The Alabama Crimson did not meet their high expectations on Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome. Alabama was favored by 21 points over the West Virginia Mountaineers but only managed to squeak by with a 33-23 victory.
The Mountaineers do deserve credit for coming out and bringing something to the table that no one, not the Tide or the 70,000+ fans in attendance, was expecting. WVU quarterback Clint Trickett was firing on all cylinders and kept Alabama guessing all night.
Alabama was not the only top five team that struggled in their opener. Florida State needed a late forced fumbled to beat Oklahoma State by six points. It does not matter how you view Saturday's game because there's plenty to work on heading in to this week's game versus Florida Atlantic.
But it was not all bad news for the Tide. There were a lot of positives about the game worth noting as the season moves forward. The following list grades the offense, defense, and special teams on their performances in Saturday's game:
All eyes were on Blake Sims from start to finish. It was questioned how in his first career start after backing up AJ McCarron for two years. Sims did get rattled at one point in the game and threw an interception which almost led to Coker taking over. He settled down and was able to finish the game going 24 of 33 for 250 yards.
His performance in his first game as a starter should be a testament to the work he has put in during the off-season. Sims will continue to get better from here.
The duo rushing attack of TJ Yeldon and Derrick Henry was everything everyone expected. Yeldon carried the ball 23 times for 126 yards and two touchdowns. Henry finished right behind with 113 yards on 17 carries and one touchdown. The rushing attack will continue to be the bread and butter of this Tide offense.
The receiving corps looked just as impressive as the running backs. Amari Cooper led the way with 130 receiving yards on 12 receptions. DeAndrew White caught a short pass and juked his way to a 38 yard gain on a 3rd and 13. However, Christion Jones dropped an easy catch that would have set Alabama up on the Mountaineer 5 yard line. Lane Kiffin not utilizing O.J. Howard enough is the only other negative thing worth mentioning.
Up front, Alabama opened some big holes for Yeldon and Henry. SIms was given plenty of time to throw on most pass plays. Leon Brown had two holding calls and a false start which killed the momentum on a few drives. The offensive line still has room for improvement, but has all the mechanics.
The story of the game was Alabama's inability to handle West Virginia's no huddle offense. WVU quarterback Clint Trickett picked the secondary apart on his way to 365 passing yards. Alabama could never figure out how to slow down the Mountaineer's pass offense until the 4th quarter.
Landon Collins was the leading performer in the secondary, but even he struggled to figure out how to slow the Mountaineers down. Bradley Sylve could not handle WVU wide receiver Kevin White who finished with 143 receiving yards. The efforts made late in the game did show signs of potential. Cyrus Jones did a much better job of covering White, and the unit stepped up their aggression to force more incomplete passes. A lot of work needs to be done, but expect a dramatic improvement in the upcoming weeks.
The defensive line struggled on the first few drives to slow down West Virginia's rushing attack. After a few sideline adjustments, the D-line made the Mountaineer ground game non-existent. They did not pressure Trickett enough, but they did when it mattered most. This D-line is deep with talent, and is the focal point of this defense.
The linebackers also defended the run very well. Their area of weakness was dropping back into zone coverage and defending the pass. West Virginia's no-huddle kept them on the toes and constant adjustments had to be made. Trey DePriest's talent and leadership was missed in this game, but a few young linebackers like Reuben Foster and Shaun Hamilton were able to gain valuable experience.
There will be at least one mistake made on offense, defense, and special teams in every game. Unfortunately, the mistake made by special teams in this game turned into a touchdown. However, the great performance put on by kicker Adam Griffith and true freshman punter JK Scott overshadows that single flaw.
Griffith finished a perfect 4-4 from 47, 45, 41, and 27 yards out. He also added 3 touchbacks on kick offs. By far the best looking stat for a team still living with the constant reminder of last year's "Kick 6" in the Iron Bowl.
JK Scott's first punt in a Crimson uniform went for 62 yards. His second punt was a less impressive 37 yards, but still not bad for a team that had quarterback Alec Morris punting duties in spring practice.
The kickoff return for a touchdown did not please Nick Saban or any Alabama fan watching the game, but the remaining kickoffs resulted in the following: 27 yard return, touchback, 7 yard return, touchback, and touchback. In other words, special teams did a really nice job all around.