I was wearing my crimson Alabama baseball cap this morning when I stepped out of my car at the gas station. I looked up to find I was facing a fellow wearing a West Virginia t-shirt.
In Orlando, Florida, both of us are far from home turf, so the odds of this happening were longer than the odds that a Nick Saban-coached Alabama defense would get shredded by the Mountaineers. Yet here we were.
When he looked up from the pump to see me, I smiled almost apologetically.
“Good game,” I said, displaying an amazing depth of analytical brilliance.
“I didn’t see it,” he said, gesturing to the U-Haul trailer hitched to his vehicle. “On the road.” The flat tone of his voice made it clear he’d at least heard the score on the radio.
Alabama won the game.
Tide fans this morning will be forgiven for walking around like they got away with one. The feeling among some is that despite a shaky performance by the wrong quarterback; despite a secondary that looked lost and unaware that the football was in the air and heading their way; despite a coaching staff unwilling to accept that opposing teams are refusing to line up and play smashmouth football; Alabama escaped with a win because that’s what Alabama does.
The reality is more encouraging than that.
West Virginia scored one offensive touchdown. While the Mountaineers were able to move the ball effectively, their red zone offense was less effective. Alabama’s run defense improved as the game went on, forcing Clint Trickett to rely on receivers that dropped several key passes.
Blake Sims had a very good first outing. His debut as the quarterback of the Alabama Crimson Tide was not as an heir apparent; it was as the best available option. Still, Sims set Alabama records for attempts and completions as a first-time starter, and took command of the Tide offense. He made mistakes in his throws and his check-downs, but overall did nothing to warrant his benching in favor of fan favorite Jacob Coker.
Yeldon and Henry are still wearing crimson. Both of Alabama’s first two options at running back passed the 100-yard mark with relative ease, and will be Alabama’s bread and butter. The Tide’s offensive line was not what it has been, but opened holes and provided protection when it counted.
Alabama has a very good kicking game. J.K. Scott crushed his punts, and Adam Griffith showed he can be relied on to put points on the board when a drive stalls. For the first time in a long time, Alabama fans can relax when the field goal unit takes the field.
It’s said every season that the most improvement a team sees is between the first game and the second. Alabama knows where it needs to improve, and will get the chance against a Florida Atlantic team that is not in West Virginia’s league.
So fans have another week to complain about coaching decisions, the depth chart and defensive woes. They can send faxes and emails and tweets begging for Jacob Coker to be annointed Permanent Starter for 2014. But at some point in the next few days, they will have to accept the same fact I did as I exchanged pleasantries with the Mountaineers fan at the gas station.
Alabama won the game.