Alabama Football: 5 Biggest Surprises for Team Through Week 3

Sanjay Kirpalani@@SanjayKirpalaniNational Recruiting AnalystSeptember 18, 2013

Alabama Football: 5 Biggest Surprises for Team Through Week 3

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    Top-ranked Alabama is barely into the 2013 season, but Nick Saban’s club has already navigated several tough challenges through eight quarters of football.

    As the Tide prepares for its first home game against Colorado State this weekend, Saban and his staff are hoping to see more consistency in all three phases of the game.

    What are the biggest surprises for the Tide through Week 3?

5. Amari Cooper’s Struggles

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    After a breakout true freshman campaign, sophomore Amari Cooper entered 2013 as one of the nation’s top receivers and an All-American candidate.

    However, through two games, Cooper has struggled to play at the elite level he reached the final five games of the 2012 season. He has six receptions for 72 yards, but he’s also been plagued by a case of the drops.

    While the offensive outburst against Texas A&M proved that Alabama can thrive without Cooper putting up huge numbers, getting its star wideout back on track has to be a priority for offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier.

4. Backup RB Rotation

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    Sophomore T.J. Yeldon is clearly the Tide’s feature back, but the competition to earn the backup role he filled a year ago was somewhat of a mystery heading into the season.

    Through two games, little has changed to clear up that picture.

    Senior Jalston Fowler—who also lines up at H-back—is the only other rusher to earn carries in both games this season.

    Sophomore Kenyan Drake didn’t play against Virginia Tech, but after his strong effort against the Aggies (seven carries for 50 yards and a touchdown), he has proven to be the most effective back other than Yeldon.

    Perhaps the biggest surprise has been the slow start for touted true freshman Derrick Henry. The 6’3”, 240-pound former 5-star recruit lost three yards on his only carry of the season against the Hokies.

    While it’s still early in the season, developing the rotation behind Yeldon remains an intriguing subplot for the offense.

3. Jarrick Williams Steps Up at Star

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    The suspension of sophomore corner Geno Smith for the Virginia Tech game opened the door for junior Jarrick Williams to become the team’s starter at the “star” position in nickel and dime sets.

    Williams had a strong game against the Hokies, and he helped produce perhaps the biggest play of the game against the Aggies. With his team nursing a 28-14 lead early in the third quarter, Williams laid out to tip a Johnny Manziel pass that safety Vinnie Sunseri would scoop up and return 73 yards for a score that gave the Tide a commanding 21-point lead.

    Despite the struggles of the defense against the Aggies, the play of Williams has been a pleasant surprise for Saban and his staff.

2. Tale of Two Games

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    Alabama's first two games left its coaching staff with conflicting images of this team.

    Alabama’s offense looked like it was trapped in a time warp back to the Mike Shula era in its 35-10, season-opening victory over Virginia Tech. However, the defense and special teams were as dominant as ever.

    Two weeks later, the offense carried the team in a 49-42 shootout victory over Texas A&M. Meanwhile, Saban’s defense allowed Johnny Manziel and the Aggies to roll up the most yards (628) ever allowed by the Tide.

    It’s worth noting that Alabama is one of a handful of schools that opened the season against two tough opponents. Considering that Alabama may not face a tougher defense than Virginia Tech’s or a more explosive offense than Texas A&M’s, facing those struggles early in the season could be a blessing in disguise.

1. Offense Outduels A&M

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    With a noted defensive mastermind like Saban at the helm, Alabama has never been a team that relied on its offense to win a shootout.

    However, with its defense struggling to contain Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M’s high-octane attack, that is exactly what Saban asked AJ McCarron and company to do facing a 14-0 deficit early in the first quarter.

    McCarron responded—as he’s done throughout his career in big games—by throwing for 334 yards and four scores and helping the Tide escape with a critical SEC West victory.

    That performance proved that the days of Alabama using a conservative approach on offense are a thing of the past.