Tag:AJ McCarron
Posted on: September 23, 2011 2:46 pm
Edited on: September 23, 2011 2:54 pm
 

SEC Shakedown: Alabama vs. Arkansas

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

In which we break down the SEC's biggest games. This week: Tide and Razorbacks.



AT STAKE: Oh, not much, just a continued place in the national championship discussion and a seat alongside LSU as one of the conference's two true favorites. And maybe even more for Arkansas, who despite their Sugar Bowl appearance from a year ago still aren't popularly recognized as a true heavy-hitter on the national stage. Beat Alabama at Alabama, and no one will deny Bobby Petrino's team their place at the "potential crystal-ball hoisters" table any longer.

WHEN ARKANSAS HAS THE BALL, THEY MUST: protect Tyler Wilson. Alabama's secondary is one of the most feared in the nation -- and rightly so -- but they have a dirty little secret: they can be beaten deep. Downfield threats like South Carolina's Alshon Jeffery, the Razorbacks' Jarius Wright, and Auburn's array of pump-and-go targets all found plenty of success against the Tide defensive backs last season, due somewhat in part to the inexperience in the unit but also to a pass rush that got to Stephen Garcia just one and Ryan Mallett twice.

All the Tide defensive backs from a year ago return, but then again, so do all the Hog wideouts (Wright included). If Wilson is given the same amount of time Mallett (at least in the first half) and Garcia were in 2010, he and Petrino will find the space to hit a handful of potentially game-deciding big plays down the field.

The key for the Tide will be making sure Wilson doesn't have the time in the pocket necessary to make those kinds of long-developing throws. And Nick Saban has to love their matchup at weakside tackle*, where true freshman Mitch Smothers will be making his first SEC start opposite none other than Courtney Upshaw, the Tide's most explosive pass rusher. If Smothers can hold his ground against Upshaw and the rest of the Hog line can pick up Saban's tricky, terrifying blitz packages, Wilson and the receivers should be able to do their bombing-run thing.

If not? If there are no big plays in the passing game? And the Hogs are required to instead methodically drive down the field, without Knile Davis, via precise execution and careful mistake-free football, against that Tide defense? Forget it.

WHEN ALABAMA HAS THE BALL, THEY MUST: Not. Turn. The. Ball. Over.

Not much has gone wrong for the Tide so far this season. The offensive line has had some hiccups, but nothing that can't be fixed; Trent Richardson's slow start isn't an issue with Eddie Lacy running rampant, and may be behind him after the North Texas bludgeoning anyway; aside from one early drive against Penn State, the defense has been as flawless as expected; and maybe most importantly, AJ McCarron-to-Marquis Maze has given the passing game something to hang its hat on. But there is one fly in the ointment, and that's the Tide's seven giveaways, a number that puts them among the nation's bottom 20 teams in that department.

Maybe even more worrying than the number itself is that it hasn't been one issue. McCarron and backup Phillip Sims have thrown two interceptions apiece. McCarron has also lost a fumble. Receiver DeAndrew White put the ball on the ground twice against Kent State. And though he hasn't lost a fumble yet this season, Lacy's ball security has reportedly been an issue limiting his playing time in the past. Solving the problem may not be as easy as just telling McCarron to not throw picks.

Still, the Tide's offensive job is simple: hang onto the ball, and eventually Richardson, Lacy and the line should eventually be able to bulldoze their way past the Jake Bequette-less Hog front seven. Turn it over -- especially in the Tide's own half, negating the Tide's ability to force the visitors into attempting home-run balls, as above -- and the Tide could find themselves in the kind of hole McCarron and the non-Maze receivers aren't yet ready to pass them out of.

WHAT ALABAMA CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR: Punt returner Joe Adams. Adams already has two highlight-reel punt returns for touchdown this season and the Tide have had some minor struggles in coverage, only allowing three returns but allowing those three to average nearly 10 yards. (Kick returns could be interesting, too; they've been a sore spot in the past for 'Bama, and Hog freshman Marquel Wade already has a touchdown this season, too.)

WHAT ARKANSAS CAN'T ACCOUNT FOR: The brilliance of Richardson (left) and Lacy. The last time Arkansas came to Tuscaloosa, the Hogs had gotten off to a steady start until Richardson turned what should have been a three-yard loss into a twisting, shifting, tackle-breaking 52-yard touchdown run. Final result: 35-7, Tide. If Richardson and his (equally?) capable backup can provide similar fireworks in this meeting -- and they looked primed to do just that against UNT -- there won't be anything Arkansas can do.

AND IN THE END: Arkansas gets two first-half touchdowns and carries a slim lead into the fourth quarter, but a slim lead against the Tide ground game isn't lead enough. Alabama 23, Arkansas 20.

*Arkansas is one of the few teams that doesn't have "left" and "right" tackles, preferring instead to employ weakside and strongside tackles that flip back-and-forth depending on the play and formation.
Posted on: September 11, 2011 2:16 am
Edited on: September 11, 2011 2:20 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC, Week 2

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

1. Mark Richt is in deep, deep trouble. But he's not finished. It would be different if the Dawgs had lost Saturday the way they lost against Boise State, getting overwhelmed in the trenches and wilting in the second half. It would be different if Richt's team hadn't shown such drastic improvement from Week 1 to Week 2--not just on the scoreboard, but in everything from run blocking to tackling to special teams work. It would be different if Georgia hadn't had every opportunity to win the game Saturday. And most importantly, it would be different if the Dawgs were facing a different schedule.

But they are facing the schedule they're facing, which includes one tricky true road date (at Tennessee), the annual Cocktail Party showdown against Florida, two challenging home games against Auburn and Mississippi State ... and six other winnable games. Saving Richt's job won't be easy; we projected earlier it would take nine wins to do it, meaning Richt would have to go 3-1 in the games above and sweep the remaining six. 

But it's certainly possible. His team hasn't thrown in the towel. He has a star on his hands in Isaiah Crowell, who in the Dawgs' next big game we'll wager won't carry only 16 times. He has a quarterback who remains one of the SEC's best, despite his serious mistakes against the Gamecocks. He has a defense that only really gave up 27 points and should be even better against anyone who's not Marcus Lattimore. He's not dead yet.

2. Alabama is a national title contender. This is something we've had confirmed, rather than outright "learned," but there's no other way to look at the Tide's strangle job on the Nittany Lions. AJ McCarron wasn't impressive statistically (just 5.3 yards per attempt), but that "zero" in the interceptions column is really the only statistic that matters. Trent Richardson and Eddie Lacy combined for 196 yards on the ground. And after generously allowing Penn State a first-quarter field goal, the Tide defense barely let the Lions breathe again until the game was entirely out of reach. 

Considering all of that was on the road against a quality Big Ten team, yes, the Tide deserve to be in the same breath with LSU and Oklahoma at the top of the polls until proven otherwise.

(A random aside: is it time for Lacy to start borrowing a few more of Richardson's carries? He's gotten only 19 attempts in two games to Richardson's 37, but boasts a per-carry average of 7.5 yards to Richardson's 3.8. Food for thought.)

3. Whatever else they are, Auburn is dangerous. Given that they share a division with the Tide, LSU and Arkansas, it's hard to see a team that's given up 979 yards in two games (one of them against Utah State) go on to win a division title. But focusing entirely on Auburn's defensive problems means missing the fact the Tigers have started the year with 83 points in those two games--42 in the first, 41 in the second. And that's before Gus Malzahn's attack has really put it all together, too. The run game sputtered in Week 1; the passing game was inconsistent in Week 2. 

Combine a potentially even more lethal offense with a much-improved special teams (led by freshman kickoff return weapon Tre Mason and redshirt frosh kicker Cody Parkey), and there may not be any single game on Auburn's schedule where they couldn't erupt for 40-45 points and win.

4. Speaking of dangerous: Tyler Bray is, too. That 5-of-30 performance in the Vols' spring game is far, far behind the sophomore now. Bray tore the visiting Cincinnati defense to pieces, completing 34 of his 41 passes for 405 yards, 4 touchdowns, and -- perhaps most importantly for a player whose coaches have occasionally accused of being too loose with his decision-making -- zero interceptions. Like Auburn, the Vol defense may not be strong enough to insert Bray's team alongside the Gamecocks and Gators in the SEC East race (the Bearcats ran for a whopping 6.4 yards on their 26 carries) ... but they might make things awfully interesting all the same.

5. Florida and Arkansas need to play someone. Full credit to the Gators and Hogs for dispatching lightweights UAB and New Mexico by a combined 88 points Saturday. But it's tough to know exactly how seriously to take either team playing cream-puff opponents like these or respective week 1 fodder FAU and Missouri State. (At least the Gators get serious next week against the Vols; the Hogs have to wait until a Week 4 showdown with the Tide.)

6. Vandy won't be an embarrassment. It remains to be seen how much headway they can make in the win column against their SEC slate, but that doesn't mean we should overlook that James Franklin's 'Dores already have as many wins in 2011 as they had in either 2009 or 2010. Thanks to a legitimately stingy defense that held UConn to fewer than 200 total yards, Vandy should be far more competitive than the 2010 squad that was outgained by 245 yards per SEC game.

Posted on: September 5, 2011 12:33 pm
Edited on: September 5, 2011 12:39 pm
 

Surveying the Field: Reviewing Week 1

Posted by Bryan Fischer

Yes, it's back.

234 days after Auburn defeated Oregon in Glendale, college football has returned. And did it ever.

At some point during Russell Wilson's return at Wisconsin, Baylor and TCU's shootout, Auburn's furious comeback or Texas A&M's blowout of SMU, one just had to take a deep breath, take in everything that was going on around the country and say, yes, the sport is back.

As Washington beat writer Bob Condotta summed up, "College football spent 9 months trying to drive everyone away and in about 18 hours has brought everyone back."

Three straight days worth of games (and one more tonight) couldn't have come at a better time either after, as Condotta alluded to, a rough offseason. Realignment and infractions were in most writers' computer clipboards just from all that went on. Ohio State, Oregon, USC, Miami, etc., were the schools being talked about in lieu of directional schools being beat up by state schools.

The newest addition to the great CBSSports.com crew, senior columnist Bruce Feldman, broke down The Big Picture from opening weekend and now it's time to dive into the details.

Stat of the week

Admission: I'm a passionate baseball fan. I write, live and breath college football for a living but to me, there's nothing like the intricacies of a baseball game. There's Vin Scully in the booth, phenom call-ups, the DH debate and John Sterling going as over the top as you can get on a home run call. The sport isn't for everyone though, and the biggest reason most point to is the pace of the games.

Turns out, the baseball players have come around to that point too. I've watched a ton of Red Sox-Yankees games over the years and still enjoy every pitch despite them routinely taking around four hours to play.

"It's brutal. I can't stand playing a nine-inning game in four hours. It's not baseball," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "I don't even know how to describe it. If I was a fan, why would I want to come watch people sitting around and talking back and forth, going to the mound, 2-0 sliders in the dirt? Four-hour games can't be fun for a fan, either?"

On Thursday, the opening day of college football, the Yankees and Red Sox played nine innings in four hours and 21 minutes. 4:21. Not one football game all week took longer than four hours during week one that wasn't extended due to weather. Heck, out of 1,526 games during the 2010 season, the average length of a game was 3:12.

Stats like this make me glad I cover football and am just a fan of baseball. The excessive TV timeouts in the college game might make some angry but do keep things in perspective: at least it's not baseball.

Other stats of note

- SEC teams scored 63 touchdowns, 22 through the air, five on defense and five through returns.

- Florida running back Jeff Demps broke the 2,000 yard rushing mark for his career while his teammate Chris Rainey (left) scored a touchdown receiving, rushing and via a punt return. He was the first Gator to ever score in those three ways in one game.

- Arkansas's Joe Adams managed to return two punt returns for touchdowns against Missouri State.

- The 53 pass attempts from by Oregon's Darron Thomas were the most by a Ducks quarterback since Kellen Clemons on October 9, 2004.

- North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner had a great debut for the Tar Heels, going 22-23 for a 95.7% completion percentage. That's an ACC record and is the second best mark in NCAA history behind Tennessee's Tee Martin at 95.8%.

- USC's Robert Woods caught a school-record 17 passes and Matt Barkley threw a school-record 34 completions.

- Kellen Moore has 102 career touchdown passes against just 20 interceptions after his game in the Georgia Dome. According to Tony Barnhart, 10 of those interceptions came in his first year.

- UCLA hadn't lost in the state of Texas in 34 years (to Houston) before falling to the Cougars on Saturday. They also hadn't lost to a team from Texas since Houston beat them at the Rose Bowl in 1979. More than the record books though, Rick Neuheisel badly needed a win for this year's record.

- Oregon State true freshman Malcolm Agnew is the nation's leading rusher after a 223 yard performance... but his team still lost to an average FCS team this weekend.

- No surprise to see FIU's T.Y. Hilton turn in another great all-around performance, racking up a nation's-best 283 all-purpose yards against North Texas.

- Amazingly, Oregon-LSU was only the seventh time two ranked Pac-12 and SEC teams met on the field in the last 10 years. The SEC has a 4-3 edge after the Tigers took care of business in Arlington.

The NCAA is following Miami

The NCAA taking a road trip to see Miami tonight…. NCAA.com that is.

The site is wrapping up a five game, five state, five day road trip to kick off the season and is taking a behind the scenes look at several programs along the way. They were in Charlotte, N.C. to check in on student-athlete Stephen Garcia leading South Carolina to a win over ECU. The were soaked after rain storms shortened West Virginia's victory over Marshall. Tonight they'll be in College Park to see Maryland and Miami play.

While the trip is noble, there's a tinge of irony that the NCAA is taking their talents to see the team from South Beach play. Either way, check it out here.

I'm not sure which of the 16 different uniform combinations Maryland is using Monday night either but maybe they can figure out a way to wear the all white ones despite it being a home game. After all, seems like this would be their only chance since you certainly can't wear (all) white after Labor Day.

Don't forget about these guys

- Notre Dame was as sloppy as the field they played on and there's not much else to say beyond that. Yes it was rainy, yes it was the first game of the year but all that shouldn't matter for the Irish - looking to finally live up to expectations and be a top 10 team this year. There's still plenty of time for them to get it together but their lack of fundamentals and now very real quarterback controversy will be something Brian Kelly will have to figure out quickly. On the bright side, Michael Floyd (right) had 12 catches, 154 yards and two touchdowns.

- Auburn is a young team and they're going to take some lumps given their difficult schedule. Let's get that statement out of the way. They can - and should - be better than what everybody is saying they'll be but still, it was a bit shocking to see the Tigers on the brink of a loss at Jordan Hare Stadium to Utah State. It will take some time for this young team to gel and get caught up to the pace of the game. Auburn got a very real wake up call that Cam Newton wasn't taking the snap, now it's time to see how they'll respond.

"We are a long way off from being able to win very many games right now," head coach Gene Chizik said.

Aggies true freshman Chuckie Keeton was the star of the show if you look beyond the box score (21-30, 213 yards) thanks to the tremendous poise he had in his first game ever at the collegiate level. He'll be one to keep an eye on in the future.

- If you were a Michigan fan who managed to stay dry at the Big House, you had to be somewhat encouraged at the progress your defense made. Yes there's nowhere to go but up from last year but Greg Mattison looked like he had the team being much more aggressive. The players still aren't the caliber they once were but there are some bright spots, such as linebacker Brandon Herron.

- It's hard to read too much into Alabama's game against Kent State other than that their defense is nasty (90 total yards allowed) and they have an unfair advantage with Eddie Lacy and Trent Richardson in the backfield. It appears AJ McCarron has the edge at quarterback but both him and Phillip Sims tossed two interceptions. The real test comes when both go into a hostile Happy Valley to take on Penn State. That's when Nick Saban will truly find out which is his "guy."

- Memo to Bob Stoops: walk-on transfer Dominique Whaley needs a scholarship. It's the least Oklahoma's head coach can do after Whaley ran for 131 yards and four touchdowns in the Sooners opener against Tulsa. It's the Sooners bye week, perhaps Stoops can find the cash lying around for a full-ride.

- A so-so debut for Missouri quarterback James Franklin on Saturday. There were positives and negatives for Blaine Gabbert's replacement as he seemed about a half-step behind where he should have been in the passing game, failing to hit open receivers at times. Third down conversions (3 of 13) is one area that has to be concerning but certainly his skills running the ball have to be somewhat exciting to Tigers fans but there will have to be a bit of polishing going on before they take on the big boys like Oklahoma and Texas A&M.

- No surprise to see LSU corner Tyrann Mathieu named as SEC player of the week. He was all over Cowboys Stadium for the Tigers and made one of the biggest plays of the game when he recovered/forced a muff punt and scooped and scored.

More on College Football
Analysis
Dennis Dodd Dennis Dodd
LSU's Tigers sink teeth into Ducks, show they could be in running for No. 1 ranking. Read >>
Brett McMurphy Brett McMurphy
A changed Garcia makes all the difference for Gamecocks. Read >>
Tony Barnhart Tony Barnhart
Boise State's dominant win over Georgia proves they're ready to run the table. Read >>
Related links
Video
Pulling Rank

The AP and coaches polls don't come out until Tuesday with a game being played on Monday. Here's Dennis Dodd's latest power poll top 10 however.

1. Oklahoma, 2. LSU, 3. Boise State, 4. Alabama, 5. Wisconsin, 6. Virginia Tech, 7. Florida State, 8. Stanford, 9. Texas A&M, 10. Nebraska.

Not a big disagreement with that group, but perhaps the Cardinal is a bit undervalued at number eight.

Links for later

- With plenty of time to talk about conference realignment before the games begin again, be sure to check out Dallas Mavericks owner - and Indiana alum - Mark Cuban's thoughts on what Big 12 schools should do. Namely, just say no.

- The video of the week comes out of Lubbock, as Texas Tech's head coach Tommy Tuberville gets the Red Raider fans fired up in this pre-game intro. It didn't work as well as the second half intro, as Tech pulled away 50-10.

- A precision attack from Kellen Moore and his receivers picked apart Georgia's defense. Here's how they did it.
 
- Good column from Sun Sentinel columnist Dave Hyde, who gets Al Golden to open up and share his view of the scandal that has engulfed his program.

- Is The Longhorn Network the sticking point for Texas going to the Pac-16? Yes, but it appears they can get out of it if they want.

Where We'll Be This Week

Looking ahead, Dennis Dodd will be on-hand to see Joe Paterno can try and pull of a massive upset as Alabama travels to Penn State. Tony Barnhart will be seeing if Georgia can bounce back and save Mark Richt's job as the Bulldogs take on South Carolina while Brett McMurphy travels to Ann Arbor for the big night game between Michigan and Notre Dame. Gregg Doyel is going to see one independent take on a possible future independent as BYU travels to play Texas. Finally, myself and Bruce Feldman will carpool to the Coliseum and witness the first ever Pac-12 conference game between Utah and USC.

Across the goal line

Finally, let's not forget how the first day of Oh-thank-goodness-college-football-
is back ended for most of us. I'm really not sure why a game between two commonwealth schools would be played in the state of Tennessee in the first place, but it was. I understand wins in the state are hard to come by, but just how bad was the Kentucky-Western Kentucky game?

The highlight of the night was pretty much Hilltoppers linebacker (and first-team All-Namer) Andrew Jackson telling the nation, "They supposed to be in the SEC?" Of course his team was down at the time but you understood why he chose to make the remarks.

Wildcats' punter Ryan Tydlacka said afterwards, "I'm kind of exhausted." If your punter says he's exhausted after a game, it better be because he ran more than two fake punts, not because he averaged 47 yards on seven punts.

But it was football. The game we love so, so much has returned.

And good, bad, ugly or Kentucky, we'll take it.


Posted on: September 4, 2011 2:53 am
 

What I Learned in the SEC (Sept. 3)

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

1. LSU isn't going anywhere, even with Jarrett Lee at the controls. The expectation is that one of these years, one of these games, putting out a quarterback scarcely more competent than your average Sun Belt starter is going to finally catch up with Les Miles and the Tigers. Saturday night's 40-27 thumping of Oregon wasn't that game, though, and this may not be that year.

As my collegue Bryan Fischer wrote, Lee didn't do anything to lose the Tigers the game; the flipside is that he barely did anything to win the game, either, putting together a 10-for-22, 98-yard effort that we promise you'll see referred to in the dictionary next week in the entry for "pedestrian." Aside from one well-thrown fade to Rueben Randle for his only touchdown pass of the evening, Lee's primary instruction for the night was just to stay the hell out of the way.

And, as it always seems to for Miles, that instruction worked to perfection. The Tiger defense and special teams forced four turnovers, Spencer Ware and Michael Ford combined for nearly 200 yards on the ground, the LSU secondary held Darron Thomas to a miserable 4.4 yards per his 54 attempts, and only a last-second Duck touchdown prevented the final from being a three-touchdown rout ... even though Oregon finished with more total yards than the Tigers.

We still don't think it's likely LSU wins an SEC championship with Lee at the helm and completion percentages just over 45 percent in the stat book. But looking at what the Tigers did against one of the nation's best teams Saturday, you can't rule it out, either.

2. Florida will have a say in who wins the East. First, the caveat: FAU is bad. Really, really bad. As in, "may finish dead last in the Sun Belt" bad. But still: the casual ease with which the Gators brushed the Owls aside -- scoring 24 points over the first four possessions, holding FAU to 30 rushing yards on 30 carries, outgaining the Owls by 331 yards -- was the farthest of far cries from last year's opening-week wheeze past Miami (Ohio). Bad team or not, Florida pounded the Owls the way an SEC contender ought to pound them.

Meanwhile, the two teams expected by many to top the East standings had less-than-comfortable Saturday nights. Georgia, of course, began 2011 looking for all the world like the same team that ended 2010. South Carolina spotted East Carolina a 17-0 lead by starting Connor Shaw, then ran off 56 of the game's next 70 points behind Stephen Garcia. Still, there's little doubt that being caught in a four-point game late in the third quarter and outgaining the Pirates by all of six yards wasn't what Steve Spurrier had in mind.

It's still too early to anoint the Gators East favorites, or even on even footing with the Gamecocks. (As for the Bulldogs, well, maybe if they'd just kept things close ...) But it's not too soon to recognize this as a three-team race until such time the SEC standings say otherwise.

3. Auburn should be happy, but it shouldn't be confused. Somewhat lost in analyzing the rampant flaws that led to the defending national champions' 38-28 deficit to Utah State has been the resolve and determination that led to their stunning comeback; for Gene Chizik to hold his senior-laden 2010 team together in the face of staggering deficits is one thing, to do so with his all-but senior-free 2011 team another. Going back to the 2009 Outback Bowl, Chizik has now won nine straight one-possession games, a testament to his team's remarkable fourth-quarter focus and resilience.

But being a resilient team is nice. Being a good team is better, and even the cardiac-inducing Tigers of last year didn't bother to let the likes of Utah State take them to the wire. Thrilled as Auburn fans have a right to be with the comeback, it also shouldn't make them blind to the kind of major issues that result in needing a borderline-miraculous comeback against a 4-8 WAC team in the first place. Much as the aforementioned Miami (Ohio) struggles proved an accurate foreshadowing of 2010's Gator troubles, so it's now safe to say Auburn will not challenge for the West title ... and against their brutal schedule, might need every ounce of that resilience just to make a bowl.  

4. Jacksonville State didn't show up to this year's party. The three SEC-on-FCS matchups Saturday were every bit as lopsided as the SEC might have hoped, with Arkansas blasting Missouri State, Tennessee handling Montana by an impressive 26-point margin, and even Vanderbilt getting into the act with a 45-14 thumping of Elon in James Franklin's debut. Exactly how much these victories mean is a matter of conjecture -- FCS schools, after all -- but at the very least the conference avoided the kind of egg on its face Ole Miss's infamous loss to JSU's Gamecocks produced in last year's opening week. (That egg is perhaps being saved for Jacksonville State's visit to Kentucky.)

5. Speaking of the Rebels, they still don't have a quarterback--or an offense. There's no shame in losing to a solid-enough team like BYU by a point, even at home. But totaling barely more than 200 yards and averaging all of 3.6 yards per-play, 2.2 yards per-rush, and 5.1 yards per-pass ... there's some shame in that. And the quarterback issues that have plagued the Rebels for years showed no signs of abating; Houston Nutt turned to JUCO pocket-passer Zack Stoudt for the bulk of the second half, and Stoudt rewarded him by fumbling the game away on the goalline. The road back to relevance for Nutt and the Rebels still looks plenty long.

6. AJ McCarron is Alabama's quarterback. The battle might continue officially, but we're ready to declare a winner.

Posted on: September 3, 2011 4:06 pm
Edited on: September 3, 2011 4:07 pm
 

QUICK HITS: No. 2 Alabama 48, Kent St. 7

Posted by Jerry Hinnen

ALABAMA WON: The nation's No. 2 team had as little trouble with MAC visitor Kent State as expected, scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions and cruising to a 48-7 victory. The vaunted Tide defense held the Golden Flashes without a first down for the game's first 23 minutes and to just 89 yards overall.

WHY ALABAMA WON: Many, many reasons. But one was the play of redshirt sophomore quarterback AJ McCarron, who despite still not having been named the official starter took the Tide's first snap and played the first three series, the second ending with a perfectly-placed 24-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Maze.

McCarron finished a respectable 15-of-24 for 232 yards and a touchdowns, though his 2 interceptions won't sit well with Nick Saban. Even given Kent's relative strength on the defensive line, the Tide running game wasn't quite as powerful as expected -- Trent Richardson's potential Heisman campaign began with three touchdowns but just 65 yards -- but if McCarron can improve on today's performance by just a few degrees, Alabama's aerial attack should be able to maintain the team's offensive balance all the same.

As for McCarron co-starter Phillip Sims, the redshirt freshman looked physically capable but simply not comfortable enough in the pocket for a national title contender. He finished 7-of-14 for just 45 yards with 2 interceptions--one a starkly poor decision that set Kent up at the 3-yard line for their only score of the game. Knowing Saban's aversion to turnovers, McCarron is now the heavy favorite to get the full-time starting nod.

WHEN ALABAMA WON: The moment the game was scheduled, frankly. But Richardson's 9-yard touchdown run to close out the first quarter with a 21-0 Alabama lead -- at which point the Tide had outgained the Flashes 157 to -3 -- made it more-or-less official.

WHAT ALABAMA WON: Given the overwhelming final margin of victory and level of defensive dominance, potentially a few more No. 1 votes in the polls if Oklahoma struggles with Tulsa later Saturday. But Saban will no doubt say the bigger positives are getting a clear leader in the quarterbacking derby, breaking in what few new starters the Tide needed to break in in a nearly pressure-less situation, and polishing up the team's handful of blemishes before the season starts in earnest at Penn State next week.

WHAT KENT STATE LOST: Maybe a little bit of confidence in their offensive execution; 89 total yards is 89 total yards. But given the opponent -- and that their Roosevelt Nix-led defensive line stood up as well as it did -- we think the boost to the Flashes' checking account and the experience of playing in front of 100,000-plus will make today a net positive for the program.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com