Alabama Football: What Questions Must Be Answered for a Strong Finish?

Clint LambContributor INovember 10, 2012

True freshman running back, T.J. Yeldon, runs through an LSU defender in route to a 21-17 victory in Baton Rouge.
True freshman running back, T.J. Yeldon, runs through an LSU defender in route to a 21-17 victory in Baton Rouge.Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

The Crimson Tide has enjoyed a strong start to a season that has been highlighted by the defeats of several competitive teams, including Michigan, Mississippi State, Ole Miss, and LSU.

One could say they are well on their way to their third national title in four years. While this assumption has some strong warrant behind it, the Tide still has a lot of questions that need to be answered before they can claim the crystal ball in January.

Will the running backs be able to keep up their production?

There is no denying the fact that the Crimson Tide has continued to dominate the ground game. The emergence of true freshman running back, TJ Yeldon, has provided a boost to a stable of running backs that had a huge void to fill with the departure of former Crimson Tide star Trent Richardson. The combination of Yeldon with the steady producer, Eddie Lacy, has allowed Alabama to put an offense on the field that can physically wear on their opponents.

The question surrounds the loss of contributors Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart. Fowler is a big, bruising running back (6-1 245) that also has the ability to play fullback, which gave Alabama’s offense a new dimension that was hard to account for.

Having two talented runners on the field allowed the offense to take pressure off not only one particular running back but also AJ McCarron. Due to Fowler’s physically demanding size and running style, defenses were simply worn down over the course of the game. This contributed to the Crimson Tide’s success in the running game late in games. While the Tide has continued to enjoy a substantial amount of success in the running game over recent weeks, will the losses of both Fowler and Hart emerge as a potential problem?

Can AJ McCarron be a comeback kid if necessary?

McCarron proved in the LSU game that when it’s gut check time, he will be there ready to go. He made play after play on that final Alabama drive with the help of players such as wide receiver Kevin Norwood and freshman running back, TJ Yeldon. It’s obvious McCarron has enjoyed a very strong start to his redshirt junior season (19 touchdowns, 0 interceptions) but can he continue that success if the Tide falls behind by a significant amount?

Let’s say Alabama falls behind by 14 points to Texas A&M today due to the Tide’s defense struggling against a high powered A&M offense. Can McCarron put the offense solely on his shoulders and bring the team back?

That is a question that remains unanswered due to Alabama only trailing this season, to LSU last week.  Alabama’s offense has shown it is based around the running game and McCarron’s ability to play action off it. If the running game has to be thrown out of the game plan late in the game, can the Tide rely on McCarron’s steady arm to mount a come back? While my gut tells me yes, the question will remain until (if) the situation arises and McCarron overcomes.

Can the Tide’s defense continue to be dominant?

Alabama has continued their ability to field an elite defense by checking in as the #2 overall defense in the NCAA. Players such CJ Mosley, Ed Stinson, Adrian Hubbard, Vinnie Sunseri, and Deion Belue have emerged as either defensive stars or key contributors for an Alabama defense that lost tremendous talent such as Dont’a Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dre Kirkpatrick, and Mark Barron from a record-setting championship defense in 2011.

While the Tide’s defense has carried over its dominating, nasty demeanor from last year, can they continue that trend over the course of the season with teams such as Texas A&M, Auburn, and probably Georgia coming up?

Alabama enjoyed an emotional, hard fought victory last Saturday versus LSU and the defense, yet again, played a major part in that. LSU’s freshman running back, Jeremy Hill, did rumble for a total of 107 yards and a touchdown on the ground, but he averaged 3.7 yards per carry after averaging roughly 7.2 yards per carry in his previous two contests. This statistic reflects a very solid performance by the Crimson Tide defense.

The Tide’s defense has proved it can stop a high powered run game, but can they contain a multidimensional threat such as Texas A&M freshman quarterback, Johnny Manziel? The answer to this question will go a long way toward determining if Alabama is truly a complete, elite defense.

Johnny Manziel is to Texas A&M’s offense what Robert Griffin III was to Baylor’s offense in 2011. He has passed for over 2,500 yards with 16 passing touchdowns to go along with over 900 rushing yards and 15 rushing touchdowns. This offensive production should be considered legitimate due to A&M’s move to the SEC and their respective play against top defenses such as Florida and LSU.

The Crimson Tide is well on its way to another BCS national championship berth if they can continue to run the ball, allow AJ McCarron to continue to manage a game effectively, and play with a high level of intensity on the field defensively.

Nick Saban has proven time and again that he is the best college football coach out there but still needs to keep that fire and competitive spirit in the minds and hearts of every single one of his players.

One thing is certain: Alabama is on the verge of potentially becoming the most dominant football program in the country in every aspect of the game.