The shine came off the win in a hurry Sunday afternoon for Alabama fans with the reports that outside linebackers Christian Miller and Terrell Lewis, the team’s best pass rushers, were lost for the season. Nick Saban will update those players’ statuses Monday at noon during his press conference. Two other linebackers, Rashaan Evans and Anfernee Jennings, also suffered injuries and could miss multiple weeks as well. Again, the excitement of a win over the No. 3 team in the country was overshadowed by the reality of daylight Sunday.
Nevertheless, the season rolls on. Here is what stood out to me in Alabama’s 24-7 win over the Seminoles.
I don’t have to tell you that the passing game struggled. It was obvious to everyone watching, including Saban. Does that mean that no progress has been made since last season? Not necessarily. Jalen Hurts, when he stayed in the pocket, showed a good ability to read the defense and even climb in the pocket. The problem is that Hurts still doesn’t appear 100 percent comfortable in the pocket. Too often Hurts leaves the pocket prematurely. However, one must recognize how Florida State disrupted that pocket Saturday night by beating UA’s offensive line.
On the first drive of the game, right after Damien Harris‘ 34-yard run to start the game, Hurts had the matchup he wanted. He had Calvin Ridley one on one against a FSU corner. A good throw would have resulted in a touchdown or at the very least the ball inside the FSU 10 yard line. But Hurts threw the ball out of bounds. Coming back to the huddle, Ridley motioned for Hurts to throw the ball more up field, in essence saying, “Let me go make a play.” That was a missed opportunity.
Another thing that stood out was that Ridley was the only wide receiver to catch a pass. That can’t continue if the offense is to mature to what it can be. Alabama has too many mismatch players at wide receiver not to use them more. Hurts has to come off his first read and find secondary receivers. Again, to be fair, Hurts didn’t have the luxury of time against Florida State. Also, it’s fair to mention that Hurts threw a beautiful pass to Jerry Jeudy while rolling right out of the pocket. The pass was called back due to a holding call on Lester Cotton (it also looked like Hurts may have been over the line of scrimmage too). Hurts also delivered a beautiful ball to Henry Ruggs III that should have been a touchdown but the ball went through Ruggs’ hands. All in all, the passing game has to produce more than 96 yards no matter how good the defense it is facing is.
The running game was productive though not dominate. The 4.1 yards per carry is less than we’re used to seeing from the UA rushing attack, but 173 yards against Florida State is still quite good. Fans saw Najee Harris for the first time and Bo Scarbrough remains a sledgehammer, but don’t sleep on Damien Harris. That guy runs tough. The offensive line has the potential to be a dominating run blocking unit.
Matt Womack started and played every snap at right tackle (unless I missed a substitution at the end of the game). He provided one of the blocks that helped Damien Harris hit that big run on the game’s first play. The unit also only produced one penalty, which is a significant upgrade from what fans have seen the last few seasons.
There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Losing Miller/Lewis is going to hurt. A lot. There’s no way that it can’t. What it means is that freshmen and less experienced linebackers will be called upon. It might mean that Dylan Moses‘ development hits the fast forward button. Depending on when he comes back, it could mean a different role for Rashaan Evans too. Of course, it’s far too soon to speculate about that.
There was a lot of good to point out from Saturday night. Keith Holcombe played well in the second half in relief of Evans. Levi Wallace was better than solid, including his first career interception, when he came on for Trevon Diggs after multiple busted assignments. Josh Frazier showed that he’s a player that can be counted on. Raekwon Davis showed that 6-foot-7 guys can rush the passer. Shaun Dion Hamilton told reporters that he was actually faster following his ACL injury and rehab. He certainly looked faster.
Sure there were some anxious moments in the second quarter, especially when UA went soft zone near the end of the half, but in the second half, the defense shut Florida State down. Consider this: Florida State had the ball eight times in the second half and its drives went: punt, punt, fumble, interception, interception, punt, punt, end of game. That’s flat-out domination. They ran 25 plays for 66 yards during that time.
Alabama recorded three sacks. That’s not on pace with the 50+ the defense got the last two seasons, but it’s a good start for the new-look unit. It’s also worth noting, if just to ease some of your concerns, that those three sacks came from Shaun Dion Hamilton, Raekwon Davis and Ronnie Harrison and not one from an outside linebacker. If nothing else it shows that Jeremy Pruitt can scheme ways to get pressure in different ways.
Ten things I think I think after one week
*Dylan Moses is going to be really good.
*Damien Harris is going to lead the team in rushing.
*Alabama’s depth will get it through the laundry list of linebacker injuries.
*Brian Daboll didn’t show many new wrinkles.
*Irv Smith Jr. is an offensive weapon and a better blocker than most think.
*The kicking game wasn’t great, but it’s not nearly as bad as many feared after the first scrimmage.
*Levi Wallace might not give Trevon Diggs his starting job back
*Da’Ron Payne proved he’s a three-down lineman.
*If Calvin Ridley isn’t target 10 or more times a game, he’s not being utilized enough.
*Jalen Hurts has to take more shots down field even if a guy isn’t running wide open.