13 September 2009
On Friday I posted a list of five things that Bama needed to improve on from week one. Now that game two is in the books, I'll take a look at how Bama did at improving those things.
#5 - Get more people involved
The score of the game allowed a lot of guys to play late, and that certainly helps. We got to see the first collegiate action for Dre Kirkpatrick, Nico Johnson, Kerry Murphy, Star Jackson, Chance Warmack, Michael Williams, and Thomas Darrah.
But that wasn't game-planning. That was a result of the way that the game played out. From a game-planning standpoint, it was clear that the coaching staff wanted to basically give Mark Ingram the week off. Roy Upchurch got the start, and when he turned an ankle (not serious), the staff went immediately to Trent Richardson.
The closeness of the game for three quarters dictated that Ingram had to play, but he only had 14 touches on the game. Trent Richardson had his first big game as a Bama player, which allowed both Ingram and Upchurch to take it easy. Terry Grant added some late game explosiveness.
The receiving corps also saw a greater overall contribution. With Julio Jones out of the game early with a knee injury (not serious), we finally got to see Mike McCoy step up and have a big game - the first 100 yard game of his career. Not only did he have his third career touchdown, but his 35 yard play was the longest of his career.
Nine different players caught passes, which helped to spread the ball around, as well.
On defense, the score allowed for a lot of late substitution, though we did see a lot of Nick Gentry throughout the game. Gentry saw time at the nose guard position when FIU went to the no huddle, and handled himself well in his first extensive game action - even recording his first career tackle.
Overall the Tide gets an A+ grade for the improvement in this area.
#4 - Get Julio Jones more involved
It looked like that was going to be the plan early. On the Tide's first drive he had a nine yard reception and a five yard rush. When Bama ended that drive with an incomplete pass in the end zone, Julio was the target. It basically looked like the staff was determined to get Julio in the end zone.
And quite frankly, he should have had that touchdown. I would hesitate to call it a "drop", but it was definitely a pass that Julio should have caught. Unfortunately, that was the end of the night for Julio, as he sat out the rest of the game with a knee injury.
While seeing one of your best players out of the lineup is never a good thing, there are two big positives from Julio missing most of this game:
- The lack of wear-and-tear on Julio mounted last season, and him not taking many hits in this game should help.
- Without him Bama still managed to throw for 232 yards (241 with his one catch included). That should really help to build confidence, especially in McCoy who is a great run blocker.
If Julio's injury lingers, then all of that gets thrown out the window. But I don't expect the injury to linger. It wouldn't shock me to see him go in a black jersey on Monday or Tuesday, but I expect he'll be ready to go by next Saturday.
It's tough to really grade the improvement here, because he missed the vast majority of the game with an injury. He had three touches (a reception, a rush, and a missed pass) in Bama's first 12 offensive plays, so it seems like the staff recognized this as a need as well.
As it is, I'll give this one a big INCOMPLETE, since we didn't get a chance to see where things went.
#3 - Improve on first down
Alabama ran 34 plays on first down in the game, and gained 300 yards on those plays - a staggering average of 8.8 yards per first down attempt.
Sure, that's skewed a bit by some big plays, including the long touchdown runs by both Terry Grant and Trent Richardson, and the 35 yards reception by McCoy. In all Bama actually earned 13 first downs on a play that was snapped on first down.
The easiest way to keep your quarterback out of second down and long situations is to simply earn a first down on every play. That isn't really feasible, so we'll take those out of the equation.
On the Tide's other 21 plays on first down, Bama earned 67 yards - an average of 3.2 yards per. While that average isn't very good, it only accounts for plays that gained nine yards or less (except for one 10 yard rush that followed a penalty). When you consider that you've capped the high end, that average is pretty solid.
Of the 34 plays, only 11 failed to gain more than three yards. That means that Greg McElroy faced second down and longer than six yards just 11 times the entire game.
Last week Glenn55 gave us the number that Bama had second and nine (or more) a staggering 19 times during the game. This week? Four times.
Last week's ratio was 20 runs to six passes. This week's ratio doesn't seem to be much better - 25 runs to 9 passes. But you have to take into consideration that Bama didn't attempt a pass in its final three possessions, and eight of those plays came during that time.
If you exclude those possessions, Bama's split on first down was 17 runs to nine passes. Technically it's 18 to eight, but I'm counting Greg McElroy being sacked as a pass play, because that's what was called.
So 17 to 9 is much more reasonable, though still not balanced. But the fact that Bama improved from 19 times facing second down and nine to just four times, means there was a marked improvement.
The fact that Bama earned 300 of its 516 yards on first down tells me the Tide was dominant on that down.
That's an easy A+.
#2 - Kick Coverage
Okay, another week, another touchdown. That sucks. The good news is that Bama won't face many return men as good as the last two. The bad news is that Bama gave up another kick return for a touchdown. And that just ain't acceptable.
If you take that one play out, the kick coverage was improved. The other five real returns (I'm not counting the kick to the up-back) accounted for 78 yards - or an average of 15.6 per. That's really, really good.
"So otherwise Mrs. Lincoln, how was the play?"
The bottom line is that you can't take out the one glaring, horrible play that allowed FIU to hang in the game for three quarters.
We did see an adjustment with Dre Kirkpatrick taking over, and that seemed to help. Who knows if that will continue, or what exactly will happen to make things better. But something must happen to make this better.
Bama's defense is too good for it to have 14 points on its ledger that it didn't allow. Bama's defense is so good that Bama's special teams must make the opponents drive the length of the field.
This grade is easy - F.
#1 - Penalties
Dropping from 10 penalties for 83 yards to seven for 65 yards is improvement. Better yet, there was no mind-numbing "what the hell were you thinking" penalties.
One of the two big ones was a 15 yard pass interference call on Kareem Jackson, that I felt was a garbage call. To me, at least, it appeared as though Kareem had really solid coverage on the play, and the refs reacted to how badly the FIU player attempted to fight back to the ball. With the drive aided, FIU scored its one offensive touchdown.
The other 15 yard penalty was committed by Ali Sharrief when the second unit for both teams was on the field. It was a bad play, because it negated what would have been a 13 yard loss on a bad snap. But I'm not going to criticize the team for a second unit penalty in garbage time.
There were two special teams penalties, though only one counts statistically. Marcell Dareus's procedure penalty on a PAT doesn't count, and didn't matter as Leigh Tiffin made the kick anyway. Leigh did kick the ball out of bounds on what was a horrible attempt at a sky kick. The defense held, though, so there the penalty didn't hurt.
A holding call and a false start in the third quarter were both negated by big plays that followed, allowing Bama to re-set the downs. You'd prefer not to have these penalties, but the team made them not matter.
The Tide's second offensive possession was hurt by a false start penalty and a holding penalty that forced a Leigh Tiffin field goal. Bama's got to get better in the red zone (a preview of next week's article?), and penalties in that area are usually a quick way to end up with a field goal.
All in all there just weren't as many costly penalties. Bama only had two in the second half, and one of those was by the second unit. So we did see some in game adjustment here.
Having said that, seven penalties is still too many.
I'll grade this one a B.
So overall that's two A+ grades, one B, and incomplete, and one resounding F.
Getting solid improvement in three of the five areas from week one to week two is pretty solid. And getting a big win where lots of guys got to play is the thing that matters most.
We'll have more game coverage is the week goes on, as well as injury updates on several players who got dinged up - though Damion Square is the only one thought to be serious.
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