Crimson Keys: Alabama Crimson Tide vs. MTSU Blue Raiders

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Coming off of last week’s convincing 35-17 win over the Wisconsin Badgers, the Alabama Crimson Tide will host their home opener against Conference USA’s Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. Off the back of a dominating performance from running back Derrick Henry and a surprisingly efficient quarterback in Jake Coker, along with a tough as nails defense, Alabama will look to continue to improve in several areas.

Middle Tennessee, on the other hand, is coming off of a 70-14 drubbing of D-II school Jackson State. Let’s look at this week’s “Crimson Keys” to another “W” for the boys in crimson and white.

Jake Coker Must Take Control

Against Wisconsin, Jake Coker took a giant step in becoming the full-time starter for the Crimson Tide, but even that solid performance wasn’t enough for Saban and company to make him the starter. Coker was efficient, calm, and managed to the offense almost to perfection after he settled in. He never tried to press or force anything and did everything that was asked of him. The biggest problem with his game was a shock to me; his deep ball. He only attempted a couple of deep passes and despite Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart torching the defensive backs on two different passes, Coker was short on both throws.

Coker has gained a reputation for his strong arm so I don’t know if he simply threw it late or if he was just too nervous on the deep passes but he needs to find his deep ball if he is going to take over the reigns of the Tide offense for good. Having deep threat weapons like Ridley, Stewart, and Kenyan Drake will definitely help along with safety valves like Richard Mullaney, Robert Foster, and OJ Howard.

Continue to Feed the Beast

Derrick Henry is finally THE man in the backfield for Alabama and he took full advantage of that to the tune of 147 yards and 3 touchdowns. He averaged 11 yards per carry and was as dominant as Alabama fans everywhere had hoped. Henry will surely get his share of touches this week, but hopefully Alabama will be able to go deep onto the bench to give plenty of the other backs a chance. It will be interesting to see how Lane Kiffin continues to play around with Kenyan Drake in different spots, but I fully expect freshman Damien Harris to get a big look from the offense this week.

Tide Secondary Needs to Continue to Improve

Last week, almost every bit of Wisconsin’s success through the air came on short dinks and dunks to running backs and tight ends in the first half. Wisconsin attempted to take advantage of Alabama using zone for the majority of the first half but the Tide switched to more man coverage in the second which took a lot of those short passes away. Alabama’s dominating run defense hampered Wisconsin even further and they had very little success at all in the second half until Saban put the backups in. Geno Smith and Eddie Jackson, both former corners, have improved the secondary immensely especially in man coverage. Neither are afraid to stick their nose in and help out on run support either, but with this being Jackson’s first year as a safety, it is safe to bet that there will be times when he is out of position. That is something Alabama will have to live with, but he will also make big plays like his interception in week one that will make up for it.

Last week, Blue Raider quarterback Brent Stockstill threw for 348 yards and 4 touchdowns, chunking the ball all over the place in Middle Tennessee’s wide open offense. Stockstill’s favorite receiver was Ed Batties who caught 8 passes for 123 yards and 2 touchdowns. Alabama struggled last year, especially with deep passes, and it is no question that Middle Tennessee will attempt to expose that further this year while the Tide secondary will look to continue to show how improved they truly are.

Alabama faces off with Middle Tennessee at 3:00 PM (central) live on the SEC Network. Stay tuned here on BamaHammer for coverage all day!