A benefit of scheduling “cupcake” non-conference teams—besides getting a near-guaranteed win—is the opportunity to play younger players.
For the Crimson Tide, many of these youngsters were very highly-touted coming out of high school and have the potential to be future stars in college football. They’re also just a play or two away from being on the field at a critical moment in the season.
Getting younger players game experience is invaluable, and coach Nick Saban nearly emptied his bench Saturday, playing a total of 70 players, according to Alabama’s participation report. Saban said:
We need those guys to get some experience, make some mistakes, so that they can learn from those things. I think it creates an awareness, especially with young players, of how important it is to prepare and pay attention to detail when you're getting ready to play, because a lot of those guys are one injury from having to play.
Here are grades for some of the bigger names who haven't played much yet this season but saw the field in Saturday’s win over Georgia State.
*All recruiting information courtesy of 247Sports.
QB Blake Sims
Who He Is: A 4-star athlete out of high school, Sims came to Alabama as a running back, but switched to quarterback last year, mostly playing in mop-up duty.
Analysis: on Saturday, Sims finally got a chance to run the offense for an extended period of time, and by all accounts, he had a solid outing.
He completed 14-of-18 passes for 130 yards and a touchdown, and he also rushed twice for 10 yards. He didn’t light the world on fire, but he also didn’t make a costly mistake, which is something that Saban has criticized him for in the past.
RB Derrick Henry
Who He Is: Henry was the most highly-touted of the four running backs Alabama signed in its 2013 class. At 6'3", 240 pounds, he literally stood out among the group in fall camp, and fans were eager to see what he could do on the field.
Analysis: Fellow 2013 running back signee Altee Tenpenny has played ahead of him in games, but Henry got his carries on Saturday.
He showed power by knocking over defenders, and he showed good vision in the backfield as well. He finished the game with five rushes for 50 yards.
RB Dee Hart
Who He Is: Like Black, Hart used his speed to overcome his size and wow coaches in high school.
A four-star prospect, Hart chose Alabama over Michigan, but the redshirt sophomore has yet to make an impact due to injury and playing time.
Analysis: Hart struggled to get anything going in the run game, accounting for just six yards on four carries against a weak Georgia State front. After that performance, his window for playing time on the team's offense might just about be closed.
Hart can make an impact on special teams, though, where he returned a punt 37 yards and had three tackles and a forced fumble.
WR Chris Black
Who He Is: Black redshirted as a freshman after a shoulder injury in fall camp that kept him on the sidelines for the season.
At 5'11", he’s on the small side for a receiver, but his speed and sure hands made him a four-star prospect.
Analysis: Black hadn’t seen the field much due to the success of Christion Jones, who plays ahead of him in the slot. However, on Saturday, Black led all Alabama receivers with 54 yards and a touchdown on six catches.
OL Grant Hill
Who He Is: Hill was one of the most highly-touted offensive linemen that Alabama signed in 2013, he was simply too good to keep off the field this year, even as a freshman.
Analysis: Saban raved about Hill on his radio show before the game, and it was easy to see why (h/t al.com).
Hill replaced starter Austin Shepherd at right tackle, getting reps with the first and second team during the game. Aside from a false start penalty in the second quarter, Hill held his own, and Saban hinted that he could soon work his way into a starting role.