On a weekend where the #2, #3 and #4 teams all lost in stunning upsets Alabama gave the committee one easy choice by demolishing a rising Mississippi State team, almost using them as practice fodder to prepare for stronger competition ahead.
I don’t recall a time where Alabama went into a game with an SEC opponent, who had just come off an upset of a top 10 team and left their best weapons on the bench just because they “wanted to work on something else”. Alabama left banged up running backs Damien Harris and Bo Scarboro on the bench and played primarily freshmen Joshua Jacobs at running back. Jacobs however only ran the ball 9 times. His lack of carries were not from lack of production, he averaged 9.9 yards per carry. Alabama just wanted Jalen Hurts to grow as a passer. It seems that barring injury a strong passing game and some improvements on special teams are the only weaknesses this team has.
Hurts did throw over the middle more which is something they had kept him from doing for most of the season. The results were mixed. He threw a terrible interception badly under throwing Stewart who was just breaking past the defensive back. A strong throw there might have been a touchdown instead. But he also threw two touchdowns going over the middle.
Alabama played a lot of players in this game. One notable is running back Ronnie Clark. Clark has not seen the field this year after tearing his Achilles this spring. This is the second major injury he has had to overcome in his career and he looked strong running the ball. Backup quarterback Cooper Batemen continues to look efficient in limited playing time and we will see more of him this week. Freshman wide receiver Trevon Diggs continues to play more and more.
On the offensive line Alabama replaced Lester Cotton with senior Korren Kirven. Cotton had a minor concussion and did not practice much this week but he is also the only weak link on the line. Kirven’s play might give him a shot at more playing time down the road but Cotton is far from chopped liver. I fully expect Cotton to be in the NFL one day but he’s just young and it has shown at times.
Freshman defensive lineman Raekwon Davis came into the game late and provided a highlight reel moment where the massive freshman literally shoved an offensive lineman backwards into the back field then just went over him to the quarterback. It was one of the most impressive bull rushes I’ve ever seen. I have to wonder if Davis should not be playing a little more.
Next up is Chattanooga. Chattanooga is not your typical cream puff. They have only lost once and are about as good as the Western Kentucky team that gave Alabama a little trouble early in the season. Alabama will enter the game with a similar game plan, don’t expect to see too many rushing plays in the first half while Jalen Hurts attempts to sharpen his skills. Auburn may have lost this week with a depleted backfield against a determined and desperate Georgia squad but they failed to score a TD against Auburn’s vaunted defense. Alabama is a better team than Auburn but scoring points will be a challenge similar to LSU. Hopefully if Hurts can improve it will further open up the running game and they can get past Auburn. Look for Alabama to rest any players who have lingering issues in this game.
Alabama is in somewhat uncharted territory. At no point during the Saban Era have they locked up the SEC west so early. Alabama must challenge themselves inwardly and ignore what is happening elsewhere in college football. The teams that win it all are the ones that improve dramatically in the final weeks of the season. If they settle for where they are they will get caught flat footed like they did in 2014.