I am grateful for all the talking heads who want to extrapolate out a season’s worth of results from the outcome of Saturday’s games. It gives us something to discuss and argue about and generally occupy ourselves with until we can spend a few hours watching real football again next weekend. But conjecture is not the same as fact. To that end, let’s discuss a couple talking points that have been making the rounds and consider their merits.
Dee Milliner is finally ready to be a starter in this defense. This is true, but it’s a bit unfair to imply that he wasn’t ready before. Dee Milliner actually started 17 games over his previous two seasons. The underlying point, though, is solid. Milliner demonstrated the lock-down coverage skills he’s hinted at since his freshman campaign — a season where he struggled in zone, but was able to stay chest-to-chest with any assignment. That Saban moved him all over the field Saturday indicates he has the coaches’ confidence as well.
Alabama’s pass rush is a concern. The Tide failed to sack Denard Robinson Saturday night, leading some to say the Tide will struggle against Tylers Bray and Wilson because of their pocket presence. While it’s possible Alabama will struggle to get pressure, the Michigan game is not an indication of that. True to what Coach Saban said they would do before the game, the Tide defensive front played gap assignment defense, more interested in forcing the throw than forcing Robinson out of the pocket where he is most dangerous. Most of the blitzes came from the safeties, and in each case, it forced a pass, which was the intended effect. Against teams like Tennessee and Arkansas, expect pressure to be generated by ends and linebackers. Will they be successful? We don’t know yet, but the game plan against Michigan can’t be used as evidence for either case.
The Alabama offensive line is an NFL crew disguised as college students. Mostly true. They absolutely lived up to their pre-season hype, but it’s worth noting that Michigan clearly wasn’t expecting to play a team this physical and 75% of their defensive line was starting for the first time, including two players who will likely only start this one game as a result of their size and not their ability. With that caveat, though, Alabama’s offensive line absolutely dominated the run game, getting second level blocks on almost every carry, but they’ll come back to more realistic accolades when they start facing SEC-caliber defensive lines.
TJ Yeldon would start at just about every school in the league. I admit my bias, but I would remove the “just about” from that statement. As I said in the game summary, there’s not a running back in the league I would trade for him, and that includes Heisman candidate Marcus Lattimore and comeback hopeful Knile Davis. Against arguably softer competition, Lattimore had one fewer yard rushing than Yeldon despite more than twice as many carries, and Davis netted 41 fewer yards on twice as many touches despite playing FCS competition.
Alabama is using the running back by committee approach this season. Wow, is this one false. As Saban put it at the half, every one of these players has earned the right to demonstrate what they can do in live game action and they’re being rewarded for it. The expectation based on comments Saban has made since that game is that his expectation is for Yeldon and Eddie Lacy to be able to lead the way with Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart getting carries to fill in. Fowler’s role is more extensive than just RB, though. As witnessed Saturday, he will also play full back and will be counted on as a receiver out of the backfield.
Alabama is already in championship form. Umm, no. After the game, there were two gut reactions: “Alabama has resumed where they left off last season” and “Michigan is overrated.” Frankly, we don’t know enough for either of those statements to be true, but we do know that the Tide made it’s share of mistakes Saturday, especially as the substitutions got deeper. Yes, you expect freshmen (the Tide played fifteen freshmen against the Wolverines) to need some time to adjust to the schemes and the speed of the game — and even Alabama deserves a little forgiveness for first game jitters — but those players will be expected to contribute in significant ways this year, so there is a significant amount of improvement that needs to be made before declaring this team ready for the crystal. This is true of everyone, though.
What else stuck out to you in all the media coverage of the Tide so far?