The midway mark of the regular season may technically be six games, but the hope for Alabama is to continue its 8-0 start into another national championship run. That makes the bye week after eight games a good time to take stock of the team for its midseason report card.
Tua Tagovailoa will say there’s something he could have done better. That’s true when breaking things down to individual plays. When taking the first eight games as a whole, however, there’s no reasonable way to ask for more than 258.3 yards per game (really only three quarters per game), a 70.4 percent completion rate, and a perfect 25-0 ratio of touchdowns to interceptions. He’s on pace for an historic season.
Jalen Hurts has played well also. He’s had some more success with downfield passes and has remained an important piece of the offense. There was never any drama as Tagovailoa transitioned into the starter. Mac Jones has also been prepared and handled the ball control offense when he takes over late in games.
The three-pronged trident of Najee Harris, Damien Harris and Josh Jacobs has been tough for defenses to handle. Najee Harris has 80 touches, Damien Harris has 81 and Jacobs has 61. There’s little drop in production from one to the next. Pairing Jacobs with one of the other two has also given the offense a dimension that is a bit different from previous seasons. All three would likely be the focal point of most offenses in college football. Combined they have given Alabama a steady stream of production. Brian Robinson Jr. also has been capable late in games, rushing for 240 yards.
Wide receivers/tight ends
Alabama’s top four wide receivers and tight end Irv Smith Jr. all have more than 20 receptions, more than 350 yards and three or more touchdowns. Jerry Jeudy has been dominant both on deep passes and when getting the ball in space. Freshman Jaylen Waddle is electric with the ball in his hands. Smith could become the most productive tight end in years if he continues at his current pace, and Hale Hentges has been a key blocker. Defenses can’t leave Henry Ruggs III or DeVonta Smith alone, either. The quarterback tends to get an exceptional level of credit or blame for the offense and the passing game, but the abilities of the receivers shouldn’t be understated.
One of the issues earlier this season was the second team offensive line struggled to keep drives moving in the fourth quarter to close out games. That’s been less of an issue of late, but the overall average still has to take that into account. Tackles Jonah Williams and Jedrick Wills have been exceptional and center Ross Pierschbacher is a rock. Alabama is tied for fourth nationally by allowing just five sacks and 20th in tackles for loss allowed.
Saban mentioned on his radio show earlier this season that an offense constructed like Alabama’s this season can struggle at times to be as physical in the run game as in previous seasons. Still, this group seems to be trending upward overall. The offense sure doesn’t seem to be lacking.
Quinnen Williams has played at an All-American level and senior Isaiah Buggs has had a big season as well. Raekwon Davis hasn’t been as productive as last season as offenses direct more attention his way, but the group as a whole is playing well. New defensive line coach Craig Kuligowski has gotten positive reviews from players as well. The second team hasn’t been quite as deep as in recent seasons but it’s hard to consider this group a weakness.
Losing Chris Allen and Terrell Lewis before the season began has hurt this group. Christian Miller has quietly put together 5.5 sacks and pressuring the quarterback for much of the season. Anfernee Jennings has been solid as well. Behind them, Jamey Mosley and Eyabi Anoma have played the most. Anoma should continue to develop as the season goes on. The defense could use some more depth from this group as the challenge of November and December arrives.
Much like the defensive line and outside linebackers, some depth would be a big help to this group. Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses have taken the brunt of the load this season. Wilson rarely leaves the field while the starters are in and Moses also has a role as a third-down pass rusher. The inside linebackers took a step forward in the last two weeks against Missouri and Tennessee. Maintaining that level of consistency would continue to improve their grade.
Consider what the secondary has had to face in the first eight weeks of the season: Four opposing offenses rank in the top 25 in passing yards per game (Ole Miss, Missouri, Texas A&M, Arkansas State). Alabama lost its top six defensive backs from 2017. Starting cornerback Trevon Diggs and backup defensive backs Daniel Wright and Jalyn Armour-Davis were lost for the season.
The secondary has overcome that to rank 33rd nationally in passing yards per game, 13th in passer rating and 10th in yards per attempt. The secondary also has 11 of Alabama’s 12 interceptions, which ranks sixth nationally. It hasn’t been the most dominant group in recent memory but has more than held its own.
This group has been a mixed bag. Jaylen Waddle is just as impressive as a returner as he is on offense. Josh Jacobs has broken some big kick returns. There have been a couple long kickoff returns against Alabama, but the Crimson Tide has more kickoffs than most teams because its offense is so prolific.
Punt coverage has been good, but some of that is due to Alabama’s short punts. Alabama is averaging 35.2 yards per punt and made a change at punter last week. The field goal kicking has been stormy, too. There have been four missed PATs (though only one in the last six games) and UA is 9-14 on field goals this season. That hasn’t been an issue in Alabama’s blowouts, but the Crimson Tide would need those points in close games.
Ed Orgeron and Mark Stoops will get their due consideration for SEC coach of the year, but Nick Saban deserves quite a bit of credit. He has a new offensive coordinator, defensive coordinator and special teams coordinator. Only one of his full-time assistants from 2017 returned to take the same role in 2018. The offense has adjusted again to suit the strengths of its best playmakers. The defense continues to build after losing more than a dozen players from last year to graduation, the NFL draft, injury or other departures. Alabama is undefeated and still hasn’t been challenged in full, though that time could be coming soon.
Reach Ben Jones at email@example.com or 205-722-0196.