By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 24, 2016
What Kent State couldn’t do to Alabama, the heat and the medical tent nearly did.
Alabama defeated a poor KSU team 48-0, running up a 41-0 halftime score before having mercy on Nick Saban’s alma mater. Alabama played four quarterbacks and several walk-ons made the participation chart, including a couple that made career debuts. But early in the game, Alabama had a harder time escaping the attention of team doctors than it did the Kent State defense’s grasp.
Starting tailback Damien Harris went down with what looked like an ugly ankle injury. Saban called Harris “day-to-day” in his postgame remarks, but it seems unlikely Harris will be on the field when Alabama hosts Kentucky. Alabama also lost RB Bo Scarbrough and MLB Reuben Foster for stretches Saturday – Scarbrough suffered a thigh bruise, while Foster appeared to either re-aggravate an old leg injury or suffered from cramps – and for a time it seemed like the Crimson Tide roster might wilt in the heat.
Saturday’s game (particularly the first half) was one of the most miserable games in Bryant-Denny Stadium history, a mix of blazing sun and a heat index that mirrored the top speed of some European sports cars. The second half, aided by increasing cloud cover, at least allowed the fans to stop feeling like they were sitting inside the world’s largest barbecue grill. Still, the Bryant-Denny crowd shrunk from about 85,000 at kickoff to around 25,000 after halftime.
Surprisingly, cramping issues affected only a few players on both sides, and Kent State would have needed several more Alabama players to drop out of the game before it would have had any shot at all of an upset.
To be blunt, Kent State is one of the worst teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Alabama held the Golden Flashes to 166 total yards of offense, with KSU’s ineptitude split almost equally between rushing (82) and passing (84) yards. The Golden Flashes recorded just 5 first downs. It took four quarters and a Bama defense full of freshmen for Kent State to finally threaten the Alabama end zone, and KSU converted just 1 of 13 third-down attempts.
Nick Saban was surprisingly happy with the result later, calling it as close to a complete game as Alabama has played all year. Such praise almost borders on mythic from Saban, and the only time he appeared to really get aggravated Saturday was when Xavian Marks misplayed a punt and allowed it to roll dead inside the Alabama 5-yard line.
Alabama will get a Kentucky team this week that hasn’t been able to cash in on preseason rankings yet. The Wildcats have struggled on defense in all three games thus far (they were playing South Carolina at press time of this article) and its defensive struggles are threatening to trigger a coaching change at year’s end. Still, Kentucky’s offense has enough talent to keep the team in games, provided the offense hits a hot streak.
The hottest streak of Alabama’s win over Kent State may have come not from the Tide’s first-half offense, but from the sun itself. Credit Alabama with doing what it needed to do to put the game out of reach quickly, get into its depth chart and move on to the next game with minimal roster damage.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Kent State:
1. This game was a tune-up, and Alabama tuned up. There’s really nothing else to be said for a matchup like this. Alabama wasn’t going to be challenged by Kent State today, and once the Crimson Tide scored on the opening drive and put KSU’s offense on the field down already by a touchdown, the challenge was over. Alabama kept its playbook basic and repetitive. Alabama completed passes to 12 different targets, but to Calvin Ridley only once. The Crimson Tide got a chance to get Lester Cotton work at right guard, a new position for him, while also being able to lock in the Robinson-Pierschbacher-Bozeman-Taylor-Williams lineup that has been so successful lately. The offensive line appeared to largely get a handle on penalties; Alabama was flagged just twice Saturday and only one of those, a false start penalty on Alphonse Taylor, came from the offensive line.
2. Alabama shows off the strength of its depth chart. Probably the best place to see this was at wide receiver, where ArDarius Stewart and Robert Foster missed the game due to knee injuries. Alabama went to Gehrig Dieter and Cameron Sims as starters along with Calvin Ridley, and didn’t miss a beat. In addition, reserve slot receiver Derek Kief had a strong game with three catches and several key blocks.
Trayvon Diggs caught 3 passes, including a nifty 17-yarder on which he showed good moves after the catch. In addition to receiver, Alabama showed off its strength at running back, where Joshua Jacobs replaced Damien Harris and didn’t skip a beat. B.J. Emmons also had a good game in relief of Jacobs, while quality walk-on Derrick Gore showed he could probably be trusted with a larger role. Mack Wilson got his first real action at linebacker and proved why he’ll be an able replacement next year for Reuben Foster. Walk-on Levi Wallace got in the game early in relief of Marlon Humphrey at cornerback and delivered a solid outing. Not until Alabama began to empty its bench late did the missed assignments come.
3. Special teams continue to make a positive impact. Adam Griffith hit two field goals, including a 48-yarder that had 10 or more yards to spare. J.K. Scott had another solid day punting, and backup placekicker Andy Pappanastos appears to give Alabama some depth behind Griffith, at least on short and intermediate-range kicks. The return game, though, is mostly what we’re talking about here; Alabama came into the game ranked solidly in all return-related statistics, and broke another punt return for a touchdown in this game, this time with Xavian Marks subbing for Eddie Jackson. Jackson will probably be back at the helm against Kentucky, but Marks proved dynamic when he got his chances. Alabama has now gotten three returners (Trayvon Diggs being the other) valuable experience fielding kicks and will be better for it in the long run. If Griffith can keep up the good work, Alabama could be at its strongest point here since Saban’s first year.
4. Jalen Hurts tightens grip on the QB job. Blake Barnett didn’t struggle in this game, but he didn’t do anything to close the gap that is now growing between him and Hurts. Barnett finished 4-of-7 for 55 yards and a nice touchdown pass to O.J. Howard. His best play otherwise was a well-executed ball fake/throwback off a bootleg, but the ball was thrown to the receiver’s wrong shoulder and the play failed. Barnett seemed to have issues holding the ball too long, which resulted in a pair of sacks. Hurts, on the other hand, continues to grow and look more comfortable with each outing. He not only led Alabama in passing Saturday but was also the team’s second-leading rusher and managed the offense well. At this point, it would seem an injury is the only thing that could really change the order of the depth chart.
5. Alabama (mostly) kept Kent State’s key players under control. The one exception was safety Nate Holley, who had an SEC-worthy day with 14 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. But Alabama shut down talented linebacker/defensive end Terence Waugh, who finished the day with 2 tackles and failed to affect the quarterback at all. Starting RB Justin Rankin ran for 47 yards on Kent State’s first offensive snap, then carried 5 times for 5 yards the rest of the way in. If anything, backup QB George Bollas getting a total of 97 all-purpose yards became the de facto second-biggest contribution of any Golden Flash player. With that being the case, it’s clear Alabama dominated all phases.
Follow Jess Nicholas on Twitter at @TideFansJessN
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