Kent State vs. Alabama: 7 Things We've Learned About Both Teams on Saturday
In their season opener on Sept. 3, the second-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide (10-3) takes on Kent State (5-7).
Their 2011 campaign, which begins in search of a national championship, takes place in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The team hopes for redemption in a city that had recently been savaged by an April 27 tornado.
For Alabama, today is more important than just a football game. 101,000 fans have come out to see their Crimson Tide face off against Kent State.
Head Coach Nick Saban came into this game undefeated (4-0) in season openers for the Crimson, and Alabama has more opening day victories than any other team in the high-powered SEC.
In terms of the SEC, Alabama went into the game thinking that they certainly drew the right straw by getting to play Kent State in Week 1. The team, which hopes to become the best Alabama team of all time, opens up the season with a relatively easy schedule against Kent State.
A main question from the day comes from the Alabama quarterback position, which opens the season in a position battle between AJ McCarron and redshirt freshman hyped ESPNU top-rated quarterback Phillip Sims.
Alabama fans also are left to wonder what sorts of holes are left with the departures of first-round pick Julio Jones and former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram.
Trent Richardson, who looks to become a legitimate contender for the Heisman Trophy, and the rest of his Alabama football team, enters the game as 38.5-point favorites over Kent State. Yet according to BetOnline.com, most fans continue to pick Roll Tide.
7. Alabama's Defense Is Incredible
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The starting roster for the Alabama defense features only upperclassmen; only juniors and seniors are on this lineup.
The opening series for Alabama’s defense began with a three-and-out, which quickly allowed the Crimson Tide to score first with a Trent Richardson touchdown. When your defense plays as strongly as Alabama’s did in their season debut, your offense is allowed a certain amount of leeway and wiggle room.
The Crimson Tide team distinctly resembles the 2009 National Championship team from Alabama, as they continued to hit hard and often as their SEC team lived up to their reputation in the season opener.
The biggest strength of this defense is the linebacker corps and the defensive backs position, which could very well be one of the best in the nation.
With a defensive back corps as strong as Alabama’s, it’s very difficult for any receiving corps to do any damage whatsoever. In the first three Kent State drives; they picked up a total of only six yards. Not exactly the most impressive debut for Kent State football.
In the first quarter, the Alabama defense held the Kent State offense to a total of negative-six yards.
In the second quarter, the team was slightly less impressive, and Head Coach Nick Saban was focused on a significant attempt to force turnovers. While the defense lost the turnover battle (5-1), they still held Kent State to negative rushing yards.
As the game continued, however, Alabama’s defense was essentially unstoppable, and significantly more talented than the Kent State offense. They were virtually unable to put up any numbers on offense.
6. Kent State Needs to Work on Tackling
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In the first quarter of their season debut, Kent State missed over 10 tackles. This sort of play caused play-by-play announcers to wonder if the Kent State defense put grease on their gloves before the game.
Yes, it’s a season opener, and yes, they’re playing a top team in the country. But if Kent State looks to improve on their poor play from last season, they have to make tackles.
Broken tackles allow big scores, and if Kent State can contain the big score against high-powered offenses like Alabama, they can stay in the game and potentially put up a fight against a real team.
Otherwise, they’ll allow easy scores and get ran all over by ranked teams like the way Eddie Lacey quickly scored on the team. For a team that only allowed 92.0 YPG last year, only one player looked solid by putting pressure on the QB.
For a team that did not look good on the defensive side of the ball, Roosevelt Nix looked to shine.
The sophomore, who forced four fumbles in his freshman year, opened his season with two quick sacks against the Alabama offense.
In the fourth quarter, Jalston Fowler broke a good five tackles to score a 40+ yard touchdown. These kind of plays separate the good teams from the great ones, and Kent State can’t allow them to break if they want to contend.
5. A.J. McCarron Wants the Starting Job
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Marquis Maze caught the first passing touchdown of the game, a 24-yard gem of a pass under pressure from A.J. McCarron. In the first two drives, McCarron was 5-for-6, good for 99 yards and one touchdown.
Alabama has tons of talent in the receiving corps, and sophomore A.J. McCarron looked early on to utilize every aspect of this advantage. While he’s currently engaged in a position battle with redshirt freshman Phillip Sims, McCarron isn’t quite ready to give up the starting job yet.
In practices, offensive coaches keep track of every throw that McCarron and Sims make. They mark down interceptions, dropped passes, completions and touchdowns.
McCarron knows how important it is to play well, and while his team needs to play well, he knows that he’s got a legitimate threat to take his job on his heels. Sims didn’t look rusty in his debut, but it’s fair to say that McCarron looked better off the bat.
While McCarron did allow a pretty big interception after he got the ball back in the second quarter, he’s looked relatively poised and has some holes in his game as well.
He certainly played well enough to earn the starting job against Penn State next week.
4. Trent Richardson Is a Heisman Contender
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While I understand that this game was simply an opening day game against Kent State and I shouldn’t exactly be presumptuous, but in the 2011 opener Trent Richardson proved that his name should be in the running for the Heisman Trophy.
Richardson did exactly what a Heisman candidate has to do: he scored early, put the team in the lead, and made an immediate impact. As the game continued, Richardson put on a showcase of his own dominance as he scored twice in the first quarter, dodging tackles and scoring as often as he could.
With former Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram now in the NFL, Richardson looks to become the marquee RB for the Alabama football team.
In the third quarter, McCarron looked to Richardson for a 17-yard screen pass. Richardson was able to capitalize later, scoring on the ground for his third touchdown of the day.
Trent Richardson, simply put, is quick.
He’s a fast back who can outrun most defensive backs and can put up a fight in any football game. Alabama certainly has a loss with Mark Ingram going to the NFL, but it’s possible to make the case that Richardson is simply a more effective back.
For the rest of the season, expect him to make a significant impact.
3. Phillip Sims May Not Be Ready Yet
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Does this mean that Sims will never be ready? Absolutely not. But in this afternoon’s game, Phillip Sims did not look prepared for the pace of a Division-One college football game.
For a team looking to contend for a national championship, it’s important that their quarterback can handle the tempo of the game. Sims looked a little shaky early in the third quarter, and came in just a little bit late on a throw that turned into a deep interception.
What could have been a drive that put the Crimson Tide up 31-0, the Sims interception instead allowed Kent State to fight back and rally to a 24-7 slow comeback.
Sims is far from a bad quarterback, but when Sims allowed his second interception, Alabama brought back McCarron, who immediately looked more poised and ready.
Sims may have a bright future in the NCAA, but in terms of chemistry and on-field leadership, the current leader that would help Alabama more as a football team would have to be A.J. McCarron, who likely earned the start at Penn State next week.
2. Kent State Needs to Be More Productive on Offense
Negative yards in the first quarter is never the way to go. While that goes without saying, it’s also needed to point out that this kind of team is not going to win games if they’re not putting up yards.
The team did not record a first down in the first quarter; they dropped passes left and right, were 0-for-5 on third-down attempts, and looked sloppy recording false starts and offensive penalties. Sure, they had to play an Alabama defense, but had a very hard time getting started on offense.
Kent State had an entire offseason to prepare for this game. They needed to figure out ways to at least put yards on the field. By the second quarter, I’m certain that every fan in the country was getting tired of seeing the Kent State punter come onto the field yet again.
The Kent State offense, which turned up their game in the second quarter, started to put up more yards than Alabama, but still had trouble scoring.
While they could have made the game significantly closer by capitalizing on a poor offensive showing by Alabama in the second quarter, they simply were not productive on offense.
1. Roll Tide Means the World to Tuscaloosa
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101,000+ fans came out to support the Crimson Tide on Saturday morning, and by the looks of how many fans came so early, you would be left to think that the game started at 9 a.m.
Bryant-Denny Stadium was packed to the brim to see Nick Saban and the Alabama Crimson Tide, and following a torturous tornado, the state of Alabama has clung on to this football team like there’s no tomorrow.
The April 27 tornado was devastating for the city, and garnered national attention from the likes of search teams, volunteers, fire fighters, and even President Barack Obama.
Six students from the University of Alabama were killed by the tornado, and the lives of students at the university were forever changed by this horrible incident. It was the deadliest tornado in the history of the state of Alabama.
One player who was affected was starting long snapper Caron Tinker for the Crimson Tide, who was thrown 100 yards and knocked unconscious by the tornado. In the accident, he lost his girlfriend, Ashley Harrison, who was killed by the storm.
As we've read, people find hope in many ways. Those in Alabama are finding solace through football. In Alabama, as the 101,000 fans chanted, “Roll Tide” there was a glimmer of hope for an entire state of football fans.
This is the reason why people watch sports. Amidst rivalries and controversy, it may be forgotten. But the kind of community that this sport creates makes it all worth it.
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