Revisiting three questions for top-ranked Alabama following its 35-0 win over Western Kentucky.
Jones made his presence felt early against WKU.
Will we see more from the UA passing game in week two?
TRips Friday: When an offense can run the football like Alabama's can, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking that the passing game won't be needed at a critical point during the 2012 season. Chances are, though, that somewhere along the line, quarterback AJ McCarron will need to either throw the ball early against a formidable opponent to set up the run or carry his team through the air while coming from behind.
That said, don't mistaken consistency in the passing game for more passing in general. This offense doesn't need to throw it 35 times per game. It just needs to be able to do it well when the opportunity presents itself.
When it comes to a receiving corps that may not feature a true No. 1 option in the first half or so of the season, the more guys McCarron is comfortable with the better.
So in addition to solidifying protection, I'll be interested to see how Christion Jones and Amari Cooper come along in week two. Against Michigan, Cooper had one catch for 15 yards, while Jones was shutout.
McCarron has developed a bond with veterans Kevin Norwood, Kenny Bell and DeAndrew White. And while the trio are good enough to make up a solid top of the rotation, if this group is going to reach its full potential, Jones and Cooper need to be involved on a weekly basis.
TRips Sunday: With WKU bringing the entire cast of 19 Kids and Counting against the run, McCarron had favorable macthups on the outside, which he exploited early and often en route to passing for four scores. Ultimately, what WKU defensive coordinator Lance Guidry gained by loading up against the run (Alabama rushed for an un-Alabama-like 103 yards), he paid for through the air.
Jones' first two catches of the season went for first-half touchdowns, the second of which came on a corner route that McCarron could not have placed any better. By halftime, the sophomore had as many touchdown receptions against WKU as Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks had all of last season combined.
After catching two passes for 12 yards Saturday, patience will be the key for Cooper. Among other things, that means not trying to do too much with every touch. There's nothing wrong with a nine-yard catch; just don't turn it into a seven-yard catch after losing two yards after the catch. Those tend to set up third and twos that don't get converted.
Besides, it's not like UA doesn't have a late-blossoming talent at the top of the rotation in Kevin Norwood. Cooper's time will come, sooner rather than later, but until then Norwood, DeAndrew White and Kenny Bell give the passing game the luxury of not being overly dependent on newcomers.
More so than the receivers, after seeing McCarron go down six times Saturday (after going down twice against Michigan), the biggest concern in the passing game is protection. Granted, Quanterus Smith is a nice pass rusher, something we touched on earlier in the week in our position matchups.
Still, if the belief going into the season was that both offensive tackles could handle legitimate edge rushers with little or no assistance, I'm guessing that approach will soon be revisited.
Is this secondary ready for what it will see in Fayetteville?
TRips Friday: Last Saturday night, Michigan found out what most Alabama observers already knew: Dee Milliner is not the guy you want to attack in the UA secondary. But what about the other guys? With a full game on tape, you know the Arkansas offensive staff is already drawing up double moves for Deion Belue.
You get the sense that this group is still evolving, especially from a depth standpoint. Are the nickel and dime packages set back? Is Nick Perry the long-term answer at money in the dime or will freshman Geno Smith step up at star, sliding Vinnie Sunseri to money in the process? Other than Milliner and safety Robert Lester, how does this group rate in terms of ball skills?
With Arkansas eight days away, tomorrow should tell us a lot about who will line up where when the Crimson Tide defense takes on Tyler Wilson and rest of the Razorback passing game.
TRips Sunday: Given the shocking turn of events in Little Rock last night, it's uncertain what Alabama will see next Saturday in Fayetteville. Wilson went out at the half "with an injury above the shoulder" and the Razorbacks went nowhere on offense for much of the final two quarters and overtime in a 34-31 loss to Louisiana-Monroe.
As for the Crimson Tide, Milliner sitting out with a hip flexor strain paved the way for a start for John Fulton. While that was newsworthy, the most notable change in the secondary was at safety, where Nick Perry started alongside Lester in the base defense.
Considering that Vinnie Sunseri maintained his role at star in the nickel and dime packages, it would seem as if injury wasn't a factor in Perry getting the nod. As was the case a week ago, Perry also worked at the money position in the dime.
While WKU went to the air a good bit, quarterback Kawaun Jakes wasn't particularly aggressive down the field. The senior threw for 178 yards on 31 throws, averaging just 5.5 per pass attempt. Even if Wilson doesn't go against Alabama, that number will go up next week.
Will Nick Saban's latest rant head off a potential letdown?
TRips Friday: If Alabama's coach doesn't like all the "positive self-gratification" his team is getting these days, he has only one person to blame: Nick Saban.
After all, he's the chief architect for a program that currently resembles mid-1990's Nebraska. Just without the option. While Saban doesn't have a Lawrence Phillips off the field, it looks like he has three on it.
In terms of dominating teams at the point of attack, the Cornhuskers of 17 years ago had nothing on the current version of the Crimson Tide. This offensive line doesn't need a nickname because the actual names of those who make it up are talked about on ESPN most weekday afternoons between noon and 5 p.m..
Of course, it's not so much the positive recognition of some deserving individuals that sends Saban into Ric Flair mode as it is his disdain for complacency.
Saban likes one thing above all others: getting there. Being there is just something that keeps him from trying to reach the pinnacle all over again.
He's the kind of guy who reaches the summit of K2 and doesn't take time to enjoy the view. Instead, he uses the moment to ponder what it will take to scale Everest.
And that was the purpose of Wednesday's post-practice rant, which, by the way, was anything but spontaneous. The difference between a rant and a tantrum is spontaneity. The fact that Saban prepared talking points for the news conference told you the rant was as much a part of the Wednesday itinerary as practice itself.
In his never-ending battle against complacency, everyone has a role, media included. Six years into the job, Saban's method may be obvious, but it's hard to argue against its effectiveness.
He knows he has a very good team; he just doesn't want a team reliant on youth in some areas to know he knows it. At least, not yet.
With that in mind, it will be interesting to see how UA handles everything that's been thrown its way in the last week, including:
Consensus No. 1 ranking.
A comparison to the New England Patriots with a straight face.
Being tabbed as the 33rd team in the NFL (as a Jags fan, I'd probably have to take UA and the points).
My guess is that a team led by guys like Barrett Jones and Nico Johnson will pass Saturday's test. That doesn't mean UA will play 60 minutes of picture-perfect football, just that it won't trip over the bouquets that have been lobbed its way since Arlington.
As Saban has said (and at times even shrieked) all week, Western Kentucky is better than you think. The Hilltoppers aren't LSU or Arkansas, but they most certainly aren't Florida Atlantic or Western Carolina (or perhaps even Ole Miss), either.
In other words, it shouldn't take a Saban rant to motivate the masses this week. Decent opponent; home opener for the defending (duck!) national champions; and on-going competition for supporting (and perhaps prominent) roles.
That should be enough to get people excited, right? If not, Saban's post-game press conference will be his most colorful of the week.
TRips Saturday: If there was a letdown in this one, it didn't come until the fourth quarter, when running back Jalston Fowler went down with a knee injury after being leg-whipped by offensive tackle DJ Fluker. While it wouldn't wise to rush to an ACL diagnosis prior to an MRI being performed, even a PCL injury (which is what we gathered initially) could render Fowler a non-factor for the remainder of the regular season.
As for what losing Fowler for an extended period of time would mean to the offense, the depth chart tells us there are still plenty of quality options from which to choose. Sounds good, but the depth chart doesn't list a position for all the things Fowler does.
Of course, Arkansas isn't all that interested in UA's misfortune. Apparently, the "L" in John L. Smith doesn't stand for Luck. Not injury luck, anyway.
The Razorbacks not only lost to ULM, they were rocked by a slew of injuries, with the list of casualties including Wilson and top cornerback Tevin Mitchel.
Come to think of it, given what Arkansas might be forced to field at some critical positions next week, Saban's rant may have come a week early.
Prediction: Alabama 42, WKU 7.
Saturday's score: Alabama 35, WKU 0.
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