Alabama put in a workmanlike if unspectacular performance on Saturday to handle Fresno State. Here is the report card:
Rushing Offense: A
The Bulldogs must have known they were in for a long day less than a minute into the game. That is all the time it took for Alabama quarterback Jalen Hurts to see a lane open up on an option read and scoot 55 yards for a touchdown. It was the first of Hurts’ to rushing scores on the day as he finished with 154 yards on the ground at an average of 15.4 yards per rush.
The ‘Bama ground game, in general, was just too much for Fresno State to handle. Alabama scored three touchdowns on the ground and a combination of players rushed for a total of 305 yards. You feel this could have been an even higher total had the Crimson Tide really turned the screw, but that effort will be save for bigger games down the road.
Passing Offense: C
It is hard to know what we should make of the passing offense in this win. Playing against Fresno State would seem like an ideal opportunity to test out some of the schemes in the Brian Daboll offense, yet in an era where the downfield pass is being pushed more and more, Alabama is still not attacking that trend as much as fans would like.
Hurts was 14-of-18 through the air on the day, but he only passed for 128 yards and one score. Only two of his passes traveled more than 20 yards through the air, while the vast majority were either at or behind the line of scrimmage on wide receiver screens and quick hitch plays. The ball was spread around much more, but the freshman class of receivers was largely ignored in a game where getting them going would have been beneficial.
Rushing Defense: A
It never really looked like Fresno State would be able to run on Alabama in the lead up to the game and that is pretty much how things played out. Ronnie Rivers was the Bulldogs best workhorse back on the day as he had nine carries for 29 yards. Fresno State used most of its stable of running backs, but none were particularly effective and the West Coast side finished with 22 attempts for 58 yards and no scores on the ground.
There will be much tougher tests to come for this Alabama unit.
Passing Defense: B
This is an interesting one as the passing defense is not looking like Alabama in a couple of key areas. There have been big losses at the outside linebacker position and as a result, the pressure that Nick Saban is used to seeing from this group just hasn’t been there to date. Alabama registered just one sack on Saturday against an offensive line that should have been far more overmatched than was the case.
Against the likes of Fresno State this wasn’t an issue. In SEC play, however – when the Crimson Tide will need to hound the likes of Jarrett Stidham and Danny Etling – a successful pass rush will be key. FSU quarterback Chase Virgil was clearly playing to a system as he dumped the ball off quickly on every play for short gains, but the lack of pressure up front is still a worry.
Special Teams: C-
Nothing to see here really as the special teams unit could have taken the week off compared to the clinic they put on against Florida State. Andy Pappanastos was a perfect 2-of-2 on field goals (long of 24-yards) and an equally perfect 5-of-5 on his extra point attempts. The punt and kick return units were kept in check.
The one issue was on a Fresno State kick return where Damari Scott returned the ball 63 yards up the field. It may have been complacency – or it may have been a missed assignment – but Alabama is not used to giving up such big plays in the kicking game.
It is hard to be critical after a 31 point win (even against 44 point underdog) but we would have liked to see more from Alabama in this one. The defense was fine, the special teams were alright, but the offense was still annoying predictable and unwilling to challenge an opponent down the field. We have been here before with the Crimson Tide and – to be fair – it usually turns out that Nick Saban knows what he is doing. Even so, until we see Hurts throw the ball down the field those questions about his ability to pick apart the very best defenses in the country will remain.
Even if no one has yet been able to slow down the ‘Bama running game.