FAU wrap-up: Owls serve as a means to an end in 40-7 thrashing

 

September 22, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide marching band the Million Dollar Band take to the field before the start of their game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Bryant Denny Stadium. Photo Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE

September 22, 2012; Tuscaloosa, AL, USA; Alabama Crimson Tide marching band the Million Dollar Band take to the field before the start of their game against the Florida Atlantic Owls at Bryant Denny Stadium. Photo Credit: John David Mercer-US PRESSWIRE


By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief

Sept. 22, 2012

 

During the week, Florida Atlantic defensive end Cory Henry made the same mistake a lot of players from second-tier teams have made since Nick Saban came to Alabama: He verbalized thoughts in the presence of the media that Alabama was nothing special and could be beaten.

 

The first half of Henry’s assertion is flat-out wrong, if “special” is defined in college football as being one of the top five teams in the country, which Alabama is. The second half of his comment is true – but it wasn’t going to happen at the hands of FAU.

 

LSU might beat Alabama, as might Ole Miss, Tennessee, Missouri, Texas A&M, Mississippi State or even – perish the thought – Auburn at the end of the year. For Alabama to fall to anyone on that list outside of LSU, though, the Crimson Tide would probably have to show up with the same mindset LSU took to the field Saturday against Auburn. And that’s where Nick Saban comes in.

 

Florida Atlantic wasn’t a serious challenger to Alabama on Saturday. The Owls, for that matter, may not even be a serious challenger to in-state rival Florida International. The Owls are a bad football team, especially offensively. While the defense tried its best, the offense FAU put on the field Saturday might seriously have a tough time hanging 40 on a good 6A Alabama high school.

 

The Owls were simply a means to an end. They were the opponent in a week following a 52-0 blowout of a SEC rival on the road, and they represented an opportunity for Alabama players to either get better, or regress. Alabama was going to win, regardless of the path it chose.

 

Fortunately, Alabama chose the right path. Saban, in postgame comments, said he believed the team might have played better against Florida Atlantic than it did against Arkansas. If that’s true, and there’s no reason to believe otherwise, future opponents can officially began worrying for their own safety now.

 

If some games get certain titles – “The Third Saturday In October,” “The Iron Bowl,” etc. – then this game was one series away from being known as “Cody Mandell’s Day Off.” While Alabama did stall out in the red zone a couple of times, the Crimson Tide converted all but one offensive drives into points and completely eviscerated Florida Atlantic’s offensive gameplan.

 

In a week, Alabama gets an Ole Miss team that is getting good coaching and playing great offensive football. Defensively, a shutout over lowly Tulane duly noted, the Rebels have problems. Texas, the only decent team Ole Miss has played this year, put up 63 points and was never slowed, much less stopped. As such, it might be the fifth week in a row where Alabama’s biggest challenges are internal, not external.

 

On to the Five-Point Breakdown:

 

  1. Young receivers progressing. Cyrus Jones finally played himself onto the field last week at Arkansas, despite being a true freshman and Alabama having good depth. He seems to have taken the reps reserved for Marvin Shinn and Danny Woodson Jr. But what a game he had against Florida Atlantic, catching a crossing route and then high-stepping a fake before going up the sidelines for a big game. Alabama used the crossing route to burn a thin, tired defense all day, and fellow true freshman Amari Cooper was the biggest beneficiary of that strategy. Kenny Bell’s long touchdown catch on the first drive came on the same route.

 

  1. Drops, however, are still a problem. One of the hidden questions about the 2012 team was whether Alabama could find anyone to replace Darius Hanks. While Hanks had a solid career at Alabama, he wasn’t a Julio Jones or Ozzie Newsome. But he also rarely dropped passes and would catch the ball in heavy traffic. So far this year, results have been mixed, with nearly everyone in the Tide’s A-group dropping a few that were thrown right into the breadbasket. Against Florida Atlantic, Christion Jones had trouble hanging onto a potential touchdown grab, while tight end Michael Williams and H-back Kelly Johnson also had dubious moments. It’s tough to find something to complain about in a 40-7 win, but here it is.

 

  1. Placekicking moving from weakness to strength to lethal weapon. Cade Foster nailed two more long field goals and Jeremy Shelley hit two short ones right down the middle. Foster continues to drill most of his kickoffs for touchbacks. It goes without saying that special teams were a source of concern heading into the season, but things have improved now to the point that Alabama’s kickers are actual weapons. Having kickers that are dependable from 50 yards out opens up new possibilities regarding end-game management.

 

  1. Late drive reveals some defensive depth concerns. While Alabama is deeper than most and has an impressive collection of young talent, Florida Atlantic’s late scoring drive against the reserves did bring to light a couple of important facts. At the top of that list is effective play out of the middle of the defense. Once Jesse Williams exited the game and Alabama went to Brandon Ivory (and then, quickly, to Darren Lake, following what appeared to be an ankle injury for Ivory), the middle of the defense was suddenly no longer impenetrable. Reserve ends D.J. Pettway and LaMichael Fanning are still growing into their frames, and FAU exploited that by using zone blocking to ride the DL laterally and create about 3-4 yards of room on each snap. The biggest difference from the 1s and 2s to the reserves, though, is undoubtedly playing comfort; Alabama’s reserve linebackers and safeties were hesitant and unsure on too many snaps, allowing the Owls to march down into position for a score. Only time and reps can correct those things, which is why Alabama needs to continue to put teams away early and leave plenty of time for the backups to play.

 

  1. Backup quarterback position changes yet again. Phillip Ely was the first to enter Saturday’s game in relief of A.J. McCarron, but he played one series and never saw the field again. Blake Sims went the entire fourth quarter for Alabama, running a zone-read-based offense tailored to fit his running talents. Sims again looked good throwing the ball, finding Amari Cooper for a long gain, and continues to run the read option play as well as it’s been run in Bryant-Denny Stadium since the head coach wore a houndstooth hat. The real question, of course, is who would play if McCarron were to go down for any extended length of time. Let’s hope the question never needs to be answered.

 

 

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