Alabama Football: What We Learned From The West Virginia Game


I think…

With each passing week we’ll learn more about the 2014 Alabama football team. We’ll spot trends as they emerge and puzzle at both the positive and negative outliers.

In this weekly feature I’ll highlight a handful of the lessons this team is teaching me.

Yeldon and Cooper are givens.

Together they comprised nearly half our yards (48 percent), points (42 percent), and touches (49 percent). Both were targeted often and both delivered. Of course this may be the easiest lesson we learn about this team all season, but it’s no less comforting to know that the Tide has such dependable and talented weapons.

The coaches love Henry.

Perhaps another easy one but consider with all the talent the Tide has paraded through the running back position in recent years, the rotation has been pretty consistent. Seldom does the Tide split snaps within a possession (long drives excepted), and rarely has the number two back taken snaps before the third possession. However, precedent was set against the Mountaineers when Derrick Henry entered the game on the Tide’s third and short. Yes, the Tide’s second running back on the field recorded the first carry. That may be an all-time first.

The cornerback position is wide open.

Saban is known to reward tenure when a position battle is close. So while Cyrus Jones and Bradley Sylve winning the starting jobs was not what I predicted, it was not a total surprise considering the primary competition consisted of a recovering Eddie Jackson and two true freshmen. I’ll play the role of contrarian and say that neither player was as bad as the 365 passing yards allowed would suggest, but clearly there is room for significant improvement. Playing time is up for grabs and readily available over the coming days and weeks.

The defense is better with Geno Smith on the field.

On second down deep in Alabama territory, the Tide dodged a bullet when WVU quarterback Clint Tricket missed Cyrus tasked with covering three receivers on the left side of the formation. Later in the game, on another WVU drive deep in Alabama territory, I observed as Coach Kirby Smart grabbed free safety Nick Perry by the pads and physically removed him from the field. On the night, Geno started in the Dime package and rotated with Perry at free safety, but something just seemed different when he was on the field and that’s an observation I’ve made (and shared on the podcast) several times over his tenure. I’ll admit a potential for confirmation bias here as I’ve made bold predictions for Geno, but I also don’t think we allowed a point while he was on the field Saturday night.

The quarterback battle is more, not less murky.

Clarity at the top is what every coach wants from the quarterback position. A clear starter immediately ends the breathless debate that can divide a fan base and even a team. Secretly some coaches may even root for a harmless poor performance rather than confront the great unanswerable question that is an unresolved QB battle. I dare not suggest that as the motive for starting Blake Sims, but it is an outcome that could have ended the growing rumbles.

Instead, Sims completed better than 70 percent of his passes for 250 yards. Meanwhile, Sims threw a bad interception, struggled to throw while on the move, and failed to stress the defense vertically. At once he played too well to bench while demonstrating a skillset that’s likely too limited to win the division.

Prior to the game Saban commented that he was not rotating his QBs nor would he have a quick hook for Sims. I think these statements taken together may have handcuffed an otherwise innocent decision to carry the position battle into the game. A leaky defense didn’t help either.

So what is next? After the game Saban’s comments confirmed that Sims plays with a limited playbook. Does that mean Coker gets game two as his audition reel with his favorite plays leading the way? Does Sims keep the gig with the limited playbook or do we force him into areas of discomfort or even limited ability? At this point, this may take a couple weeks to figure out, if the Tide is lucky.