Revisiting three questions for the Crimson Tide in its season opener against Kent State.
McCarron threw two picks against KSU but his decision-making was solid for the most part.
1.] How will the quarterback rotation affect the flow of the offense?
TRips Friday: Even with a mid-major opponent serving as the backdrop, Alabama Idol will make the opener worth the price of admission. After all, it's rare that a quarterback competition plays out in a regular-season game before 101,000 fans. For those watching at home, you will we be able to text your vote to 1-800-BAMA-QBS beginning with the start of the fourth quarter.
Joking aside, with AJ McCarron and Phillip Sims splitting the first six offensive series three and three, it will be interesting to see if the offense can not only find its groove, but also maintain it. Given that little separates the two in terms of physical makeup, there shouldn't be a noticeable difference in what each quarterback is asked to do.
Despite what some have tried to tell you, this isn't Chris Leak and Tim Tebow. McCarron and Sims, a pair of pocket passers, are not package specific. Given this, the offense should be able to sustain some semblance of continuity regardless of who is taking the snaps. And, of course, there's always Trent Richardson to turn and hand the ball to.
The irony in all this is that the one thing -- fan and media scrutiny -- Nick Saban tried to avoid in the preseason will ratchet up six or seven notches Saturday afternoon. Not only will stats be made available, but we'll be able to see how McCarron and Sims handle the heat of playing the position at UA with our very own eyes. With the anticipation of not only a new season but also a new starting quarterback at a fever pitch, prepare yourself for overreaction.
TRips Sunday: On the occasions when the offense struggled Saturday, Saban's quarterback plan wasn't the problem. Kent State defensive tackle Roosevelt Nix, on the other hand, was. The undersized sophomore used quickness and dogged determination to post wins over the Crimson Tide's two starting guards and center.
Equipped with a motor that would make Richard Childress proud, Nix is the guy who slips through the recruiting cracks and goes on to spend the next four years making life hell for the teams that B-listed him. That said, Penn State and the SEC will present similar (and, in some cases, even greater) challenges to the Alabama offensive line in the coming weeks.
Even with some of the struggles it had on Saturday, it's not a question of if this offensive line can play at a high level; it's a question of when it will get there. It appears as if Cyrus Kouandjio's development at left tackle will play a large role in determining the exact time frame.
As for McCarron and Sims, the guy (McCarron) who had previously seen game action looked to be more comfortable in his game day skin than the guy (Sims) who hadn't. And really, that shouldn't have come as a surprise.
There's a comfort level that can be reached when scrimmaging against teammates, even when their names are Hightower, Barron and Upshaw. At the end of the day, though, a scrimmage in a full stadium in April is still a practice. Flip the calendar to September, turn on the scoreboard and bring in an opponent and there is an adjustment to be made.
Thanks to a defense that gives up points about like Jim Tressel does compliance-related info, Alabama was able to endure four interceptions from the quarterback position and a few whiffs from its offensive line. Still, if there isn't steady improvement in both those areas, losing on the road isn't out of the realm of possibility.
2.] Will a talented defense show needed signs of maturity?
TRips Friday: We know this Alabama defense is blessed with immense physical talent. More so than how well this unit plays, though, I'll be interested to see how it plays. That means less of the pre-snap confusion and busted assignments we saw from an inexperienced group a season ago.
I'll buy that the 2011 unit compares with the 2009 defense from a pure talent standpoint. As for intangibles, I'm taking a wait-and-see approach. Rolando and the McClains weren't just gifted physically. They were air-tight in their assignments and self-policed from an accountability standpoint. Combine those elements and a defense goes from "talented" to "great".
TRips Sunday: Other than a touchdown pass from Kent State quarterback Spencer Keith to tight end Justin Thompson there weren't many glaring mistakes. The defensive staff substituted freely and without the borderline hysteria we often saw a season ago.
On the field, a defense that too many people are already comparing to the 1992 unit did what it was supposed to do when confronted by an offense that ranked 102nd in the nation in total offense a year ago. It dominated from start to finish.
3.] Which new faces might we see on Saturday?
TRips Friday: It's a given that junior college transfers Jesse Williams and Quinton Dial will see time along the defensive line in the opener. Both exited fall camp in the top four at defensive end, with Williams listed as a starter.
It's with the freshmen where things get a little tricky. Based on the depth chart and potential for special teams action, here's my call for the youngsters: offensive tackle Cyrus Kouandjio; defensive end Jeoffrey Pagan; linebackers Trey DePriest and Xzavier Dickson; and safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Hasean Clinton-Dix.
TRips Sunday: More interesting than Williams starting in the base was the fact that he stayed on the field when the defense shifted to the nickel package. I'm not sure if that says positive things about Williams' still-developing pass rush skills or bad things about the rest of defensive line's still-developing pass rush skills.
Dial's first career sack has to be a viewed as a positive for the simple fact that he beat a guard in a one-on-one situation on his way to dropping Keith. The play served as the lone unassisted sack by a UA defensive linemen in the contest.
The prevailing thought heading into the season was that Sunseri and DePriest would make immediate impacts on Crimson Tide special teams coverage units and that turned out to be the case. In leading the defense in tackles in his UA debut, DePriest became the second straight true freshman to do so, joining CJ Mosley, who posted a team-high seven stops against San Jose State in 2010. Meanwhile, half of Sunseri's six-tackle total against KSU came on kickoff coverage.
At one point in the second half, UA had five true freshmen defenders on the field together: Pagan, Dickson, DePriest, Sunseri and Clinton-Dix.
Turns out, the only freshman we left off was Christion Jones, who in addition to seeing time at receiver was the only UA punt returner who didn't put the ball on the ground.
Friday's prediction: Alabama 38, Kent State 7.
Saturday's final score: Alabama 48, Kent State 7.