Kent State wrap-up: Tide’s opener yields hope, opportunities for improvement

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

Sept. 3, 2011

 

While Auburn was busy getting shocked out of its socks against Utah State, was reading from a script against in Tuscaloosa Saturday.

The vaunted back eight of the Crimson Tide defense was everything it was expected to be. Alabama held the Golden Flashes to less than 100 yards of total offense, negative rushing yardage and toyed with the Kent State offense like a cat playing with a ball of string. Were it not for a interception returned to the 3-yard line, the Golden Flashes wouldn’t have come close to the Alabama red zone.

Some of the non-surprises, though, weren’t so pleasant. Fans concerned over the change in quarterbacks from the experienced Greg McElroy to the Sims/ combination are probably still concerned. While both had moments of brilliance, each player was picked off twice and made questionable decisions that, against SEC defenses later in the year, won’t go unpunished.

If anything, the biggest positive surprises of the day were backup running back (he’s good) and redshirt freshman wide receiver DeAndrew White (he’s going to be really good, sooner rather than later). But in both cases, fans had inklings of hope already.

What wasn’t necessarily expected was an offensive line that again struggled to provide consistent run-blocking at will. Alabama didn’t eclipse 100 yards rushing as a team until the fourth quarter, when Kent State’s thin defense had been thoroughly exhausted. Part of the problem might have stemmed from Barrett Jones seemingly playing a different position every drive in a fashion similar to an out-of-the-pennant-race baseball team playing someone at all nine positions in a game as a publicity stunt. Continuity looked to be an issue, particularly between the tackles.

In all, Alabama turned the ball over a whopping five times and had three other fumbles recovered by teammates. That’s not going to cut it in this league, and no doubt everyone on the Bama sidelines already knows it.

Still, it’s interesting to note where the fumbles didn’t come from – Eddie Lacy, who probably had his best game at Alabama. Developing depth behind Trent Richardson is a key for this season, and Lacy passed the test.

The concerns about finding a replacement for Julio Jones will likely persist until Alabama plays its first front-line secondary, but the Crimson Tide got good play Saturday out of White and especially Marquis Maze, who accounted for more than 200 yards of total offense and had no trouble getting open, which has been a knock on him in the past.

But the greatest superlatives were saved for a defense that held Kent State QB Spencer Keith to a staggeringly low 2.11 yards per pass attempt, which has to either be a record for futility or at least very close to it. Alabama’s linebackers turned in an A-plus performance, with the secondary right on its heels. New defensive tackle/end Jesse Williams provided good push to the pocket on occasion, and Kent State can count itself among several other teams whose offensive line had trouble figuring out pass-rushing specialist Nick Gentry. Coupled with a solid first performance from true freshman linebacker Trey DePriest and probably the career-best game from senior strongside backer Jerrell Harris – along with others too numerous to name – the Golden Flashes just couldn’t get out of their own way.

There will be plenty of bulletin board fodder this week over the performances of freshmen and the status of wideout Duron Carter, as well as wondering whether Alabama will continue to stick with the two-quarterback system, and for how long. Those questions are the reason Alabama packed Bryant-Denny Stadium despite an 11:20 a.m. kickoff and muggy temperatures in the mid-90s.

Meanwhile, next week’s opponent was playing a similar game against Indiana State, won by a similar score – but with no lost. That’s where the coaches’ focus will be this week.

 

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