By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Sept. 18, 2011
Unfortunately, that was not the case Saturday, as Alabama played clearly its worst game so far of the 2011 season.
Head coach Nick Saban wasn’t happy, and expressed his displeasure in the locker room after the game. Alabama won a sleepy, sloppy contest against a team that barely belongs in Division-IA, and Saban appeared to know as much as anyone that a similar effort next week against Arkansas is going to yield a much different result.
There were no egregious errors in this game; rather, a combination of several small failures and miscues. If North Texas was to be a tune-up for Alabama, the diagnosis is that the Tide is still waiting for a few parts to arrive from the warehouse.
Despite rolling up approximately 600 yards of total offense, most of those on the ground, it would be difficult to say this was a blue-ribbon performance for Alabama’s run blockers. Again, Alabama started slowly in the running game, and most of the early holes were made not because of the actions of the offensive line, but because Alabama committed to the pass early on and backed the safeties out of the box. Then, as the game went along, Alabama wore down North Texas through superior depth and athleticism.
Nowhere was that more apparent than when Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy combined to go about 130 yards for 2 touchdowns on back-to-back carries late in the second half. On the second carry, which Lacy toted, quarterback Phillip Sims just looked to the sidelines afterward and shrugged as if to say, “I know you told me not to run up the score, Coach, and all I did was hand it off.”
New North Texas coach Dan McCarney has a quality resume, and he’ll need all of his experience to right this ship. Unless the Mean Green improves considerably going forward, this is a team that would be out of contention in most Division-IAA conferences by the midpoint of the year. The Mean Green has no depth (although that didn’t stop them from being flagged for playing two players with identical jersey numbers on the same play, begging the question how that’s possible on a team that appeared to dress only 50 or so players), and the players it does have just can’t cut it on this level.
Fortunately for Alabama, the lack of UNT’s speed was evident in several places, which allowed Tide runners, receivers and kick returners to pile up the yardage by simply running away from their pursuers. That stops this week; Arkansas may not be national title material, but the Razorbacks won’t be run out of the building the way North Texas was.
There were positives for Alabama. Phillip Sims looked a far sight more comfortable under center Saturday than he did against Kent State in the opener. Trent Richardson is shaking off the rust. Darius Hanks’ return was immediately felt not only in the passing game, but in run blocking as well. Alabama is continuing to develop depth on defense and in the kick coverage units.
Don’t discount the goal-line stand by the Tide’s third-teamers late in the game, either. Thanks to a questionable flag against reserve safety Nick Perry for pass interference, North Texas got 8 shots at the end zone from close range and were turned away every time. The amount of confidence this could build in the minds of the reserves is immeasurable.
No one expects Alabama to look this flat against Arkansas next week, and it’s a good thing when the Crimson Tide program has progressed to a point where a 41-0 victory and 586 yards of offense are considered a “flat” performance. It’s a sign the program is continuing on a track toward a national championship. But that doesn’t mean Nick Saban has to like it.
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