Alabama Football: Tide Still Struggling with Rushing Game

Walter KirkwoodAnalyst ISeptember 5, 2011

Alabama's offensive line struggled
Alabama's offensive line struggledGreg McWilliams/Getty Images

Get back to football in Tuscaloosa? Check.

Field brutally effective defense? Check.

Improve special teams? Check.

Find quarterback and receivers? Check.

Fix running game? Hmmmm.

Alabama's 2010 season was a bit of a disappointment and the checklist for returning to 2009 dominance was almost perfect Saturday against Kent State, with one glaring exception: the running game.

Alabama's defense looked dominant. Kent State never would have scored were it not for a near pick-six served up by Phillip Sims. They dominated State without using much in the way of blitzing or any other tricks. 

Alabama did fall short defensively in the turnover department. The defensive backs had a shot at no less than four or five balls and only managed to snag one of them.

Alabama didn't run much pressure this game because they didn't have to. Several different defensive lineman caused problems for Kent State, penetrating blocks into the backfield. This is a good sign that the defensive line overall will be better.

There was some hitting going on, but having not hit live all summer they can probably do better in that area. Adding a little more aggression might just be what the doctor ordered to get the turnover ratio up.

Kent State didn't really give the defense much of a test, so we will have to wait a week to see how they do against better talent.

The quarterback battle went about as you would expect if you know football.

Yes, Phillip Sims is a great talent and could have won the job, but he had never taken live snaps in a real college game and he looked like it Saturday. 

McCarron, on the other hand, looked like someone with some experience. McCarron was much quicker to check down to open receivers short while Sims expected more time in the pocket and was sacked and forced to make mistakes.

McCarron also showed more ability to hit receivers deep.

This may sound like I'm down on Sims; I'm not. His playing time Saturday was extremely critical.  He's a great talent and there is no way for him to learn more unless he plays under fire.

Alabama may continue to switch quarterbacks, but judging how McCarron cooled off after sitting for three series, Alabama will probably lose games attempting any sort of equal rotation.

Alabama in a way looked more diverse in the receiver corps. True, no receiver is the focus of coverage like Julio Jones. The upside to that is that the passes are scattered more evenly and it makes the passing game perhaps more dangerous than in the past.

Alabama still has yet to unveil Duron Carter as well. His big-body skills will come in handy.

Clearly, Marquis Maze is the go-to receiver and his eight-catch, 118-yard one-touchdown day was impressive.

Newcomer DeAndrew White had four catches for 44 yards. White's strength is speed and McCarron tried to split the safeties to him once but slightly overthrew him.  White also tried his hand at the return game and ended up feeling the wrath of Saban when he gave up the ball to Kent State.

The kick coverage looked smothering at times and some of the biggest hits were coming from some younger players like Trey DePriest and Vinnie Sunsuri. The punting and kicking appeared consistent.

Maze was outstanding on returns and will likely continue that roll exclusively with DeAndrew White dropping the ball.

Everything looked good except the following: 13 for 37 2.8 yards per carry.

Those are the rushing stats for Trent Richardson. He did get three touchdowns and ran almost exclusively between the tackles, but was basically hit at or behind the line of scrimmage on every play.

These stats didn't all happen early when the other team was still feeling frisky. Richardson switched in and out with Eddie Lacy for most of three quarters. 

It's a bit confusing how Lacy and Jalston Fowler looked like Earl Campbell and Trent Richardson looked like a tackling dummy. I have to question if Richardson is truly healthy. 

He did show good power at times but was taken down too often by arm tackles at the foot level. 

Perhaps Kent State just played better when No. 3 was in the backfield and relaxed a bit when Lacy stepped in.

If that is the case, they learned the hard way that you can't relax as long as Alabama has backups like Lacy and Fowler.

Speaking of Fowler, can anyone give me a reason we don't give him more than four rushes a game? It seems he takes a quarter of all his carries for a 40-plus yard touchdown.

Obviously the bulk of the blame must land on the offensive line. Alabama was experimenting with players on the left side and another, right guard Anthony Steen will be a first-year starter.

Barrett Jones started his first game at left tackle, but ended up playing left guard and center as well.

Cyrus Kouandjio began rotating at left tackle in the second quarter and seemed to have an up-and-down game. One thing is for sure: this guy is a major talent. At times he dominated his man, leaving him pancaked on the ground.

Kouandjio mainly needs experience to become Alabama's best option at left tackle. The staff may struggle to balance current performance with the need to get him up to speed.

The staff will likely settle on a starting five and practice with that all week in preparation for Penn State. 

Simply put, Alabama will not win any championships unless they run block better between the tackles. They are certainly capable. Saturday showed a lot of rust in that area.

Alabama travels to Beaver stadium Saturday. If the offensive line does not improve notably in run blocking, the pressure of the Alabama season will land squarely on the arm of a first-year starting quarterback. That rarely ends well for Alabama. 


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