Alabama passed its in-season bye week with flying colors, destroying Mercer 56-0. Here is the Crimson Tide report card:
Rushing Offense: B
Calling things straight, this was little more than a tune-up game for the Crimson Tide with the Iron Bowl against Auburn coming up next weekend. With that in mind, it was always going to be interesting to see what Alabama’s focus was on offense, as they had the luxury of trying out new things and doing whatever they wanted to against a severely overmatched opponent.
We already know that Alabama can run the ball. That facet of the offense was the reason that the Crimson Tide was able to win so comfortably over the first half of the SEC season. That is also why the running game was more of a complementary part of the offense than the focus here.
Alabama rushed for 265 yards and a couple of touchdowns, with lesser known roster members like freshman Brian Robinson Jr. getting more involved than usual on a very relaxed afternoon.
Passing Offense: A+
Yes, it was only Mercer, but the Crimson Tide passing offense looked more dangerous than ever and the game served to put quarterback Jalen Hurts in the right frame of mind for the showdown next Saturday.
Hurts was 7-of-7 for 180 yards and three touchdowns in little over a quarter of work before he gave way to Tua Tagovailoa. Tagovailoa then went 7-of-11 for 85 yards, continuing the passing attack, albeit without hitting any massive plays downfield. The two quarterbacks tossed three touchdown passes apiece against an overmatched secondary that had no answer for Calvin Ridley (three catches, 103 yards, one touchdown) in particular.
Rushing Defense: B+
The Alabama defense wasn’t really troubled by Mercer, but the Bears most effective form of attack was through their running game. Junior running back Tee Mitchell was their star as he carried the ball 17 times for 57 yards. He also had the longest play of the day for the Bears, a 21-yard scamper where he showed power and agility against the vaunted Alabama rushing defense.
Mitchell did not get all that much help from his teammates on the ground. Alex Lakes chipped in with 22 yards on five carries, but the 107 yards on 39 attempts as a team was never going to be enough to get things done. Mercer was just 5-of-16 on third down, as Alabama held the Bears offense in check.
Passing Defense: A+
The Crimson Tide rushing defense was good, but their passing defense was fantastic in the 56-0 victory. Two Mercer quarterbacks combined to go 7-of-22 for just 54 yards through the air, an average of just 2.5 yards per pass. Starting quarterback Kaelan Riley had a particularly bad day as he finished 6-of-19 for 44 yards with no touchdowns and three interceptions.
Somewhat shockingly, the Crimson Tide failed to record a sack against Mercer. There were eight tackles for a loss credited to Alabama, but just one hurry and no sacks. Anyone watching the game would likely have a different opinion, however, as the fast and athletic Crimson Tide defense threw a blanket over the Mercer receivers downfield. With no options, Riley was never going to have a successful game.
Special Teams: C
If the special teams' units had taken the day off few would have blamed them. J.K. Scott got his leg warmed up hitting all eight extra points and blasting a couple of punts, but his ability to change field position via his boot was not required. Perhaps the brightest action on the special teams unit was in the punt return game, where Xavier Marks had a couple of nice returns that were both longer than 20 yards. More importantly, there were no fumbles on display.
The only coaching Nick Saban needed to do in the lead up to this game was to keep his players focused on the task at hand. It was evident early that Saban had succeeded in this task, as the Crimson Tide offense blew down the field, scoring at will. As soon as the game was in hand, Saban made the right move by taking out his starters and key reserves, playing out the contest by using the depth of his roster.
It is easy to see why Saban likes this buffer in the season just before the huge games arrive. It is just a little unfortunate for the fans – many of whom didn’t show up – that the game is really little more than a glorified scrimmage.