There is the football team that Alabama, at the moment, actually is.
There is the football team that Alabama, for a number of reasons, is expected to be.
Saturday’s game was not ideal. The team Alabama is, right now, is very good but not unbeatable. A persona is frequently imposed on this team, one that’s built in part on real estate claimed by previous Nick Saban teams. That image is reinforced by recruiting rankings which create the illusion Alabama has an unlimited supply of players that, having completed high school, need merely to wait out a three-year stint before heading to the NFL, no seasoning needed.
There’s no sense worrying about that team. It’s not real. Saturday was real, and that’s what Saban has with which to build a finished product.
For instance, Jalen Hurts did not look like Tom Brady against Fresno State. Why? Probably because he’s not Tom Brady. He’s not going to become Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Brett Favre. If your plan is to watch games for the rest of the season waiting for that to happen, save yourself the frustration and binge-watch Mr. Roboto instead. Hurts will be who he is — a quarterback that is a deadly threat in the running game, and one that manages the passing game the way Saban, more or less, wants it managed.
When Saban said after Saturday’s game he thought Hurts played well, he wasn’t kidding. Anyone who thinks otherwise is judging by a different standard, one in which “looking like an NFL quarterback” is the sole measuring stick. Hurts, on the other hand, looks like a college quarterback, or at least a fair number of successful college quarterbacks. He makes Alabama difficult to defend. He also allows Alabama to get ample use out of its talented running backs, a group that may get more talented if Josh Jacobs can return next week.
The offense can improve, clearly. The offensive line was better than it was in Week One but that may be a function of playing Fresno State rather than Florida State. If one had to a pick a side of the ball to worry over, one might choose the defense — a worry that hasn’t nagged at anyone watching Alabama for the better part of a decade.
No one is arguing Alabama’s defense was “bad.” Fresno State coach Jeff Tedford, given limited resources, designed a great plan. Saban called it “nickel-and-diming,” a phrase that isn’t usually used as a compliment but was meant that way in this case. Alabama’s recent defenses, though, have usually found a way to blow up nickel-and-dimers and scoop up the loose change. The old linebackers were missed on Saturday — Reuben Foster, Ryan Anderson. So were the new ones in street clothes — Rashaan Evans, Terrell Lewis. You could sense their absence even if you spent the entire game with your eyes closed. Alabama had a couple of hits that drew a prolonged “ooooh” from the crowd, one by Shaun Dion Hamilton, another by Ronnie Harrison. In the average game of recent vintage, you’d hear a half-dozen of those “oohs” or more.
None of that suggests gloom and doom for the offense or the defense. Saban seemed almost professorial after the game, glad to have a day to perform some experiments, eager to use the results as teachable moments. That’s where Alabama is at the moment — still in the classroom. There’s no reason to think that they should look like graduates yet.
Reach Cecil Hurt at email@example.com or 205-722-0225.
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