October 29, 2006

Grading the Tide: Alabama 38, FIU 3

BOL provides a weekly report card for the Alabama football team during the 2006 season. Here's a look at how we graded the Crimson Tide in it's 38-3 win over Florida International on Saturday afternoon.

Quarterback

Instead of his passing, John Parker Wilson's left ankle was the big story of the Tide's sixth win of the season. And while it was good to see him return for the start of third quarter, to say he moved gingerly while handing off to Kenneth Darby on the first play of the second half would be an understatement. Wilson, who did all of his passing in the first half, completed 8-of-13 passes for 72 yards and one touchdown. He lost out on a potential 29-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter when his best throw of the day went through Mike McCoy's hands. It's time to acknowledge the improvements made by Jimmy Barnes. While he's never going to have Doug Flutie's mobility or John Elway's release (who does?), he's ironed out some of the flaws that had hindered his play in the past. And if you're going to send bouquets Barnes' way, you also need to credit Dave Rader and Mike Shula for the strides the redshirt freshman has made. Has Barnes reached SEC-starter status? No, but he knows where to go with the ball and he's capable of making accurate throws. Barnes converted a fourth down and two third downs -- the second coming on a six-yard scoring pass to Matt Caddell -- in leading the Tide to its final score of the game.

Position Grade: C+

Running backs

Kenneth Darby got off to a quick start, rushing for 41 yards (including a 33-yarder) on his first three carries of the game. His third carry put the Tide on the FIU 1, where it would then be turned away after the jumbo set was stuffed on third- and fourth-down plays. Meanwhile, it was Jimmy Johns' turn to post negative yardage. Four of his nine carries lost ground and another went for no gain. Wilson and Le'Ron McClain executed a Shula favorite -- flat route to the fullback -- to perfection on a nine-yard scoring pass in the second quarter. Ali Sharrief saw action in the fourth quarter, with most of his work coming in pass protection. His only carry covered five yards. Reserve fullback Baron Huber's a one-handed catch of a Barnes pass highlighted the Tide's final scoring drive.

Position Grade: C+

Offensive line

Earlier in the season there was talk of the Tide having as many as nine linemen who could play a significant number of snaps. Having a solid starting five and four guys to provide depth is a great thing. Instead, nine games into the season, it appears is if Bob Connelly is still searching for the right mix of players. Resting right guard B.J. Stabler against FIU was the equivalent of a one-game audition for Marlon Davis. Meanwhile, right tackle Kyle Tatum entered the lineup in the second quarter (he was on the field for the Tide's first touchdown) and was with the starters at the beginning of the second half.

Position Grade: C

Receivers

In finishing with two catches for 27 yards, DJ Hall saw his streak of 100-yard receiving games come to a halt at five. But the run didn't come to a close without Hall making a spectacular catch. His one-handed grab on the Alabama sideline in the first quarter marked his third jaw-dropping reception in as many weeks. Will Oakley, who finished off a well thrown slant pass from Wilson with an impressive effort after the catch, showed he's capable of doing more than catching a seven-yard hitch. McCoy was in the four-wide receiver set ahead of Caddell in the first quarter. But the true freshman's second-quarter drop may have pushed Caddell -- who, in catching three passes for 29 yards and a score, responded well to his latest demotion -- back up a spot in the rotation. Nikita Stover had one grab for eight yards, but he also had a fourth-quarter drop.

Position Grade: C+

Defensive line

Three different players -- Bobby Greenwood, Wallace Gilberry and Dominic Lee -- recorded quarterback hurries and end Keith Saunders posted his first sack of the season and the Tide's first in three games. Chris Harris led all Tide linemen with four tackles. Lorenzo Washington was the first redshirt freshman tackle to enter the game, followed by Brandon Deaderick, Brandon Fanney and Byron Walton, who was credited with an assisted tackle.

Position Grade: B

Linebackers

Along with the defensive line, these guys performed as expected against an offense that was down to two true freshman tailbacks. FIU's Daunte Owens got his first carry since taking a handoff from Tim Tebow in Florida's Class 4A state title game last December. Weakside reserve Demarcus Waldrop produced this unit's biggest play when he forced Chance Attaway to fumble at the FIU 17. Cornerback Simeon Castille scooped up the loose ball and returned it to the FIU 7. Four plays later, Tim Castille scored from a yard out, giving the Tide a 24-3 lead.

Position Grade: B

Secondary

Ramzee Robinson's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown helped offset the 68-yard bomb Simeon Castille gave up in the first quarter. While Castille will get beat from time to time, he continues to produce turnovers at an impressive rate. His seven takeaways (five interceptions and two fumble recoveries) are three more than the next closest Tide defender (Lionel Mitchell has four interceptions).

Position Grade: B-

Special Teams

Time to credit an area that hadn't played particularly well over the last three weeks. Another punt block, only this time Forress Rayford got more of the ball than Justin Woodall and Marcel Stamps before him. Javier Arenas' 65-yard punt return for a touchdown included nice blocks from Waldrop, Simeon Castille and Sharrief. Arenas' score marked Alabama's first punt return for a touchdown since the 2003 season (Shaud Williams' 73-yard return against USF). Five of P.J. Fitzgerald's six punts pinned FIU inside its own 20-yard line. Kickoff coverage was solid once again, with the Tide making four stops inside the Panthers' 20. Jamie Christensen's 46-yard field goal in the second quarter was his longest of the season. A questionable block in the back penalty on Sharrief in the second quarter wiped away a 31-yard punt return by Arenas. On the same play, Woodall leveled FIU long snapper Caleb Miller. Chris Rogers was flagged for a personal foul at the end of Arenas' first punt return of the game.

Position Grade: A-

The Plan

If the goal heading into FIU was to keep things vanilla, then the offensive staff accomplished what it set out to do. Nothing wrong with that, but even in going with its most basic plays, the offense should have been able to produce a stretch of consistent play against a depleted defense. Working on a short field for much of the day played a role in Alabama posting 224 yards of offense. But making good on just 3-of-13 third down conversions also had something to with the total.

Defensively, getting (and keeping) his players' attention during the practice week was Joe Kines' biggest challenge. Outside of the long pass that set up the visitors' lone score of the day, the defense played well. Even with the big play, the Panthers came up short of the 200-yard mark in total offense.

Plan grade: C+


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