AUSTIN, Texas — Nick Saban vacillated between delight and frustration as he met with the media following Alabama’s heart-stopping 20-19 win over Texas on Saturday afternoon.
In a cramped, windowless room inside Darrell Ok Royal Stadium, the Crimson Tide’s usually crotchety coach smiled and supplied to assist a cameraman who was struggling to arrange his microphone stand. Then he proceeded to reward his staff’s resilience.
“You gotta say that is nice from a aggressive standpoint, I feel it is nice from a staff character standpoint,” he mentioned. “But if we’ll be the form of staff that we need to be, that we’re able to being, we’ll must play higher down in and down out.”
And that is the place issues began to get prickly as a result of nearly nothing other than Alabama’s grittiness appeared worthy of the No. 1-ranked staff in faculty football. Remember, they had been greater than 20-point favorites coming into the day. And that was earlier than Texas’ beginning quarterback, Quinn Ewers, was knocked out of the recreation with a clavicle harm in the first quarter. Still, it took a last-second area aim to carry on and beat an unranked staff.
When Saban obtained labored up — when he appeared again on mistake after mistake — he punctuated his sentences by slapping at the plastic desk he was seated in entrance of.
“When you are enjoying video games like this, it’s a must to deal with what’s in entrance of you,” he mentioned. “You cannot fear about all the different stuff that is occurring — what individuals say, what they are saying on ESPN, what you all [the media] say, how a lot you are favored in the recreation. You must deal with what’s in entrance of you. You’re an offensive lineman, that is the man you gotta block. If you are a receiver, that is the man you gotta beat. If you are a quarterback, you gotta take what the protection offers you. If you are a runner, you gotta press the gap and make the proper cuts.”
Saban stepped proper as much as the line of a correct rant earlier than pulling himself again.
But will that change as soon as he returns to Tuscaloosa, sits down in a darkish room, clicker in hand, and critiques the tape?
Once the reduction of successful fades, simply how apprehensive ought to he be?
Let’s break down the most pressing issues going through the Tide, rating the degree of panic on a scale of 1-5.
Penalties | Panic degree: 1
It was Alabama’s first nonconference highway journey since 2011. And sure, the gamers needed to deal with a raucous, record-setting crowd of 105,213. Plus, it was miserably sizzling. But does that excuse a whopping 15 penalties? That’s the most ever below Saban at Alabama and the most for the Tide since 2002.
Saban wasn’t shopping for any excuses.
“If you soar offsides on protection, that does not have something to do with crowd noise,” Saban mentioned. “If you block a man in the again, that does not have something to do with crowd noise. So plenty of them are undisciplined penalties.”
He began slapping the desk once more.
“But we’ve got to have the ability to play and handle crowd noise if we’ll play on this league, in the SEC,” he mentioned. “Because each place we play goes to be like this.”
Standout linebacker Will Anderson Jr. even obtained flagged, leaping offsides 3 times. Anderson, who dedicated a fourth penalty when he hit a participant who had already fallen to the floor, mentioned he was “attempting to anticipate an excessive amount of.”
If a usually dependable participant like Anderson may catch the penalty bug, possibly it is secure to say 15 penalties had been a little bit of a fluke.
Offensive line | Panic meter: 5
But what about these false begins? If Alabama’s line could not maintain its composure at Texas, how is it going to fare on the highway at Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU?
The Tide can work on utilizing a silent snap depend till they’re blue in the face, however the actual concern is not penalties as a lot as it’s efficiency. Because all of the optimism constructed up over the offseason, thanks largely to the addition of former Kentucky offensive line coach Eric Wolford, evaporated below the stress the Longhorns’ entrance seven created.
It was the identical sort of mediocre play we noticed final season.
Tide quarterback Bryce Young was sacked twice and was pressured on 12 dropbacks. And the run blocking wasn’t a lot better. Aside from an 81-yard landing run by Jase McClellan, they weren’t capable of choose up constant yards between the tackles. Half of Alabama’s 24 rush makes an attempt had been for 3 or fewer yards.
With no apparent reinforcements on the manner, the hope is that the line improves the old style manner: regular growth.
There was a stretch when Alabama punted on six consecutive possessions towards Texas, together with three three-and-outs. And Saban was blunt about why.
“Well, we did not block ’em very effectively up entrance,” he mentioned. “We did not shield very effectively, obtained stress in the pocket. Wasn’t very efficient throwing the ball. Didn’t get individuals open. Probably must do a greater job from a planning standpoint, the manner they performed us.”
Wide receivers | Panic meter: 4
Let’s return to the “did not get individuals open” line. Because arguably the greatest shock from Saturday was the underwhelming efficiency by Alabama’s receivers.
For the previous 4 seasons, the Tide have been spoiled at receiver. First, that they had the younger trio of Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III to lean on. Then alongside got here John Metchie and, due to the switch portal, Jameson Williams.
We noticed how effectively the offense carried out final season when Metchie and Williams had been each wholesome and enjoying at an All-American degree. Williams’ skill to stretch the area vertically made everybody’s jobs simpler.
But we noticed towards Auburn and Georgia what it was like after they weren’t each accessible.
Without Metchie’s positive fingers and Williams’ harmful velocity, defenses felt extra snug loading the field and going after Young.
Texas wasn’t precisely apprehensive about the deep ball on Saturday. Only 13 of Young’s 27 completions went to his receivers as a result of they merely could not create separation.
Fifth-year senior Traeshon Holden has developed properly, however he is basically a possession receiver.
Kobe Prentice is a promising freshman with some explosiveness, however he is inexperienced.
Jermaine Burton was imagined to make a Jameson Williams-like affect after transferring from Georgia after final season — and it appeared that manner in the opener towards Utah State, when he caught a pair of touchdowns — however then he disappeared towards the Longhorns, catching solely two passes for 10 yards.
Maybe switch Tyler Harrell generally is a difference-maker as soon as he sees the area. He reportedly ran a 4.24 second 40-yard sprint at Louisville’s professional day in 2021, so he has the form of top-end velocity Alabama has been lacking with out Williams. But Harrell has been out with a foot sprain and Saban has supplied no timeline on his return.
Cornerback | Panic meter: 3
The addition of former LSU All-American cornerback Eli Ricks in December appeared to take an already loaded protection and put it over the high.
The Tide already had veteran safeties in Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams. Plugging in Ricks alongside an inexperienced however proficient cornerback like former four-star Kool-Aid McKinstry or Khyree Jackson would make all the items match completely.
But Ricks’ growth was slowed by accidents, and Saban hinted Ricks wanted extra time to study the protection. And as soon as the preliminary depth chart was launched previous to the season opener, Ricks wasn’t listed as the definitive starter.
Judging by what Texas did in the passing recreation Saturday — racking up 5 receptions of 20 or extra yards regardless of having to make a change at quarterback — neither Ricks nor Jackson nor McKinstry seem able to anchor the place.
Ricks did not present up on the stat sheet in any respect, McKinstry obtained an earful from Saban after he was crushed on at the least one deep ball and Jackson was pulled in favor of Terrion Arnold after he was crushed a number of too many occasions.
The excellent news is Arnold greater than held his personal, racking up 5 tackles and a move breakup. And there’s nonetheless time for Ricks to be the participant he was at LSU.
“I obtained confidence in all of them,” Saban mentioned, “however when Terrion went into the recreation, I assumed he did a very good job, made a pair very nice performs.”
Quarterback | Panic meter: 0
Panic? Are you kidding? Without Young at quarterback, Alabama can be doomed.
Despite enjoying in entrance of a leaky offensive line and regardless of having restricted choices in the passing recreation, relying largely on working again Jahmyr Gibbs, Young did not get flustered.
When hope was dwindling — when Alabama was down six factors after a Texas area aim and was coming off six straight drives that led to punts — Young took over with 12:55 left in the fourth quarter and did not flinch. He marched Alabama 68 yards down the area, rolled to his proper on first-and-goal and threw a dart off his again foot to Gibbs for the go-ahead landing.
When Texas responded with a area aim to retake the lead, Young once more confirmed his resolve. Getting the ball down one level with 1:29 remaining, Young accomplished 4 straight passes after which scrambled for 20 yards to arrange the game-winning, 33-yard area aim by Will Reichard.
Afterwards, a reporter requested Saban why Young appears to return up large in essential moments.
“Why is he so good?” he mentioned, grinning. “I imply, if I may really let you know that, I do not know if I’d be doing this.”
Saban then proceeded to put out a few of the the reason why Young gained the Heisman Trophy final season and is taken into account a potential No. 1 choose in subsequent 12 months’s draft: the manner he research and prepares for video games, his understanding of protections, his skill to increase performs.
“And he’s correct throwing the ball,” Saban mentioned. “And he is very, very instinctive. I imply, he performs quarterback like a degree guard in basketball. He’s obtained expertise, however he does not simply play together with his expertise. He’s very effectively ready and is aware of precisely what the recreation plan is and what he must do to execute it.”
But even Saban’s praise got here with a warning tacked on.
“You know,” Saban mentioned, “gamers round him have gotten to play effectively, too. Quarterback’s a tough place to play when gamers round you do not play effectively.”
Young has confirmed to be a championship-caliber quarterback. Whether Alabama is a championship-caliber staff stays to be seen.