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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Oct. 5, 2013
Aside from answering – sort of – the question of what Alabama’s offense would look like with Blake Sims at quarterback, the Crimson Tide’s 45-3 thrashing of Georgia State was notable for what wasn’t seen.
Alabama mostly avoided the dreaded injury bug that seems to bite the Crimson Tide in one-sided affairs like this (see: Croyle, Brodie; ref. Western Carolina), although Denzel Devall appeared to tweak an ankle at one point. The starting offense could have scored with nine men on the field if it had wanted to, and the starting defense was never in danger of yielding a touchdown. Georgia State looked just like the transitional Division-IA program that was previewed here earlier in the week.
So what is there to learn from a game like this? Not much. Georgia State wasn’t good enough to put up any resistance on defense – Alabama quarterbacks were a combined 29-of-34, a mind-numbing stat when you think about it – and wasn’t talented enough on offense to pressure Alabama in any way. The fact the Panthers committed 10 penalties, including four for substitution-related infractions, just added to the perception that this is a program finding its way and cashing a check from Alabama along that way.
For those wanting to see whether the Landon Collins-Geno Smith combo would be able to capably supplant Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix for a few weeks, this wasn’t your game to watch. The lone Panther receiver with any kind of resume, Albert Collins, netted 60 yards on 4 passes, but did very little damage in the overall scheme of things, and Georgia State rarely challenged the middle of the field. And aside from a stretch at the end of the third quarter, where Alabama allowed Blake Sims to treat the expiring third-quarter clock as if it were a two-minute drill, the Crimson Tide showed little flash on offense. It simply didn’t need to.
Alabama will face a Kentucky team next week that is a team undergoing quite a bit of transition. The offense is being rebuilt around the passing game after having been a multiple pro-style attack for the last decade. The defense is simply being rebuilt, hit hard as it was by graduation following the 2012 season. While no SEC team can completely go to sleep on another SEC opponent – as Georgia will attest following its close shave in Knoxville today – for Kentucky to even challenge Alabama would be noteworthy.
Breaking down a Homecoming win over Georgia State is not glamorous work, but here’s the Five-Point Breakdown of the week anyway.
1. Blake Sims finally gets meaningful work at quarterback. Impressions? Favorable. Sims not only got his most work to date as the Alabama quarterback, he did most of it in the standard Alabama offensive set, rather than his specialty zone-read package. Alabama needed to see this from Sims, because not only is Sims one snap away from being the starter, Alabama has done a mediocre job protecting A.J. McCarron to this point. Sims was 14-of-18 (77.8%) for 130 yards and a touchdown, and also carried twice for 10 yards. This was a vast improvement over his last major action (A-Day in April) where Sims was basically a turnover machine. Although Sims didn’t put up a performance equal to McCarron’s, which set a school record for completion percentage, no one was expecting him to. Plus, Sims worked with the second offensive line for the vast majority of his snaps and the second-team receiver and running back group for more than half. We’ll touch more on personnel in a bit, but even given what the level of opposition was, it’s hard not to have a positive opinion of Sims after Saturday’s work.
2. Cooper’s struggles are letting speculation run rampant. There are two schools of thought on Amari Cooper and both might be true. One is that he’s hurt. The second is that he’s having a period of “sophomore adjustment,” and one can take that to include doghouse issues and similar off-field concerns. No one knows for sure how much either of those things are figuring into the equation, but Cooper has been a non-factor in Alabama’s offense ever since fall camp broke. His performance against Virginia Tech was no better than so-so, and it’s gotten worse sense. Nick Saban abhors speculation about personnel, especially by the media – anyone want to raise a hand and ask him about depth charts? – but Alabama’s policy on not releasing injury information really leaves fans and analysts with no other choice. Cooper was shut out against Georgia State, and it wasn’t like Alabama wasn’t throwing the ball. Had Cooper been significantly injured, he would have been sat for the game the way DE Jeoffrey Pagan was. If he’s hurt, it was a curious decision to even play him at all in this game. If it’s a doghouse issue, playing him also raises questions. Whatever the answers are, we know Saban won’t address particulars. For now, all we know is DeAndrew White is a starter along with Kevin Norwood and Christion Jones, and Kenny Bell is the most effective receiver off the bench.
3. New faces finally see the field. Saturday marked the debut of true freshman offensive lineman Grant Hill, who is on the verge of grabbing playing time in the regular rotation. Fourth-year junior Anthony Orr got substantial work on defensive line, and walk-on receivers Parker Barrineau and Ty Reed both caught passes, as did tight end Kurt Freitag. Saturday was Reed’s first work and Freitag’s as well. Walk-on Paul Waldrop saw action at center, while Korren Kirven got snaps at nosetackle and defensive end. Barrineau and Kirven had both played against Virginia Tech, but this was each player’s first significant action. And while walk-on tight end Michael Nysewander had previously played, Corey McCarron – brother to a certain quarterback – had never gotten in an Alabama game until Saturday. Not only did McCarron play, he was targeted for a pass but the throw was defended well. Games like this one allow the coaches to reward the stars of practice for their often-overlooked work, and Alabama didn’t just give these players empty snaps.
4. Hard to see improvement in offensive line. This wasn’t so much the fault of Georgia State, or Alabama’s linemen, as it was the playcalling. As with games against Colorado State and Virginia Tech, Alabama didn’t do much checking out of the called play. Georgia State couldn’t have stopped Alabama’s running game had Alabama told the defensive line which hole the back was going through. On the subject of pass protection, even though the official stat sheet left it off, Sims was hurried twice but managed to avoid negative plays both times. The Georgia State defensive line was perhaps the least effective Division-IA line to grace the Bryant-Denny Stadium turf … ever. Trying to discern whether Alabama had improved any since its win last week over Ole Miss was an impossible task. Kentucky has a decent front seven and much will be known after next week.
5. It’s time to talk playing rotation. We saved the best for last – or, if not the best, at least the longest. While Nick Saban appears (publicly, at least) to regard depth charts with the same cuddliness most Southerners hold for a water moccasin, fans do care, and they will talk about the subject whether the coach likes it or not. In that vein, the first topic is offensive line. Following up the earlier note on Grant Hill, Alabama continues to have issues with edge pass rush, and it wouldn’t be a surprise at this point to see the Tide reshuffle the starting lineup, with RT Austin Shepherd the most likely to switch somewhere else. At tight end, O.J. Howard started Saturday ahead of Brian Vogler, although Vogler entered on the second play of the game. Dee Hart played ahead of Altee Tenpenny and Derrick Henry at running back, but wasn’t as effective as either of the other two backs. And then there’s cornerback, where Cyrus Jones missed a second consecutive game despite Alabama emptying the bench otherwise. Alabama appears to have settled on Deion Belue and Eddie Jackson as the starters, with Bradley Sylve slightly ahead of Maurice Smith as the first corner off the bench. Some names many expected to see in this game – backup snapper M.K. Taylor, defensive lineman Wilson Love and linebacker Josh Dickerson – didn’t play. But the one non-participant that stood out was QB Alec Morris. Blake Sims ran the offense from around the 4:00 mark of the second quarter through the end of the game, and since quarterback is the most interesting position on the field to discuss, many conversations were heard around Bryant-Denny Stadium after the game on the subject of Sims’ future. What we seem to know for the remainder of 2013 is that if A.J. McCarron gets hurt, this is Sims’ team. Saban could have used the Georgia State game as open competition between Sims and Morris; instead, this became an opportunity to groom a single backup quarterback, and that quarterback is Blake Sims. The more interesting question, though, is whether this means anything for 2014. It’s little secret that true freshmen Cooper Bateman and Parker McLeod have been slow to pick up the Alabama offense; hence, a walk-on (Luke Del Rio) is the current fourth-string QB. Alabama will add David Cornwell next fall, but the search might not end there, and might include more than just freshman signees. Failing these options – or if new additions to the roster struggle to understand the Tide offense – Blake Sims will be Alabama’s quarterback in 2014. And if that happens, the work he got today against Georgia State will prove invaluable.
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