Nick Saban and the Crimson Tide struggled at times in September, but they still remain unbeaten and on course to compete for a third consecutive national title.
Just one month into the 2013 season, fans of the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide have already gone through a season’s worth of ups and downs through four games.
Nick Saban’s team has been far from dominant. At times, they have looked extremely vulnerable at positions—like offensive line and corner—that have been strengths of the their recent championship squads.
Then, after weeks of doubt from pundits across the nation, Saban and his club put together a thorough and complete performance in their 25-0 demolition of previously ranked Ole Miss.
Despite its early-season flaws, Alabama has beaten a pair of ranked clubs in Texas A&M and Ole Miss. Plus, the Tide are 4-0 and still a heavy favorite to compete for the school’s third consecutive national championship.
What are the biggest takeaways for Tide fans through the first month of the season?
Alabama’s first three games each featured a different source of frustration for Tide fans.
The offensive line was heavily criticized following the Virginia Tech game, while the secondary took a hit after allowing Texas A&M to roll up 628 yards of total offense. The entire team’s lackadaisical effort against Colorado State led to some jeers from the home crowd late in the second half of that contest.
With all of that said, the Tide still managed to win both contests against the Hokies and the Rams by a margin of 25 points.
Also, wins over division foes Texas A&M and Ole Miss have given Alabama a solid foundation to build upon in conference play.
Through 16 quarters of action, the most consistent part of Alabama’s game has been the play of its special teams unit.
The offense was brilliant in College Station, but that game was sandwiched between sloppy efforts against Virginia Tech and Colorado State. A workmanlike and efficient showing against Ole Miss was reminiscent of the Tide’s offense in years past.
The defense was strong against the Hokies and the Rebels, but less-than-stellar efforts in the middle games have the Tide sitting third in the SEC and 27th nationally in total defense, per cfbstats.com.
While Alabama has proven it can still win without functioning at a high level in all three phases, Saban and his staff will push the team to play to a higher standard moving forward.
As Andrew Gribble of AL.com notes, Saban has consistently preached about this year’s club being completely different from past teams.
Saban stated that this team “has to create its own identity.” Considering that Alabama has struggled to run the ball and control the action in the trenches on both sides of the ball—two hallmarks of the Tide’s past success—this team has proven that it can win games in ways that are unconventional by Alabama’s previous standards.
However, the Tide still have some key components—leadership, talent and depth at the skill positions, as well as promising underclassmen who are still developing—that can help them improve steadily in the areas in which they have struggled.
Alabama’s two foremost concerns entering the season were mixing in three new starters on the offensive line and developing a solid rotation at corner.
Although there have been some flashes of improvement through the first four games, those questions are still valid heading into October. Still, it’s worth noting that both the offensive line (254 rushing yards against the Rebels) and the secondary (stud freshman corner Eddie Jackson had a breakout performance against Ole Miss) enter the second month of the season with positive momentum.
Plus, the Tide have a manageable October slate that should help them iron out the kinks before LSU rolls into town on Nov. 9.
Alabama hasn’t gotten off to the blistering start that it has enjoyed in previous years. Part of that is due to a top-heavy schedule early in the 2013 season.
Considering that the Tide have already faced three teams who are likely to be bowl-bound, the quality competition puts their periods of struggle in proper context.
However, Alabama’s four games in October come against teams who have a combined record of 7-11.
With that type of schedule ahead, Saban and his staff have a perfect opportunity to fix their issues before heading into another stretch run towards Atlanta and a shot at a third consecutive national title.