October 8, 2007

Grading the Tide: Alabama 30, Houston 24

Quarterback - C+
For the second consecutive week, John Parker Wilson's completion percentage was in the mid-50s with two touchdown passes and an average completion of a little over 10 yards. The difference? This time there were 23 points on the board after a quarter, rather than a goose egg after three quarters. Alabama fans are still waiting for a real carve-up from Wilson, like the one he performed at Arkansas in 2006, but Saturday's fast start was much needed for the UA signal-caller. Touchdown passes to Nikita Stover and Mike McCoy were right on the money. A fourth-quarter turnover in the red zone, however, cost UA a chance to clinch the game without so much drama.

Offensive line - B+
With one new starter and another playing out of position, the Crimson Tide's front allowed just one sack of Wilson and paved the way for 190 rushing yards. Evan Cardwell had a strong effort inside at center, and Caldwell showed his versatility in playing well in his first action at guard since the 2006 season. Backup B.J. Stabler got some action at right tackle. The line bullied Houston for an 80-yard touchdown drive to open the game that came almost exclusively on the ground. It was a much-needed statement, but Houston responded with a defensive commitment in the box that wouldn't allow it again.

Running back - B+
Glen Coffee started for the first time this season and led the team in carries for the second time, and responded with career highs of 30 carries and 121 yards. He also never put the ball on the ground, a problem which Terry Grant had in the first half. Grant was pulled immediately and didn't return until late in the game. Coffee doesn't have the explosiveness of Grant or Roy Upchurch, but his willingness to hit the hole hard and take whatever it gives will keep his role secure. Upchurch flashed with a 22-yard run, the longest by either team for the day. He appears on the brink of a more regular role.

Receivers - B
DJ Hall's three-catch, 19-yard day would have been very forgettable by his standards had he not passed Freddie Milons for the school's record for career receptions. A second-half deep ball that was ruled a catch on the field but overturned in the booth would have been a nice jolt for both Hall's and Wilson's numbers. Reserves played plenty Saturday, with Nikita Stover getting his first touchdown since the 2006 Iron Bowl, while Will Oakley and Earl Alexander got some meaningful snaps without a catch. Tight end Nick Walker caught two balls for a team-high 43 yards on backdoor play-action. His continued involvement in the offense will be important as long as safeties are zeroed-in on Hall.

Defensive line - A
The Tide's front earns its highest grade of the season with a five-sack performance that included a safety from Wallace Gilberry. The senior end was all over the field Saturday with 11 tackles, two sacks and 4.5 TFLs. Brandon Deaderick, Lorenzo Washington also picked up sacks, giving the line four of the five on the day. In the area of run-stopping, Houston's Anthony Alridge bolted for 106 yards on only 17 carries. But that doesn't fall so much on the defensive line when a speed back is running a lot of sweeps and draws. The defensive line employed more of a rotation Saturday with Milton Talbert getting some action, and Brian Motley continuing to work into the noseguard spot.

Linebackers - B-
Prince Hall made several key tackles for Alabama, including one with nothing but a fistful of jersey on Houston's final offensive drive. Hall was also credited with a pass breakup, and Darren Mustin notched a six-yard sack to aid the pass rush. Freshman Rolando McClain played sparingly, in part because of the complexity of Houston's offense. As noted above, the 106-yard day from Houston running back Anthony Alridge falls more on the linebackers than the line. Like the defensive line, the linebackers rotated more than fans have seen this season as Brandon Fanney got some second-half action.

Secondary - B
Had Alabama not come up with interceptions on Houston's last two drives, this grade would have been a lot more harsh. Of the seven interceptions Alabama has made on the season, Rashad Johnson's fourth-quarter pick of Case Keenum was the most impressive. Not only did he have blanket coverage on the play, but showed excellent instincts in turning his head at just the right moment. Simeon Castille sealed the win with a last-second pick on a lob pass. Castille was nearly a goat earlier in the game when he was burned on a deep ball that was dropped. Lionel Mitchell, at least for this week, appears to have won his job back.

The plan - A-
Offensively, the road-grader opening drive was exactly the tone that needed to be set. Glen Coffee accounted for more than 50 yards on that march as Alabama played smash-mouth for a 7-0 lead. Houston began loading the box to stop the run, which opened the passing game for touchdowns to McCoy and Stover. After that, Houston found enough defensive rhythm to hold UA to seven points over the final three quarters. Defensively, Alabama used five and six defensive backs, as expected, for most of the day. UA's ability to get heat on Houston's quarterbacks despite the extra bodies in the secondary was a critical factor.

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