Alabama Football: 8 Things We Learned from the Tide's Win over the Hilltoppers

Sanjay Kirpalani@@SanjayKirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystSeptember 9, 2012

Alabama Football: 8 Things We Learned from the Tide's Win over the Hilltoppers

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    Despite never being seriously threatened in its 35-0 victory over Western Kentucky, Nick Saban and his coaching staff will get plenty of use from the game film. 

    There were positives—like the play of quarterback A.J. McCarron and a defense that forced four turnovers while recording its first shutout of the young season.

    However, there were more negatives in a shutout win than most would imagine—like the play of the offensive line and the Crimson Tide’s inability to run the ball with any consistency against an opponent from the Sun Belt Conference. 

    What can Tide fans take away from the victory over the Hilltoppers?

    Here are eight things we learned from Alabama’s win over Western Kentucky.

8. McCarron Has Improved as a Passer

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    With a largely new set of skill players surrounding him entering the season, most observers, around the nation, wondered if quarterback A.J. McCarron could shoulder the offensive load this season. 

    Considering the Tide’s ground game appeared to be stuck in neutral for most of the afternoon, McCarron stepped up and answered the bell en-route to tossing a career-high four touchdown passes. 

    The junior quarterback showed mobility, pocket awareness—at least early in the game—and a touch on several deep throws that he has not always had.  

7. WR Unit Is More Explosive

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    A theme for most Tide fans in the offseason was to express the sentiment that its receiver unit would be better in 2012 despite losing both starters from last season.

    Junior Kevin Norwood and sophomore Christion Jones each hauled in a pair of scoring strikes from McCarron, and each showed a tendency to create big plays when their numbers were called. 

    While star freshman tailback T.J. Yeldon was held in check on the ground, he was effective in the passing game out of the backfield.

    Overall, this unit seems to have made a significant improvement, thus far, in the season.  

6. Pass Protection Must Improve

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    Lost in the midst of McCarron’s passing outburst was the fact that Alabama’s offensive line—one that is regarded as one of the nation’s best—gave up five sacks in just 20 attempts. 

    Hilltoppers defensive end Quanterus Smith was able to beat both starting tackles Cyrus Kouandijo and D.J. Fluker to bring down McCarron twice. 

    Additionally, McCarron took hits on a few more passing plays, and with limited and inexperienced depth behind McCarron at quarterback, Saban will not be happy until the line shores up its weaknesses.  

5. Lacy Is Not at Full Strength

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    Eddie Lacy entered the season as a dark-horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy, despite missing the spring and a bulk of fall practice with various injuries. 

    After a slow start in the Tide’s first two games, Lacy will be lucky if he can hold onto the starting job as the Tide’s lead back.  

    The junior has looked like a shell of the back who entered the season averaging more than seven yards per carry.  

4. Secondary Will Be Fine

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    Despite resting top corner Dee Milliner, the secondary did not suffer any major breakdowns against the Hilltoppers. 

    Deion Belue—who struggled in coverage last week against the Wolverines—looked solid and recorded the only interception of Hilltoppers quarterback Kawaun Jakes. 

    While the Hilltoppers were able to complete several short passes, Alabama’s defensive backs were able to tackle well enough to limit them to minimal gains while keeping everything in front of them.  

3. Opportunistic Defense

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    Western Kentucky was able to move the ball in spurts, but Alabama’s defense was able to snatch the momentum away by forcing the Hilltoppers into timely miscues that swung the momentum in favor of the home team. 

    The Tide forced three fumbles in the first half—two of which the offense were able to convert into touchdowns. 

    In two games, Alabama has been able to force a total of seven turnovers from its opponents—a trend they hope to continue.  

2. Mosley Primed for Huge Year

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    C.J. Mosley has been a player who has played brilliantly in the shadows of stars like Courtney Upshaw, Dont’a Hightower and current teammate Nico Johnson. 

    After recovering from a nasty hip injury suffered in the BCS national title victory over LSU, Mosley has began 2012 with a bang—finishing as the team’s leading tackler in both of the team’s victories this season.

    Mosley has accumulated 18 tackles, one sack and an interception returned for a touchdown.  

    Those numbers are an indicator that the  6’2”, 232-pound junior is poised to have a monster season.  

1. Discipline Shines Through

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    Despite its woes on offense, the Tide managed to jump on the Hilltoppers early and take a commanding 21-0 lead midway through the second quarter. 

    Add in the fact that Alabama did not turn the ball over nor commit a penalty until the fourth quarter when the game was well in hand and this game may turn into an important teaching tool. 

    While their overall performance appeared to be sloppy, the discipline displayed in their effort against a lesser opponent will help them learn from their miscues moving forward.