16 September 2009
The Alabama offense didn't quite put together a complete game, with both phases of attack working at the same time. But when you score 40 points and top 500 yards of total offense, it really is tough to complain. Throw in a record for your quarterback, a career game for a senior wide receiver, and a breakthrough game for a freshman running back and you have some things to talk about.
It really was a tale of two halves for the Tide offense. While Greg McElroy was 15 of 16 passing in the first half, the Tide rushing attack managed just 70 yards. Flip that to the second half, and McElroy was three of eight, while the rushing game put up 205 yards. Some of that was by design, though.
FIU wanted to stop the run, so they loaded the box in the first half, and forced McElroy to beat them. He did. In the second half, they backed off a bit, which opened running lanes, and Bama just pounded the ball down their throats.
Ultimately a successful offense is one that takes what the defense gives it. Bama did that on Saturday to the tune of 516 yards of total offense.
Greg McElroy now holds the University of Alabama record for consecutive completed passes at 14. And if not for a Julio Jones drop in the end zone, it would have 17 in a row. Against Virginia Tech it took Greg a half to develop any type of rhythm. Against FIU he found it quickly, hitting his first two passes prior to the Julio drop. He didn't throw another incompletion until Bama went deep on its second possession of the second half, and he over-threw Marquis Maze.
It wasn't just a matter of dropping back and throwing the ball to his primary receiver, either. Greg spread the ball around to nine different players, and many of those were secondary or tertiary options on plays. He was especially adept at checking down to his running backs, who combined to make six catches on the day.
Against Virginia Tech his early fault was in looking at Julio too much. In this game he only had Julio for one drive. The fact that he managed to set a career high with 241 yards passing in a game where Julio Jones barely played is astounding. The last three years Bama has been too dependent on one receiver, and McElroy might be the salve to that wound.
To my judgment, he made two mistakes on the day. On his only sack, he turned and ran back towards the middle of the field, and it cost him an additional eight yards. He's got to turn towards the sidelines to get away from pursuing rushers, so that he can get outside the tackle box and throw the ball away. That's not always a possibility, and when it's not, you just have to take the minimal loss.
His other came when he threw the ball up for grabs as he was getting hit in the third quarter. Mark Ingram was the closest guy to the ball, so I would imagine that's where he was throwing it. But the ball hung up in the air way too long, and SEC defenses would almost certainly intercept it. He's got to eat that ball and take the sack.
But, two mistakes, neither of which cost Bama dearly... well, I can handle that in what is technically his first start as Alabama's quarterback.
Through two games he's now completing 61.% of his passes, and averaging 235.5 yards per game. He's quickly establishing himself as a playmaker, to along with the "game manager" moniker that he's had placed on him.
Thomas Darrah and Star Jackson split Bama's final series, and neither guy did anything other than handoff. At some point these guys will have to attempt a pass, just to give them a little experience at doing so. But Saturday was the first game action for both guys, so we'll take one thing at a time. Congratulations goes out to Darrah, though. There aren't many walk-on quarterbacks who have taken snaps in a game for Alabama through the years.
So Mark Ingram misses most of the week due to the flu, and isn't going to start... no problem, Roy Upchurch will get the start instead. So then Upchurch suffers a high ankle sprain... again, no problem, Ingram can play and the coaches wanted to get Trent Richardson involved anyway.
While it is just at one position, that's championship caliber depth. The fact of the matetr is that Trent Richardson is talented enough to start for every school in the SEC - including Alabama. The fact that he doesn't start says more about the guy(s) in front of him than anything else, and should tell us exactly why Bama will still be a run-first team this year.
Upchurch looked good prior to his injury - 17 yards on four carries. It's not enough of a sample size to say much, but it is vital that he return to the lineup soon. We saw how much Bama missed his "total package" in the last two games of 2008, as he is head and shoulders above the other backs as a blocker.
What is nice is that in 2008 he was also the best pass catcher out of the backfield, and both Ingram and Richardson have closed that gap considerably.
When Mark Ingram did play, he looked awesome. I had guessed that we would see 10-15 carries from him, and we saw 10 carries and four receptions. While he'll certainly fall off of the early season Heisman map, in limited time he managed 103 total yards and a touchdown. That ain't bad folks.
What was most impressive to me, though, was how explosive he looked when he first entered the game. With all due respect to Upchurch and Richardson, when Mark entered the game, there was a different look to the way the ball was moving forward in the running back's hands. He looked quicker, faster, and more powerful than both of the other guys, and showed why he is Bama's starting back.
The best news is that Trent Richardson appeared to notice, as well. While he looked a little tentative in his first few carries, he exploded after Ingram set the example. In his first extension game action he not only had his first two touchdowns, and his first 100 yard game, but he approached 150 all-purpose yards.
Initially I thought he had made a big mistake on his first career touchdown. After blasting through the hole to quickly get near the goal line, he appeared to stutter-step around the two yard line, instead of just plowing into the end zone. After seeing the replay, I now know that he was trying to avoid running up the back of Darius Hanks, who was blocking in the end zone. Had he lowered his shoulder and made a dive into the end zone, odds are good that Hanks would have been injured. Having that type of vision and judgment on your first career touchdown speaks volumes.
But the second touchdown was the big one. Yes, it was longer - 35 yards. But holy crap! If you haven't had a chance to see a replay of his long touchdown run, watch the video below.
I know, I know... you had to watch a bunch of other great highlights of Trent to get there first... like him making two guys miss on his first reception. And after making those two guys miss, he lowered his shoulder to plow through three guys for another six yards.
Getting back to the long run for a minute... watch the acceleration after he makes his two cuts. You can see him lower his right shoulder just a bit to get his momentum moving forward. And then he's just gone. That type of acceleration is disgusting. And it's part of what makes him an elite back.
Expect him to get 10-15 touches in every game going forward. He's too good not to get them.
It was nice to see Terry Grant show up again. Yes, as Glen55 pointed out, he does go down too easily. But on his 42 yard touchdown, he not only shows great explosiveness, but he also makes a great cut behind the line to get into the hole. He's not going to take carries away from the three guys ahead of him, but he did show that if Bama had to use him... then he might very well be able to be effective.
Demetrius Goode got his first carries at Alabama, and looked solid. It was against a worn down defense, but he averaged six yards per carry. He's way behind the front three guys, but still has time to develop his game into something that could get him more playing time.
As per usual, I'll defer to Glen55 on this one. I know the Tide ran for 275 yards in the game and allowed just one sack. That has to mean that the line played well.
It was nice to see the second unit get a chance to play, too. Chance Warmack was the only guy in that group to see his first game action, but with two seniors on the starting group, getting experience for the backups is crucial.
Julio's always gonna be first here, because, well, he's Julio. He had one catch - one Bama's first pass play. And he followed that quickly with a five yard run. Unfortunately he also followed that quickly by a drop in the end zone, and then a trip to the sidelines for the rest of the game.
Last year, without Julio in the game, Bama's passing offense would likely have crumbled. Now? It didn't seem to miss a beat.
Most of that credit goes to Mike McCoy. I am absolutely thrilled to have been wrong about Mike, and thrilled that he had his first career 100 yard game. He's still got to do it consistently if he's going to become Alabama's "other" threat at receiver. But he broke that 100 yard barrier, as well as setting his career high for long play with a 35 yarder. He showed toughness, he showed good hands, and he ran great routes. Hopefully that will continue to next week.
Earl Alexander was the only other receiver with more than one catch - he had two. It's nice to see Earl healthy and on the field after missing so much time in the spring with injuries. He's still got a way to go to become a consistent receiving threat, but he is one of the better blockers at the position already - which is odd, considering his beginnings at quarterback.
Darius Hanks had his one catch on third down... making him four for four this season in catches resulting in a third down conversion. He and McElory look like they have a nice rhythm, and this might be the role Hanks fills all season.
Colin Peek, Preston Dial, and Brad Smelley each had one reception, with Dial and Peek picking up first downs on their catches. Smelley was the victim of a great play by the FIU safety to stop a play-action pass on third and short. Brad needs to get more involved in the passing attack, and I'm guessing we'll see that happen soon.
Michael Bowman saw his first game action, though he didn't record a catch. He played pretty solid defense on Marquis Maze, keeping the speedster from having a shot on a deep crossing route, though. That play won't make Michael's career highlight reel, and I'm sure he's heard plenty about it from the coaching staff. Freshmen make mistakes, especially in their first game. He's still going to be a good one, though this game was not a good one for him,
Bama didn't attempt a pass in the fourth quarter, so there aren't more numbers. But this group had a solid game, with just the one dropped pass. The downfield blocking was very good again - especially Hanks on Richardson's first touchdown. There seems to be a collective effort going on for this group to play the complete game. And that's what Bama needs to have.
Through two games the Tide is averaging 37 points. The Tide is averaging 507 yards of offense - with a split of 271.5 on the ground and 235.5 in the air. That's a great balance, and gives me solid optimism that this offense could be a great weapon this year. This coming Saturday should offer another chance to work out any kinks (like third downs), and get a lot of guys playing time before the SEC schedule starts.
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