If there was a key word regarding the University of Alabama’s 33-23 victory against West Virginia in the Chic-fil-A Kickoff Game on Saturday night it was “poise.”
New offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin showed quite a bit of it along the sideline, senior quarterback Blake Sims had some in the second half, and the defense needs to develop a lot more during the next few weeks.
Overall, how much the players develop and grow into the roles they’ve been assigned will go a long way in determining the Crimson Tide’s success this season.
Play of the game: On third-and 13, senior wide receiver DeAndrew White turned a short completion off a crossing route into a 38-yard gain when he made four tacklers miss and a fifth took a bad angle. All were defensive backs as West Virginia was in a dime package. It ended up being the longest offensive play by either team.
Player of the game: It could go to any of the three players who had a 100-yard performance, Amari Cooper, Derrick Henry or T.J. Yeldon, but considering the pressure he was under the choice here is Sims. He completed 24 of 33 passes (72.7 percent) for 250 yards and set program records for attempt and completions by a quarterback making his first career start.
Hit of the game: Junior safety Landon Collins delivered a bone-crusher in the third quarter on third-and-5 at the end of a dropped pass. It was the second time he laid out Jordan Thompson, who also made the mistake of fielding freshman JK Scott’s 62-yard punt.
Statistic of the game: Sims completed 7 of 9 passes on third or fourth down for 79 yards and five first downs. Overall, the Crimson Tide converted 9 of 16 opportunities (56.3 percent). During the 2013 season Alabama only topped that once with 10 at Kentucky.
Did you notice? During the opening kickoff Alabama had four players who were rated as 5-star prospects as recruits lined up next to each other on the coverage unit: Rashaan Evans, Collins, Tony Brown and Derrick Henry. The other player on their side of kicker Adam Griffith, Jabriel Washington, missed the tackle on the 100-yard kick return. If you noticed that, how about defensive lineman A’Shawn Robinson as one of the blockers on field-goal attempts?
Here are 10 other things from the game that you may not have noticed:
1. Explosive plays:
Nick Saban defines an explosive play a run of 13 yards or more or a pass of 17 yards or more. Alabama’s goal is nine per game. Led by Yeldon and Henry with three each the Crimson Tide had 12, seven on the ground and five in the air. The season high in 2013 was 13.
2. Explosive plays allowed:
West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White had five and the Mountaineers tallied eight, more than Alabama gave up against Auburn or Oklahoma at the end of last season. Also of note, the Crimson Tide yielded 300 passing yards in consecutive games for the first time under Saban.
3. Mistakes index:
Basically, it’s a measure of miscues, but it could arguably also be an indirect indicator of maturity and discipline. The mistakes index is fumbles lost + interceptions + penalties + sacks. Alabama’s score was 0+1+7+0 = 8, while West Virginia’s was 0+0+6+3 = 9. That’s pretty respectable for a first game. Incidentally, statisticians missed West Virginia running back Wendell Smallwood’s late fumble that due to the angle wasn’t visible from the press box.
4. Most around the ball:
Defensive “touches” is found by adding together tackles, assists, sacks, passes broken up (interceptions are included in that statistic), hurries, forced fumbles and fumble recoveries. Alabama’s game leaders were:
Landon Collins 11
Cyrus Jones 8
Reuben Foster 7
Jonathan Allen 6
Reggie Ragland 6
5. Red zone:
West Virginia ran eight offensive plays in the red zone for 27 yards and one touchdown. It averaged 3.375 yards inside the 20 compared to 6.0 on the rest of the field. Alabama executed seven plays inside the 20 — including just one pass that wasn’t completed — for 51 yards and scored three touchdowns. It averaged 7.28 yards per play in the red zone and 7.17 everywhere else.
6. Dropped passes:
West Virginia had seven and Alabama three. Had senior wide receiver Christion Jones caught the deep ball in which he was so open he practically could have called for a fair catch, it would have been a 49-reception without advancing. That would have given Sims 299 passing yards assuming the same play-calling thereafter.
7. Yards after the catch:
Unofficially, Cooper led the team with 57 yards as 116 of Alabama’s 250 receiving yards were after the catch (46.6 percent). Last year the Crimson Tide’s average was 56.2 percent. Although AJ McCarron didn’t attempt too many deep passes in 2013 he was more comfortable throwing over the middle. Of the five passes Sims attempted that were 15 yards or more downfield he had as many completions as interceptions, one.
8. Who was thrown at?
Junior cornerback Bradley Sylve was covering White during six of his receptions for 127 yards and one touchdown, not including screen passes thrown his direction. Another receiver had a 21-yard catch with him apparently in coverage. Junior cornerback Cyrus Jones had seven passes thrown his way (not including screens) resulting in four catches for 58 yards.
9. Who played:
It’s a good sign when the true freshman starting at left tackle was barely noticed. The offense didn’t run too much behind him, but Cam Robinson more than held his own during his first start. The time he obviously didn’t line up correctly Robinson thought Alabama had scored on the previous play and for extra points he’s on the right side. Scott also started at punter. Other true freshmen to get into the game included Evans, Shaun Dion Hamilton, Brown, Da’Shawn Hand, and Cameron Sims. Junior-college transfers Jarran Reed and D.J. Pettway also played along with Florida State transfer Jacob Coker. Redshirt freshman quarterback Cooper Bateman saw his first game action as Griffith’s holder.
10. Records chases:
With 130 receiving yards had 1,836 for his career. He needs 887 to break the Alabama record held by DJ Hall (2,923). At his season pace he’ll do so in the fourth quarter at Tennessee on Oct. 25.
With his 126 rushing yards Yeldon has 2,469 for his career. He needs 1,097 to become Alabama’s all-time time leader (Shaun Alexander 3,565). At his season pace he’ll do so in the third quarter against Mississippi State on Nov. 15.