Under the pretense that no win should be overlooked, it doesn’t matter that Chattanooga plays in a lower division and has historically been cannon fodder for SEC teams needing an easy late-season win.
Just ask Auburn tonight what it thinks of its own scheduling.
Alabama’s 66-10 victory over the Mocs of Chattanooga won’t go down in the record books as a great victory for this storied program. It will barely be a blip on the Alabama football radar screen after a day or two, its usefulness limited to a study of stat-sheet weirdness (Alabama’s leading rusher by yardage was a backup quarterback, Ty Simpson, with a whopping 1 carry – for 78 yards).
On the other hand, Alabama took care of business, decisively, and for the second straight week jumped out to a fast, three-touchdown start in the early going. Bama tacked on a fourth and fifth touchdown for good measure in this game before letting Chattanooga onto the scoreboard, and finished the game with another 28 unanswered points. Overall, it was total domination.
Alabama also managed to survive the game without serious injury; LB Quandarrius Robinson briefly visited the injury tent for what looked like either a wrist or shoulder ailment, but he returned to the game later. Alabama was also able to rest injured starters Jaylen Key, Deontae Lawson and key reserve Ja’Corey Brooks, which bodes well for next week’s trip to the plains.
There isn’t much in-depth analysis that can be done for a game like this. Chattanooga wasn’t in Alabama’s league (literally) and aren’t aspiring to be. The Mocs were here to collect a paycheck and measure themselves against an FBS contender. Those goals were met. But so were Alabama’s goals of scoring a decisive victory and keeping everyone healthy in the process.
Here’s the Five-Point Breakdown for Alabama-Chattanooga:
1. We mentioned it last week, but Alabama’s offensive package design is getting better by the minute. The playcalling looks almost nothing like it did in the opener over MTSU, and while a lot of that has to do with quarterback development, which we’ll touch on later in this article, the relationship between play design and quarterback play is symbiotic and also complementary. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees went from being a question mark after the first month of the season to once again one of the hottest names in the business. What Alabama has managed to do lately – meaning against LSU, Kentucky and now Chattanooga – is rather extraordinary. Route design has gotten more complex, again a function of what the quarterbacks can handle as much as anything else. The highlight play Saturday was Jalen Milroe faking a toss sweep and then finding Malik Benson with about a 20-yard cushion in all directions as he crossed the goal line. We’re not ready to say Rees is another Steve Sarkisian in the making, but recent results are trending in the right direction.
2. DBs played well, and better safety play had a lot to do with it. Nick Saban mentioned Chattanooga’s prowess at receiver in his weekly press conference, and we also profiled it here in our preview. Moc receivers Javin Whatley and Jamoi Mayes could probably start for several SEC schools, and Whatley at least has a good chance at playing in the pros. Alabama did a good job shutting down Mayes, but Whatley still got his numbers. What looked different was how Alabama tightened in the red zone, and how the safeties continue to improve, especially in the wake of a tough LSU game. Kristian Story played a strong game in relief if Jaylen Key and notched an interception on a great break on the ball. He nearly got another interception later in the game as well. Story was eligible to go through Senior Day activities, but chose not to, which is usually an indication that a player is planning to return for another season. If Story can become more consistent in his angles, he seems to have a nose for the ball, and Alabama could use another ballhawk deep. The other name to note was Devonta Smith, who rotated with Story and finished with four tackles despite playing less than half the game. With Key and Malachi Moore headed to the NFL next year, Smith and Story could have given fans a preview of what’s to come in 2024.
3. The battlefield promotion of Caleb Downs at punt returner changed everything. Ga’Quincy McKinstry fumbled another punt return and was replaced by the true freshman Downs, who turned his third punt return of the day into an electric six points. Alabama had already gotten a fantastic opening kickoff return from Kendrick Law, and PK Will Reichard bounced back nicely with a 50-yard field goal after having missed two kicks in his most previous outing at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama even came close to seeing tight end Danny Lewis Jr. break a long kickoff return off a squib kick. The move from McKinstry to Downs seemed to inject some spark into this unit, and the timing couldn’t be better.
4. Running backs ran wild, aided by continued development up front. Bama used five running backs and four of them scored touchdowns. Only Jamarion Miller did not, and he wound up the leading rusher among the running back group. The reason for Bama’s success started up front, where the Crimson Tide was able to consistently open holes over both the guard-tackle lanes. Jaeden Roberts at right guard has become potentially Alabama’s most explosive lineman despite not even being a starter at the beginning of the year. Also, a tip of the hat to Darrian Dalcourt, who played half or more of the snaps at center today and did a fine job. It’s nice to have an alternative to Seth McLaughlin in the event he gets banged up here at the end.
5. QB development has made different players out of Milroe, Simpson. There is now legitimate talk about whether Jalen Milroe will head to the NFL as a redshirt sophomore. That kind of speculation was the epitome of crazy talk about three months ago. But it’s not just Milroe; backup Ty Simpson played extensively today and had his best outing by far, drop-fumbling the football going into the end zone after a 78-yard run nothwithstanding. We’ve said before we believe Alabama could win with both quarterbacks; after seeing Simpson today in what amounted to a full half of football with the 1s, we are even more convinced. Dylan Lonergan has taken over the third-string spot, as we speculated would be the case after watching Bama’s warm-up procedures against LSU. He got just enough work Saturday to make Bama fans want to see more. We mentioned improvement in offensive play design and playcalling at the top of the Breakdown, but it wouldn’t be possible if Alabama’s quarterbacks weren’t responding well to coaching – and they clearly are.
Follow Jess Nicholas on X at @TideFansJessN