakley each caught their first passes of the season. Alexander actually caught three balls for 50 yards, really taking advantage of the Hilltoppers' soft coverage on the outside. Stover, Hanks, and Oakley only had one catch each (Stover and Hanks for 18 each and Oakley for 13), but Stover's and Oakley's resulted in third down coversions.
Nick Walker added three more catches, including another touchdown. Preston Dial got into the stat sheet also, pulling in his second career catch and first of the 2008 season. The tight ends are still getting a lot of looks, especially when the Tide's offensive line is playing well and they don't have to stay in for extra pass protection.
There was only one dropped pass by this entire group, and that was the aforementioned one by Maze. These guys also did a great job of blocking downfield in the rushing attack.
When you average put up 557 yards of offense, do not allow a sack, and average 5.7 yards per rush, not to mention score 41 points, the offensive line has to get a ton of credit. Having Andre Smith back obviously really helped, and David Ross really played a great game in relief of Marlon Davis.
The biggest story for this group was participation, and how many guys got the opportunity to play. The starting unit was Smith, Mike Johnson, Antoine Caldwell, David Ross, and Drew Davis. But as the game wore on we also saw Brian Motley, John Michael Boswell, Taylor Pharr, Evan Cardwell, Tyler Love, William Vlachos, and Barrett Jones.
Obviously the three that stand out there are Alabama's three true freshmen. Boswell got the most playing time, getting a look as early as the second quarter. Nick Saban had alluded to the fact that this would likely happen as Alabama tried to locate another game ready tackle. Mike Johnson played well enough at left tackle last week, but him moving from guard to tackle caused too major a shift in the line for any cohesiveness to remain. Enter Boswell at right tackle and an attempt to find depth on the line that has not previously been there.
Interestingly enough, the only scholarship offensive lineman that did not see action was Alfred McCullough. He is still adjusting to the move to the offensive line, and since he did not redshirt last season, could very likely be taking his redshirt this year.
From the first offensive possession (11 plays and 63 yards) to the last (11 plays and 43 yards) the offensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. Alabama had just four plays that went for negative yards in 82 offensive snaps. In 33 pass attempts the Hilltoppers managed just three quarterback hurries.
The job will get much tougher beginning next week, but overall the offense just plain dominated. That is exactly what should happen when you are lining up against a team making the transition to a higher level of football.
Bama needs to capitalize more on turnovers, and the Tide needs to be better in the red zone. Otherwise an average of 385 yards and 32 points through the first three games has the Tide at 3-0. Now it's time to test the offense against an SEC defense.