Alabama answered a lot of questions last night in the, what was in effect, the first Bowl Game of the season as they beat No.7 Virgina Tech 34-24.
Let's examine my top 10 questions and answers.
1. How Good is Greg McElroy?
Good enough to lead this team to wins over any top-10 team.
After a shaky first half, we saw the Greg McElroy we can expect the rest of the year. A field general who can inspire and lead his team from behind to win.
His 230 yards and one TD does not not tell the entire story. He had completions when his team needed them and also ran for another 28 yards that got Alabama some key first downs.
Alabama has someone who came into his first collegiate start against one of the nation's best defenses and put up 500 yards of offense, proving this guy is the real deal.
2. How Good is the Offensive Line Going To Be?
They also almost went sackless in net yards because the two they did have counted against them only resulted in five yards of total yardage lost.
They were good enough to lead runners to 268 yards of rushing yardage against one of the better defensive lines in America. This line seems capable of living up the coach's assessment that this could be a better line than last year's in productivity.
3. Have We Solved Our Special Teams Problems?
The answer here was no.
Though we were playing what may have been the best coached special teams squad we'll play this year, there is no forgiving the 254 yards of kick and punt return yardage allowed. There is still a lot of work to do.
On the other hand, Leigh Tiffin and P.J. Fitzgerald had solid nights kicking.
4. Did the "Other" Receivers Step Up to Compliment Julio Jones?
Here the Tide deserves a resounding yes.
Despite an uncharacteristic drop by Jones that cost a first down, he had a solid but uninspiring night. Jones spent most of the night drawing double coverage and that allowed others to be freed up for catches.
Darius Hanks' early circus catch was just a glimpse of things to come for the Tide and he ended the night with 55 yards.
Marquis Maze's over the shoulder deep ball proved to be a game changer in the fourth quarter and he ended up with just two catches but 57 yards.
Colin Peek lived up to his billing as was sure handed with his three grabs for 37 yards and Mark Ingram proved to be deadly at catching balls after darting out from the backfield with a touchdown among his three catches for 35 yards.
5 How Bad Will This Team Miss Rashad Johnson?
Nick Saban told me you don't replace a Rashad Johnson, you can just try. But Justin Woodall and Robbie Green provided about as good of support as any fan could have hoped. This wasn't a good passing team however, and while the early answer was not too much, it's still early and they haven't been tested by a great passing team yet.
6. Will This Defense Finally Get Some Pressure on the Quarterback?
The answer here was a definite yes. Against one of the more mobile quarterbacks we'll face this year, Alabama recorded five sacks against an offensive line with more starts than almost any team we'll play against this year.
Pressure came from everywhere and they had Virgina Tech QB Tyrod Taylor frustrated all night long. Saban was pleased with this stat as much as any other.
7. How Bad Will the Recent Distractions, (Brandon Deaderick's shooting, The NCAA Investigations and More) Have on the Team?
Apparently none of the distractions caused a moment of problem for the team. Especially to Deaderick himself who not only went to the game but played as if nothing happened.
8. Is The Team Still in the "Funk" That Was Present During The Sugar Bowl?
No. Though they seemed shaky and mistake prone in the first half, they worked their way out of it and simply dominated the fourth quarter. They seem to have not only shaken the cobwebs, but the residual bad taste of that game.
9. How Bad Will We miss Glenn Coffee?
Glenn who? Just kidding. But Alabama has a stable full of great running backs who showed last night that even against a top-five defense, they will get their yardage and dominate the defense.
Mark Ingram bulled his way for more than 150 yards rushing and 5.8 yards per carry, and Roy Upchurch, in just seven carries ran for 90 yards and a whopping 12.9 yards per carry.
10. Can This Team Be As Good As Last Year's?
Yes, and it can be better. It's not cockiness, but years of coaching and evaluating talent that makes this 'Bama coaching staff feel this is a much more talented and deeper team overall.
Indeed, the Tide's focus, enthusiasm, and productivity never dipped when substitutes were mixed into the team. The seamless domination of the stats continued no matter who was on the field.
This could be the team that many feel can take the next step forward in finishing Saban's "process" of returning to the pinnacle of the college football world yet again.