By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Oct. 15, 2011
Once Alabama figures out how to stop giving up bombs on an opponent’s opening drive during road games, there will be no weaknesses in the Alabama armor.
Alabama shrugged off yet another first-drive highlight to score 52 unanswered points and rout Ole Miss. It wasn’t a game between haves and have-nots; it was a game between a semi-pro juggernaut and a Rebel team that looked like it would have a hard time making the state playoffs in Class 4A.
Whether this was because Alabama is that good, Ole Miss is that bad or a combination of the two is unclear. What is clear is that Alabama racked up more than 600 yards of total offense and could have let the clarinet section of the Million Dollar Band take turns running the football in the fourth quarter, and it would not have made a single difference.
Sure, there are things to work on. The bomb pass in the first quarter was troublesome, but that was one snap out of dozens. What is much more troubling is the regression of kickoff coverage, which hit a new low against the Rebels. Yes, Ole Miss led the nation in kickoff returns coming into the game, but this is still a problem for Alabama that must be fixed. With kickoff specialist Cade Foster suffering a concussion during the game, Jeremy Shelley might have to handle the job against Tennessee, and an injury to Shelley at this point would be crippling. This might be the week for open tryouts around campus.
On the Ole Miss side of the field, Houston Nutt has to know the end is near. The Rebels quit very early in the third quarter, and made it hard on Alabama to even run out the clock late in the game. The level of talent in Oxford has dropped off significantly since he took over, and what talent is there isn’t being developed. The only way Nutt will ever lead an Ole Miss team to Atlanta is if the Rebels schedule an away game against Georgia Tech.
For Alabama, the word of the day is “balance.” Alabama’s defense continues to get the accolades, but the offense is beginning to develop into a force of its own. Quarterback A.J. McCarron played his best game to date, not just effectively managing the offense, but in making plays downfield and making smart reads. With the offensive line playing better recently, the depth of the Crimson Tide’s running back corps and the emergence of several young wide receivers, McCarron’s development fills the final gap in the chain.
It’s easy to get ahead of oneself, though, considering this was Ole Miss that Alabama played Saturday. The Rebels are slap-fighting with Kentucky for 11th-best SEC team in 2011, and the gulf that separates the Rebels and/or the Wildcats from 10th place is large enough that any boat wishing to cross it would need to stop to refuel along the way.
Ole Miss isn’t LSU. It isn’t even Auburn, or Tennessee, probably isn’t Mississippi State and may not even be Georgia Southern.
But Alabama is proving, week after week, that it is on a different plane from most. Even though Tennessee will give its rivalry with Alabama everything it deserves next week, there’s little doubt that the entire college football world is gearing up for what will happen in three weeks, when LSU comes to Tuscaloosa to face the Tide. That’s the measuring stick all will use to determine just how good this Alabama team is.
If Alabama manages to sail through Tennessee and LSU both, it will be time to start readying those “best-ever” questions for the end of the season. Is this Alabama team one of the best in school history? Nothing is certain at this point, but it’s hard to look at the wake of devastation left by this team up to this point and at least not consider the question.
Better yet, ask the Rebels that question. The honest ones will tell you that they have no desire to go through Saturday’s experience again.
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