By Jess Nicholas
Nov. 22, 2015
By the time Cyrus Jones strolled into the end zone on a punt return with 0:00 showing in the first quarter – a score that made it 28-0 Alabama – it was already abundantly clear to everyone in Bryant-Denny Stadium that they were witnessing a contest between two teams that had nothing in common beyond the fact both were wearing helmets and pads.
Alabama so thoroughly dominated Charleston Southern that the biggest topic of conversation within the Bryant-Denny community was how this opponent ever went 9-1 in the regular season and made the playoffs in its division.
Charleston Southern displayed no offense, was overwhelmed on defense (Alabama never punted) and the special teams display the Buccaneers put forth looked as if it had been coordinated by the Marx Brothers. Alabama was up 49-0 at the half and could have named the score in the second half.
All teams need at least one game like this every year, where the fans can relax early and walk-ons from the scout team get to do more than just be on the field while the quarterback is kneeling on the ball to kill the final seconds from the clock. But this was ridiculous. Alabama almost had to shut things down on purpose in order to keep from embarrassing the Buccaneers and the best news for Charleston Southern is that Alabama didn’t injure any of their players and disrupt the CSU playoff run.
The game was barely a half-hour old, therefore, when thoughts turned to the Auburn game next week. With LSU unable to emotionally rebound against Ole Miss, Alabama will need to defeat Auburn to sew up the SEC West title and advance to Atlanta to face Florida. On the face, it would seem Alabama doesn’t have much of a challenge ahead. Auburn struggled at times against a poor Idaho team Saturday and defensively never got in a rhythm. Meanwhile, Florida had to go to overtime to defeat Florida Atlantic.
It would seem the deck is mostly clear for Alabama to return to college football’s Final Four, but anything can happen in a crazy (and tough) Southeastern Conference.
As for what Alabama’s future opponents might have learned from this game, there was nothing new to be had. The only lesson to be learned from this game was that the Crimson Tide is still the team no one really wants to play.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Charleston Southern:
1. Defensive line dominated the point of attack and disrupted the Buccaneer offensive plan. Charleston Southern’s offense is an inventive mix of traditional option, Nevada Pistol, split-back spread and modern spread. Against Alabama, though, it was a mix of nothing, zero, nada, and oops. It became clear early on how this one was going to go when Tide DE Jonathan Allen stood up at the snap, punched an offensive lineman in the chest (a legal move) and the lineman was knocked back nearly two yards. Allen then cut through the resulting hole and nearly sacked quarterback Austin Brown. The Buccaneers would try in vain to get to the edge against Alabama, only doing it a couple of times on their lone touchdown drive late in the game against reserves. Until that point, however, Alabama forced Charleston Southern into a box and dared Brown and his backup, Kyle Copeland, to throw down the seams. Jabriel Washington’s interception would show just how futile things had become for the Buccaneers, who basically ran the ball all game to milk the clock and go home in one piece.
2. Derrick Henry continues to mature as a runner. Henry seems to add something new to his game every week, and this week’s addition was incremental improvement of his already-impressive balance. Charleston Southern apparently practiced ankle tackling this past week, especially since Henry was bigger than a couple of CSU defensive linemen and going chest-to-chest with him wasn’t going to be a winning strategy. Henry ended up totaling 96 yards on 10 touches, scoring a pair of touchdowns and fighting for a couple of tough first downs. Alabama shut him down early to preserve him for upcoming games, and the Buccaneers were probably thankful. Henry could have scored all the touchdowns Saturday that he wanted to.
3. Buccaneer special teams were horrid. Punter Truett Burns is probably a nice, bright individual, but he isn’t a collegiate punter. Charleston Southern was going for the rugby kick strategy early in the game, and Cyrus Jones broke two of them for touchdowns as a result. When Burns finally switched over to conventional punting, results improved. Then there was the too-cute-by-half take on a swinging gate two-point conversion play late in the game, which fooled no one at all. The best thing Charleston Southern did on special teams all day was to tell its kickoff returner to not bring the ball out of the end zone under any circumstances.
4. New faces make contributions. Walker Jones played most of the second half at linebacker, in large part due to fellow reserve Keith Holcombe getting dinged on an early kickoff play. Korren Kirven started at right tackle in place of Dominick Jackson and may have earned himself a shot at the job next year after Jackson graduates. Senior scout-teamers like FB Jeff D’Amico and WR Parker Barrineau got legitimate work. Other little-used players who made an impact included QB Alec Morris attempting his first pass and CB Bradley Sylve leading the team in tackles. One newcomer of note was RB Xavian Marks, who got his first action of the year in what clearly was an audition for Kenyan Drake’s role. Marks has elite-level speed – he’s also a track athlete – and Alabama could play him in the slot over the next two weeks much the way it has done Drake at times. It takes guts to debut a new weapon in a team’s 11th game, but Alabama knows it’s on a championship run now and there’s no sense in not pulling out all the stops.
5. No major injuries = mission accomplished. Aside from the aforementioned Holcombe, who looked like he could have easily re-entered the game if absolutely necessary, Alabama suffered no injuries. The closest thing to an “injury” Alabama received was when Tim Williams was erroneously flagged for targeting (it was eventually and quickly reversed on replay), which would have cost him the first half of next week’s Auburn game. Dominick Jackson was able to rest his ankle, QB Jake Coker was able to steer clear of contact (although the left side of Alabama’s line allowed too much pressure early) and Henry basically enjoyed a pleasant walk in the park. Auburn will throw everything at Alabama including the kitchen sink, an oven and probably a couple of toilets, but at least the Tigers get the Crimson Tide at its rested best.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN