Despite a 3-0 start to the 2013 season, head coach Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide need to figure out a number of problems and they need to do so soon.
While top-ranked Alabama continues to retain their No. 1 spot in the BCS rankings, there are no doubts that flaws exist within this team. Fortunately, Saban and the Crimson Tide have been able to face off against a relatively easy schedule thus far: Virginia Tech, No. 6-ranked Texas A&M, and Colorado State.
Even with that schedule however, problems have arisen.
There is the lack of consistency on offense. The defense has been up-and-down. What have been strengths at times this season—and in years prior—have turned into potential liabilities that need resolution.
The Offensive Line
In the opening matchup against Virginia Tech, the offensive line's performance was lackluster to say the least. The Tide gained only 206 total yards against the Hokies, including just 96 rushing yards on 38 carries—averaging 2.5 yards per carry.
There were a number of new faces along the line which often spells initial problems. Communication, or lack thereof, played a significant role.
Quarterback A.J. McCarron was repeatedly hurried which further contributed to Alabama's offensive woes during the course of the game.
Despite the Tide's 35-10 win over Virginia Tech, Saban was not pleased with the end result. Citing a need for better communication along the line, Saban stated via Lars Anderson of Sports Illustrated:
We need to have faith, trust and confidence in what we're doing, but we need to communicate it and have trust in that, too—and each other, so that we can all play with confidence. And I think that's going to take some time to develop, but I also think we're capable of doing it much better than we did.
Saban got his way in Week 2 as Alabama was able to knock off Texas A&M 49-42.
It appeared as if things had been corrected. Alabama's offensive line was a major factor in the victory over the Aggies.
This point was argued by USA Today writer George Schroeder who stated:
Alabama's offensive line was much better than Texas A&M's defensive line, and might just be better than anyone. Again, we can officially bury the season opener against Virginia Tech, when the Tide struggled with three new starters.
Schroeder made a good point and all signs should have pointed to the offensive line continuing on an upward trend. Yet against Colorado State they fell flat once again.
The Tide gained only 66 yards rushing and McCarron was sacked twice. While Alabama was missing some key components on the line, communication again appeared absent.
Fortunately for Alabama, offensive lines are typically a key element of any Saban-coached team and there should be no reason to assume Saban cannot rectify this situation soon. Playing against an average Ole' Miss defense in Week 4 should give the Crimson Tide ample opportunity to correct the lack of communication and inconsistency immediately.
Defenses should always strive to get better.
Perhaps this is nowhere more apparent than under Saban. Yet Alabama's defense has not started off as dominant in 2013 as it has in years before.
Texas A&M revealed plenty of these weaknesses in Week 2. The Aggies posted 628 yards on offense, including 464 passing yards from quarterback Johnny Manziel, revealing that good play-calling along with a good quarterback can dissect Alabama's defense.
On a good note, the defense was able to rebound in Week 3 against Colorado State. Yet the difference between Texas A&M and Colorado State is pretty drastic, to put it mildly. The Rams were still able to generate 279 yards of total offense.
While Alabama was missing some key players on defense, including three new starting cornerbacks, the overall efficiency was lacking.
After the game, senior linebacker C.J. Mosley pointed out that improvements were needed with Ole' Miss, and its offense, looming in Week 4.
We didn't really execute to our full abilities. It's not an SEC opponent that we just played and the win really wasn't what it should have been. I felt like we kind of got away with a win. We didn't really dominate that win.
Yes, the defense improved from Week 2 to Week 3. Did it improve enough however? That is going to be a major question moving forward.
With Mississippi and their hurry-up offense facing up against Alabama, Saban's ever-dominant defensive mind may be up for a challenge. This possibility is pointed out by Bleacher Report featured columnist Sanjay Kirpalani who notes that the Rebels' head coach Hugh Freeze may be able to give Saban and the Tide's defense "fits" with a hurry-up and no-huddle attack.
Saban needs to ensure that his defense is back up to par, especially against a No. 21-ranked opponent with a good offense.
he has seen the ups and downs thus far in 2013. Saban just needs to ensure the upward trend on defense continues.
Much of the offense's struggles have been a direct result of the offensive line.
Yet the offensive woes thus far cannot fall entirely upon the O-line's shoulders. Like many other elements that have been a concern for the Tide thus far into 2013, consistency has been at the heart of the issue.
Take a look at the statistics from the first three weeks. In Week 1 against Virginia Tech, Alabama gained only 206 yards on offense. They rebounded nicely against Texas A&M in Week 2 totaling 568 yards, only to fall flat against Colorado State in Week 3 with 338 yards.
Use whatever metaphor works, but there have been more valleys than peaks for the Tide thus far into 2013. What is more interesting, and perhaps more of a concern, is that the lack of production has come against non-ranked teams that otherwise should have been considered "easy" opponents.
Simply put, those numbers should have been better. Instead, fans saw a Crimson Tide team that struggled on third downs and had difficulty generating the running game.
Communication again waned, much like it had in Week 1.
All of this was against Colorado State, not some top-ranked defense.
Granted, Saban gave the Rams their due and cited their head coach Jim McElwain—who had served as Saban's offensive coordinator from 2008 through 2011—as having done a great job throwing off Alabama's offense.
In Saban's conclusion however, he was not at all happy with how the Tide played. He continued:
We couldn't run the ball with any consistency or effectiveness. Even though we did a pretty good job passing, there had to be four or five times when we moved the ball down the field and got just outside the red zone, and we had something happen like throw an interception, miss a field goal, make a field goal or get sacked. There were just too many negative plays. (via David Paschall of Times Free Press)
In many ways, Alabama's offense did hinder its own efforts. McCarron's numbers, which included 20 completions out of 26 attempts for 258 yards, were decent. He also threw a costly interception in the third quarter and did not possess the same type of rhythm that was evident against Texas A&M in Week 2.
The running game, which generated only 66 yards, also needs to get better.
Saban needs to get the offense back on track. The flat performance against what should have been an easy opponent speaks volumes about the team's offensive inconsistency. Yet if any team can rise to the occasion against a top-25 opponent, Alabama can.
One of the biggest issues facing the Crimson Tide this season is their lack of consistency.
As illustrated by Andrew Gribble of All Alabama, there have been inconsistencies from week to week thus far.
Saban is expected to correct these shortcomings and get Alabama back on track as soon as possible. They want to retain their No. 1 ranking heading forward, and in order to do so, Saban will need to fix the situation soon.
We have seen the Tide bounce back from lackluster performances before. There are few reasons to doubt their inability to do so.
Regardless, Week 4 should be a perfect indicator of whether or not the aforementioned points have been entirely addressed.
All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Sports-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.
Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.
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