Alabama football: 3 things I liked, 3 things I didn't like about the Tide's narrow victory
Alabama had an astounding 15 penalties for exactly 100 yards in Saturday’s Houdini-act victory in Austin, Texas.
It had an alarming number of missed tackles up front.
It had a bevy of blown coverages from its secondary.
It punted 6 consecutive times, when it usually takes the Tide about half a season to punt 6 times.
It lacked consistent push from its offensive line, leading to those shocking 6 punts in a row.
But in the end, Alabama had the unflappable Bryce Young, and that was just barely enough to squeeze out of the state of Texas with a 2-0 record.
It’s quite rare after a Crimson Tide football game that picking out 3 things we didn’t like is easier than choosing 3 things we did. But that’s the scenario Saturday’s way-closer-than-expected frenzied finish gave us.
As usual, we’ll start with the 3 things we liked from the 20-19 thriller and then get to the 3 things we didn’t, mindful that Nick Saban will be hammering his players in film sessions this week with about 33 things he didn’t like.
3 things I liked
1. Bryce Young
We begin with Young, of course. He has a long way to go until the second Saturday night in December, but he certainly started his case in the best way possible for becoming just the second player to win the Heisman Trophy twice. His stats weren’t overwhelming, and they weren’t going to be on a day when the Tide only scored 20 points. He was 27-of-39 passing for just 213 yards and 1 touchdown, and he ran for just 38 yards on 7 carries, but he also single-handedly saved the Tide from crashing on a day it was begging to lose.
Every time it seemed the day was done for Bama, Young told his teammates they weren’t done. The first moment-of-truth checkpoint came with 12 minutes left when Young ran for 17 yards on 3rd-and-7 with the Tide down 16-10 and having absolutely no momentum. That burst was Alabama’s first real sign of life offensively since Jase McClellan’s 81-yard touchdown run late in the first quarter, and it set the Tide up near midfield when it was on the verge of punting for a 7th consecutive time.
As the Tide moved into Texas territory, then came the second now-or-never moment: a 4th-and-3 play from the 37-yard line. This time Young worked his magic with his arm, finding – who else? – Ja’Corey Brooks for 14 yards. After hooking up with Brooks again for 16 yards to the Texas 7, Young found Georgia Tech transfer Jahmyr Gibbs on an acrobatic 7-yard TD pass and suddenly Bama was in front, 17-16, in a game it probably had no business leading midway through the fourth quarter.
But after Texas took the lead again, 19-17, with 1:29 left, fate called on Young to be Young one last time. And he was, completing 4 passes in a row to the Longhorns’ 37 before moment-of-truth No. 3. The QB somehow avoided a sure sack, stayed on his feet and pranced 20 yards down the right sideline to the Texas 17 with 27 seconds left. A few plays later, Will Reichard’s kick was good and Bama had survived.
Three times, certain defeat stared Alabama players in the face. And three times, Young refused to blink. He showed superb poise and leadership on a day when Bama made enough mistakes for seemingly a whole season. And because of it, its season is still intact. Barely, but still intact.
2. Jahmyr Gibbs
Jase McClellan had the highlight-reel moment among Bama’s running backs with his 81-yard touchdown gallop untouched through the right side of the line late in the first quarter. But from start to finish it was Gibbs, in his second career game for Bama, who was Young’s main weapon out of the backfield.
Gibbs came to campus with the reputation for being a dynamic receiver out of the backfield, and he showed just that when it was needed the most on Saturday. With the Texas secondary basically shutting down Bama’s receivers all day, Young went to Gibbs often on the game’s first drive and then leaned on him late. Down 16-10 in the 4th quarter, Young avoided a sack before finding Gibbs in the middle of the end zone for a 7-yard score to give Bama its first lead since early in the second quarter.
Gibbs only finished with 22 yards rushing on 9 carries, but he was far and away the Tide’s leading receiver with 9 catches for 74 yards. He was Young’s security blanket, his rock, as Bama’s season teetered and was then saved.
3. 0 turnovers
In the rare game that had Bama playing from behind most of the way came the rare stat: 0 turnovers. From either team. You can say a lot of bad about the Tide’s performance Saturday, and we will, but at least it didn’t compound its litany of penalties with any interceptions or fumbles lost. Bama almost lost without any turnovers, so one can imagine what would’ve happened if it gave the ball away a few times.
3 things I didn’t like
1. Flag Day
Saban will have a field day in those grouchy film sessions about all those penalty flags. All 15 of them, the most Alabama has ever committed under the legendary coach, breaking the previous record of 13 set in the 2019 Iron Bowl loss to Auburn. Eleven of the penalties Saturday came in the first half, which is also a record under Saban. Bama hadn’t been called for more penalties in a game since it committed 16 against Middle Tennessee 20 seasons ago.
Saturday was a record-breaking day for Saban’s program and, for a change, it was for the worst of reasons.
2. Futile running game
Yes, Bama outgained Texas 161-79 on the ground, but the 161 is very misleading, with 81 of those yards coming on McClellan’s aforementioned TD run in the first quarter. It was a fantastic run, but it was fleeting. The Tide failed to get consistent push in the running game for the rest of the afternoon.
McClellan had 16 yards combined on his 5 other carries. Gibbs averaged 2.4 yards on his 9 carries, and Roydell Williams had 2 carries for 4 yards. Young’s 38 yards on 7 carries were huge in the outcome but naturally came via his improvisational skills. This was a day to forget for a program with a proud running history.
3. Will Anderson Jr.
The Tide’s all-everything linebacker has had plenty of electric days but on Saturday he was unrecognizable. Anderson was undisciplined. He jumped offsides. He was frustrated and he played like it. His uncharacteristic errors were symbolic of an error-filled day for the Bama defense and for the team overall.
Yes, Anderson had a sack and 2 tackles for loss. But he only had 5 tackles overall and 2 solo. He didn’t dominate. He was merely along for the crazy ride, and no doubt Anderson will learn from his mistakes and be much better this Saturday as Louisiana-Monroe visits Tuscaloosa.