Alabama football: 3 things I liked, 3 things I didn't like about the blowout of Louisiana-Monroe
Alabama erased the sting of some bad history with Saturday afternoon’s 63-7 bludgeoning of Louisiana-Monroe at Bryant-Denny Stadium – recent bad history and very recent bad history.
It avenged a home loss to the Warhawks in Nick Saban’s first fall in Tuscaloosa, a wake-up-call setback in 2007 that was Bama’s last nonconference regular-season loss, and one Saban credited this past week for being the “thunderbolt” his rebuilding program needed to eventually win the national championship just 2 years later.
And it took a lot of the bitter taste out of last week’s mistake-filled, 1-point victory at Texas that felt more like a loss, especially to a demanding fan base that demands more from its perennial title-contending program.
With one intense 3-hour workout in a blistering heat at Bryant-Denny, the second-ranked Crimson Tide took out frustrations from last week and 15 years ago, rolling up 509 total yards in a balanced effort that was efficient if not without mistakes on both sides of the ball. While not perfect by any means, it was a welcome sight after last week’s sloppy effort in Austin, Texas, as the Tide improved to 3-0.
So as we do after each game, we’ll pick out 3 things we liked and 3 things we didn’t. There were a lot more to like about this game, of course, but we’ll narrow it down to 3. And, despite the lopsided score, it wasn’t difficult picking out 3 things we didn’t like. Knowing Saban, he’ll have a list a lot longer than that ready for his players this coming week – whatever it takes to avoid that next thunderbolt.
3 things I liked
A balanced stampede, without Bryce
It wasn’t just that the Tide ran roughshod on the Warhawks for 273 yards on 39 carries, for a robust 7-yard average. It was the waves in which Bama came at its overmatched Sun Belt Conference foe. Junior Roydell Williams was the Tide’s top rusher with just 58 yards, with 55 of those coming on a 3rd-quarter drive in which he gained every Crimson Tide yard and finished with a 10-yard touchdown run.
And Williams being the top ground gainer with that yardage total was precisely the point on this balanced Saturday. Bama had 8 players carry the ball, including both quarterbacks.
Each runner had his turn and shined when he got it. Freshman Jamarion Miller churned out 51 yards on 4 carries and junior Jase McClellan had 47 carries on 7 carries. Backup quarterback Jalen Milroe showed his dual-threat ability, racing for 42 yards on 2 carries after Saban began substituting late in the 3rd quarter.
Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs continued to show his new fanatical fan base what he can provide, gaining 36 yards on 4 carries (in addition to his team-high 65 yards receiving). Junior Trey Sanders had a nearly identical stat line of 35 yards on 4 carries, including a 6-yard TD that finished off the scoring midway through the 4th quarter.
Junior Jonathan Bennett saw his first action of 2022 as Bama went deep into its reserves late in the fourth quarter, gaining 12 yards on his 2 carries, including a 10-yard burst. And finally there was that Bryce Young guy, who only managed 6 yards on 3 carries, including a TD. It was another great sign. When Bama rushes for 273 yards and 267 of them are by players not named Bryce Young, then you know it was a good day on the ground because the reigning Heisman Trophy winner didn’t have to carry the Tide, for a change.
Young actually brought the Tide’s per-carry average down on this day, with each of Bama’s 7 other ball carriers averaging at least 6 yards a clip. It was a rare day for Young to get out of the way and let his running backs do the work on the ground. He won’t be able to do that against better defenses in the Southeastern Conference, but on Saturday it was the right formula and a winning one.
Special teams were special
Bama had 2 special teams TDs, one in the 1st quarter and one in the 4th quarter. On a day its offense put up more than 500 total yards and its defense only allowed 169, special teams might have stolen the show.
First, it was receiver Ja’Corey Brooks showing off his versatility, blocking a punt deep in Louisiana-Monroe territory that Malachi Moore scooped up and coasted in for 3 yards to give the Tide a 21-0 lead just 6:10 into the game.
Then, early in the 4th quarter, junior Brian Branch returned a punt 68 yards virtually untouched for a TD that made it 56-7. In addition to Branch, Alabama was stellar on punt returns, rolling up a school-record 262 yards. Kool-Aid McKinstry was responsible for 136 of those yards on 5 returns, including a 44-yarder. Isaiah Bond added a 34-yard return and Brooks found another way to get on the stat sheet with a 21-yarder.
The one time the Warhawks kicked off after their only score of the game? The Tide shined there, too, with Gibbs returning the kick 57 yards.
Kicker Will Reichard didn’t attempt a field goal because Bama was so efficient in scoring 9 touchdowns. But Reichard made all 9 extra-point attempts. And James Burnip only had to punt twice but averaged 42 yards, including one that pinned the Warhawks at their 9-yard line.
Defense never rests
It wasn’t that the Tide defense only gave up 169 yards or that it only allowed the Warhawks 11 first downs. It was the ridiculously stingy second half, when Bama allowed just 1 first down despite mixing in backups as the game wore on.
It also was a dominant response after the Crimson Tide starting defense got pushed around for a lot of the second quarter and the Warhawks dominated the time of possession.
In blowout games, the team doing the blowing out usually gives up larger yardage chunks late because of the reserves and because of human nature. But the opposite happened Saturday and that’s a credit to the Tide’s attention to detail defensively.
3 things I didn’t like
Second quarter to forget
After coming out like gangbusters and taking a 28-0 lead after 1 quarter, the Tide regressed for much of the 2nd quarter. The Warhawks had 2 lengthy drives, including an 8-play, 57-yard march at the start of the quarter that produced their only points of the game.
Following 1 of the Tide’s 2 punts, Louisiana-Monroe then embarked on a 10-play drive that stalled at its own 41-yard line. Bama took the ensuing punt and went on a 93-yard scoring drive for its only points of an otherwise disappointing quarter.
Tilted time of possession
OK, this is nit-picky. The time-of-possession comparison is generally lost by the winning team in a blowout because it’s scoring so regularly that its defense winds up on the field longer. That was true in this game, too. Except there was that 2nd quarter when the Warhawks’ 2 drives (not counting their two plays that ended the half) consumed more than 11 minutes during a time in the game the Tide offense was mostly silent.
Boosted by that 2nd quarter Louisiana-Monroe had the ball for a hefty 36:23, its only victory of the day.
Bryce is human
Bryce Young is held to very high standards. He was responsible for 4 touchdowns Saturday, passing for 3 and running for another. He threw the ball 18 times (for 236 yards) and ran it 3 times, because he got out of the way and let his teammates have their way.
But his 2 interceptions looked bad, one on a massive underthrow in the 1st quarter and the other on a bad throw behind his intended receiver in the 3rd quarter. They were his first 2 picks of the season, and he was going to throw one eventually. But 2 against a non-SEC defense isn’t a great look, and he knows that. He’ll fire away again when Vanderbilt comes to Tuscaloosa, Ala., for the SEC opener this Saturday.