Sunday, September 4, 2016

Sunday Hangover: USC

Last night was the first time a freshman (albeit redshirt) quarterback started for the Crimson Tide under Saban, but the real story was that a true freshman directed the offense for most of the night. 

I had been reading notes on TiderInsider for weeks that Jalen Hurts would possibly get playing time this season, so I was more than a little curious when Coach Saban announced that the starters would either be Cooper Bateman or Blake Barnett. Barnett started the game, but Hurts came in on the third offensive series. After a major gaffe (fumbling on his first snap), he directed the offense well, accounting for two long strikes (39 and 71 yards) for touchdowns to Stewart and two running touchdowns. 

After the game Coach Saban was no longer coy with the media related to their surprise about Hurts playing. He said, “It was the plan all along to figure out which one of those guys (Bateman or Barnett) was going to start and manage this game the best, and Jalen Hurts was going to have a role in the game. We had a special plan for him. And he practiced his plays all week long and he was going to go in the third series of the game in my mind, no matter what. And that’s what we did. Y’all never asked. I wouldn’t have told you if you would have asked, but you didn’t ask.”

The focus on quarterback partially obscures the outstanding job the defense did last night. They held a really good offense to 194 yards of total offense and held one of the best receivers in college football to 1 reception for 9 yards. Except for a couple of runs later in the game, the D shut down the running game. They were stifling. 

After some sluggishness on offense, the Crimson Tide got its offense going, and Damien Harris had the best game of the running backs with two long runs. He amassed 140 yards on 9 measly carries. All four backs got playing time. Here are their yards gained and yards per carry:

  • Damien Harris, 140 yards, 15.3 ypc
  • Bo Scarbrough, 36 yards, 3.3 ypc
  • Joshua Jacobs, 20 yards, 5.0 ypc
  • B.J. Emmons, 18 yards, 3.0 ypc

I thought Scarbrough would have a better game, but I suspect they'll use all four of these backs. We sort of know what we have in the first two, but I was impressed by Jacobs' runs in his limited playing time. I hope they get back to having a three-man rotation of backs like they had in the '09 season. 

And getting back to the quarterbacks, even when Barnett came back in the game, he looked much better, more composed. Even if Hurts falters as a starter (if he indeed is a starter), Barnett looks very capable. 

Next Saturday is a home game against Western Kentucky. But the following game, a road game versus Ole Miss, looms large in the the minds of Crimson Tide fans. 

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