Sunday, August 31, 2014

Sunday Hangover: West Virginia

As the Crimson Tide has done for almost every first game of the season during the Saban era, Alabama took on a "power conference" team at a neutral site. This season it was the Mountaineers of West Virginia. 

And as usual, Alabama's opponent gave the Tide its best shot. 

As is the trend these days, West Virginia employs a hurry-up-no-huddle (hunh) offense. I hate abhor dislike hunh offenses. 

One of the commentators noted during the game that Saban thought about using some of the concepts of the hunh offense with his new offensive coordinator, but he decided on hiring Lane Kiffin, who runs a pro-style offense that Saban runs. Thank the football gods for that. 

The buzz around the Tide regarding this game related to three questions:

  1. How will Blake Sims do at quarterback, and will Jacob Coker player?
  2. What will the offense look like under Kiffin?
  3. How will the defense do?

So I'll take on these questions one by one. 

Blake Sims did quite well as QB during this game. According to the Alabama media relations office, he had the most completions and attempts in a debut game for an Alabama quarterback. He went 24 of 33 passes for 250 yards for 72.7% completion percentage. He had two poor throws on the run during the game and had one interception. 

A few times in the first half he looked a little shaken, and the team had to take some unnecessary time outs. But he also made some key throws on third down to keep the chains moving. One characteristic I really like about him as a QB is that he's quick, shifty, and highly mobile, so if receivers are covered or the pocket breaks down, his ability to run is an added dimension to the offense. 

Coker played but it was way at the end when the game was at hand. He just handed the ball off.

The offense looked much the same. I was surprised that Kenyan Drake wasn't used much because during spring scrimmages he was often the leading receiver. I was anticipating him being used like USC used Reggie Bush under Kiffin back then. 

As I complain about almost every season, where were the throws to the tight end? Alabama has some talented tight ends, so why not use them? 

Overall though, stats don't lie with this game. The Crimson Tide rolled up these numbers on offense: 
  • 30 first downs (13 rushing, 14 passing, 3 on penalties)
  • 49 rushing attempts, 288 net rushing yards, 5.9 average per rush
  • 250 net yards passing, 10.4 average per completion
  • 538 total yards on offense
  • 4 for 4 on field goals from 47, 41, 27, and 45 yards

Strong performances besides Sims were both Yeldon (132 yards) and Henry (113 yards) with two 100-hundred-yard rushing games. 

Amari Cooper was Sims's security blanket, so he had a career game: 12 catches for 130 yards. 

So why are Tide fans complaining you might ask? 


Alabama had two new starters at the middle linebacker spots--Reuben Foster and Reggie Ragland--because Trey DePriest was out with some minor infraction, and DePriest was supposed to be the commander of the defense this year. For the most part they did fine, but fine isn't good enough. Foster, in particular, got exposed when he had to cover in zone defense. 

The receiver that gave Tide fans anger and frustration was West Virginia's no. 11, Kevin White, who had 9 catches for 143 yards. Many of those catches were against no. 3, Bradley Sylve, who was with him usually stride for stride but sometimes lost in how his body should be positioned to defend the ball. 

Then again, sometimes a quarterback makes a great throw and the receiver makes an outstanding catch. See below. 

In a bright spot at cornerback, Cyrus Jones had a good game, but I suspect Sylve's starting cornerback spot is in jeopardy unless he performs much better. Eddie Jackson (when healthy) and two true freshmen, Tony Brown and Marlon Humphrey, will probably vie for that spot. 

A new starter on defense, J.K. Scott, had a good game with one solid punt and a outstanding punt for 62 yards. 

Sophomore Jonathan Allen had two tackles for loss and one sack, and there was some production from the Jack LB position with Xzavier Dickson with two tackles for loss and two sacks. 

Early on in the game, West Virginia had some success running the ball, but that issue got rectified, and the Mountaineers only had 28 net yards rushing for the game. Giving up 365 net yards of passing though does not sit well with Tide fans though. 

Not at all. 

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