In the future, I intend to do more extensive and timely recaps of Alabama's games, but this being San Jose State, I didn't think anyone would mind missing out on that. Answering these questions should cover everything worth noting. The game played out almost exactly as I imagined. In my No Win Scenario predictions for this season, I projected the final score to be 48-9. It turned out 48-3 (almost 48-6).
1. Who impressed you the most with their Week 1 performance?
Several people. To name a few...
Julio Jones: Julio took a great first step towards washing the bad taste of 2009 out of his mouth. On Saturday, he looked more dynamic and explosive than at any point last season, effortlessly shredding coverages of all varieties on his way to 6 catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. He did have one drop on an easy pass, but he responded with the touchdown reception, which was, without a doubt, the best catch of his career in terms of pure artistry, if not impact or relevance. And, yes, I realize he wasn't facing the best competition, but go back and watch him play similarly overmatched teams in 09 and you'll see him struggling to do what he did against San Jose State. If he can stay healthy (no easy feat considering his running style), he looks ready to dominate.
Eddie Lacy: After a redshirt year spent running for the scout team, anticipation was high to see him on the field, and he didn't disappoint, rushing 13 times for 111 yards and 2 TDs. Lacy runs like a slightly larger model of the Ingram/Richardson make, so he slotted in and the offense barely missed a beat. I say "barely" because he did have the 1 fumble at the goalline, which you would NEVER see from Ingram or Richardson (knock on wood), so he still obviously has a ways to go before he's at their level. But all the physical ability is there.
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CJ Mosely: The true freshman linebacker from Theodore, AL, earned glowing reviews from coaches and players throughout fall camp. Dont'a Hightower described him as being a lot like Rolando McClain in terms of his mental grasp of the game. However, as a 1st year player in an absolutely loaded linebacker corps, a redshirt year was a distinct possibility. Not so. In yet another signal that, for as much credit as he gets for recruiting freakish athletes, Saban values smarts over physical skills, Mosely played often in the Tide's opener, leading the team in tackles (7) and adding 3 pass break ups (he would've had 3 interceptions if he didn't have hands of stone). It was easy to see why Saban loves him. He was always around the football, making plays. With his redshirt now sizzling on the fire, expect to see quite a bit of him as the season progresses, especially in passing situations. He may take somebody's job.
The Kicking Specialists: After months of hand-wringing over the kicking situation, they played...pretty well, actually. The Kicker with The Largest Arms in The World, Cade Foster, lived up to his promise as a kickoff monster, consistently pegging the ball into or near the endzone, as well as making a nice stick on the ball carrier in coverage. Foster also nailed 2 of 2 FG's from 41 and 24 yards. Punter Cody Mandell also had a good showing, blasting two beautiful 50+ yarders. So far so good in the race to replace Leight Tiffin and PJ Fitzgerald, but we'll see how they do under more pressure in the coming weeks.
2. Based on their Week 1 performance, what area(s) does the team need to improve on the most?
The emphasis remains on bringing the new defensive players up to speed. They did a nice job against San Jose State, only surrendering 2 big plays (on busted assignments) that put the Spartans in position to score before tightening up and denying them the endzone. But it was a very vanilla defensive gameplan with practically no blitzing by Saban/Smart standards. We'll see if they can keep up as the schemes get more complicated, starting this week with Penn State.
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3. Which back-up or newcomer earned more playing time with their performance in last weeks game?
Obviously, the aforementioned Mosely. He's the one guy who really jumped off the screen at you. Eddie Lacy will continue to get solid playing time in the absence of Ingram, but his fumble at the goal line might cost him those carries for the near term. Damion Square, Undra Billingsley, and Darrington Sentimore all played well, filling in for Marcell Dareus. Square was going to get PT this year, regardless, but I think Billingsley really helped himself. In particular, he had a great play where he rushed the passer, read screen, then doubled back and made the tackle on the RB in open space. That's the sort of heads-up play that gets you noticed by Saban.
4. What are the major question marks that still surround the team headed into Week 2?
The defensive issues will continue to be question marks until these guys prove themselves against the likes of Arkansas and Florida. Offensively, I'm waiting to see how DJ Fluker does at right tackle when he gets challenged, which should happen against the Nittany Lions. I also want to see Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks prove themselves beyond being Julio's Little Helpers. I think Maze is ready. It was nice to see him catch a deep ball with his hands instead of his elbows this week. And, of course, the REAL question burning on everyone's minds is "Will Ingram play?" My gut instinct remains "no." I think he'll be close to 100% by game time, but I doubt the coaching staff will push him back into action unless he has an amazing week. I still think he doesn't dress for Penn State, dresses but doesn't play for Duke, then plays against Arkansas.
Following the game, Saban announced that Alabama would not be appealing Dareus' suspension in an effort to get him back for Penn State. The given reason was "lack of precedent," but I wonder how much of it was really, "Okay, we think we can play Penn State with the guys we've got, so let's not waste our time and energy on something that's not going to work anyway." Regardless, at least that's not a question anyone will have to worry about this week.
5. Are you more or less confident in your teams ultimate success this year after Week 1?
Equal. Like I said at the beginning, this played out almost exactly how I thought it would. I'm no more or less confident in the defense than I was on Saturday afternoon, and that's really the key to everything. Special teams looked better than expected, and the offense looks ridiculous. They look well on their way to being the most explosive unit in Bama history. (Some of the old wishbone offenses might have rolled up more yards or points, but I can't think of a defense from that era that would've known what to do with Julio.)