Alabama football panic meter — Rating the Crimson Tide’s most pressing issues

AUSTIN, Texas — Nick Saban vacillated between pride and frustration as he met the media after Alabama’s stunning 20-19 win over Texas on Saturday afternoon.

In a cramped, windowless room at Darrell K Royal Stadium, the often quirky Crimson Tide coach smiled and offered to help a cameraman who was struggling to set up his microphone stand. He then praised his team’s resilience.

“You have to say that from a competitive standpoint, I think it’s great from a team character standpoint, it’s great,” he said. “But if we want to be the kind of team that we want to be, that we can be, we have to play better from the bottom down.”

And this is where things started to get tingly, as almost nothing but Alabama’s grittiness seemed worthy of college football’s No. 1 team. Remember they were 20+ point favorites going to day. And that was before Texas quarterback Quinn Ewers was thrown out of the game with a collarbone injury in the first quarter. Still, it took a last-second field goal to hold his ground and beat an unranked team.

When Saban got upset – looking back at one mistake after another – he punctuated his sentences by banging on the plastic table he was sitting in front of.

“When you play games like this you have to focus on what’s in front of you,” he said. “You can’t care about all the other things that are going on — what people are saying, what they’re saying on ESPN, what you’re all saying [the media] Say how much you are preferred in the game. You have to focus on what’s in front of you. You’re an offensive lineman, that’s the guy you need to block. If you’re a receiver, this is the guy to beat. When you’re a quarterback, you have to take what the defense gives you. When you’re a runner, you have to push the hole and make the right cuts.”

It was Saban’s turn to launch a good tirade before retreating.

But will that change when he returns to Tuscaloosa, sits in a dark room, clicker in hand, and watches the tape?

With the relief of victory fading, how worried should he be?

Let’s break down the most pressing issues facing the Tide and rate the level of panic on a scale of 1 to 5.

Penalties | Panic level: 1

It was Alabama’s first non-conference road trip since 2011. And yes, players had to contend with a raucous, record-breaking crowd of 105,213. It was also miserably hot. But does that excuse a whopping 15 penalties? This is the highest ever recorded under Saban, Alabama, and the highest for the tide since 2002.

Saban didn’t buy excuses.

“If you jump offside on defense, it has nothing to do with crowd noise,” said Saban. “If you block someone behind, it has nothing to do with noise from the crowd. So many are undisciplined penalties.”

He started banging on the table again.

“But we have to be able to play and handle the crowd noise if we want to play in this league, in the SEC,” he said. “Because every place we play will be like that.”

Standout linebacker Will Anderson Jr. was even tagged and three times flagged for offside. Anderson, who committed a fourth penalty when he hit a player who was already down, said he was “trying to anticipate too much”.

If a normally reliable player like Anderson could get the penalty error, perhaps it’s safe to say that 15 penalties was a bit of a fluke.

Offensive Line | Panic indicator: 5

But what about those false starts? If Alabama’s line couldn’t keep its composure in Texas, how will it fare on the streets in Arkansas, Tennessee and LSU?

The Tide can work on using a silent snap count until they’re blue in the face, but the real issue isn’t penalties, it’s performance. Because all of the optimism that built during the offseason, thanks in large part to the addition of former Kentucky offensive line coach Eric Wolford, has evaporated under the pressure generated by the Longhorns’ front seven.

It was the same kind of mediocre play we saw last season.

Tide quarterback Bryce Young was sacked twice and pressured into 12 dropbacks. And barrel blocking wasn’t much better. Aside from an 81-yard touchdown run by Jase McClellan, they were unable to accumulate consistent yards between tackles. Half of Alabama’s 24 rush attempts have been for 3 yards or fewer.

With no obvious reinforcements on the way, there’s hope that the line improves on the old-fashioned way: steady development.

There was a stretch when Alabama made six straight possessions, including three three-and-outs, against Texas. And Saban said bluntly why.

“Well, we didn’t block them very well up front,” he said. “We didn’t protect very well, we got pressure in the pockets. Wasn’t very effective in throwing the ball. Didn’t open people up. Probably we need to work better from a planning point of view the way they played us.”

wide receiver | Panic indicator: 4

Let’s go back to the “didn’t open people” line. Because probably the biggest surprise on Saturday was the overwhelming performance of Alabama’s receivers.

For the past four seasons, the Tide has been spoiled at the receiver. First they had the young trio of Jerry Jeudy, DeVonta Smith and Henry Ruggs III to lean on. Then came John Metchie and, thanks to the transfer portal, Jameson Williams.

We saw how well the offense did last season when Metchie and Williams were both healthy and playing at an all-American level. William’s ability to stretch the field vertically made everyone’s job easier.

But we saw what it was like against Auburn and Georgia when both were unavailable.

Without Machie’s sure hands and William’s dangerous speed, the defense felt more comfortable loading the box and chasing Young.

Sound familiar?

Texas didn’t exactly worry about deep ball on Saturday. Only 13 of Young’s 27 deals went to his receivers because they just couldn’t bring about a breakup.

Fifth-year senior Traeshon Holden has been developing well, but he’s essentially a possession receiver.

Kobe Prentice is a promising newcomer with some explosiveness, but he’s inexperienced.

Jermaine Burton was supposed to look Jameson Williams-like after moving from Georgia after last season — and he did in the opener against Utah State, catching two touchdowns — but then he faded away against the Longhorns. Only catch two passes for 10 yards.

Perhaps Tyler Harrell’s transfer can make a difference once he sees the field. He reportedly ran a 4.24-second, 40-yard dash at the 2021 Louisville pro tag, so he has the kind of top speed Alabama lacked without Williams. But Harrell was out with a sprained ankle and Saban hasn’t offered a timetable for his return.

cornerback | Panic indicator: 3

The addition of former LSU All-American cornerback Eli Ricks in December seemed to take an already loaded defense and push it over the top.

The Tide already had veteran safeties in Jordan Battle and DeMarcco Hellams. Pocketing Ricks along with an inexperienced but talented cornerback like former four-star Kool-Aid McKinstry or Khyree Jackson would make all the pieces fall into place perfectly.

But Rick’s development has been slowed by injuries, and Saban hinted that Ricks needed more time to learn defense. And when the initial depth chart was released ahead of the season opener, Ricks wasn’t listed as the final starter.

Judging from what Texas did in Saturday’s passing game — amassing five receptions from 20 or more yards despite having to change the quarterback — neither Ricks, Jackson, nor McKinstry seem ready to anchor the position.

Ricks didn’t show up on the stats at all, McKinstry got an ear from Saban after being hit on at least one deep ball, and Jackson was pulled in Terrion Arnold’s favor after being hit a few too many times.

The good news is that Arnold has more than held his own, recording five tackles and one pass separation. And there’s still time for Ricks to be the player he was at LSU.

“I have faith in all of them,” said Saban, “but when Terrion came into play I thought he did a really good job and made some really good plays.”

Quarterbacks | Panic indicator: 0

Panic? Are you kidding? Without Young as quarterback, Alabama would be doomed.

Despite playing in front of a leaking offensive line and having limited passing opportunities and largely relying on running back Jahmyr Gibbs, Young didn’t get nervous.

As hope faded — when Alabama was six points behind after a Texas field goal and had six straight drives that ended in punts — Young took over in the fourth quarter with 12:55 left and didn’t flinch. He marched Alabama 68 yards down field, rolled to the right on first-and-goal, and threw a dart off his back foot to Gibbs for the go-ahead touchdown.

When Texas responded with a field goal to retake the lead, Young showed his determination again. Young brought the ball down a point with 1:29 minutes remaining, made four straight passes, and then climbed 20 yards to set up Will Reichard’s game-winning 33-yard field goal.

Afterward, a reporter asked Saban why Young seems to make it big at crucial moments.

Saban laughed.

“Why is he so good?” he said grinning. “I mean, if I could really tell you that, I don’t know if I would.”

Saban then laid out some of the reasons Young won the Heisman Trophy last season and is considered a potential #1 pick in next year’s draft: the way he learns and prepares for games, his understanding of protections, his ability to expand plays.

“And he throws the ball right,” said Saban. “And he’s very, very instinctive. I mean, he plays quarterback like a point guard in basketball. He has talent, but he doesn’t just play with his talent. He’s very well prepared and knows exactly what the game plan is and what he needs to do to execute it.”

But even Saban’s compliment came with a warning.

“You know,” Saban said, “players around him have to play well too. Quarterback is a difficult position when players around you aren’t playing well.”

Young has proven himself to be a championship-caliber quarterback. Whether Alabama is a masterful team remains to be seen. Alabama football panic meter — Rating the Crimson Tide’s most pressing issues

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