November 5, 2006

Grading the Tide: MSU 24, Alabama 16

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 24-16 loss to Mississippi State Saturday afternoon.

Quarterback

The good news for John Parker Wilson is that he won't have to see Mississippi State defensive end Titus Brown for another year. The bad news? An LSU defense that leads the SEC in sacks (28) is up next (followed by Auburn, which currently ranks third in the league with 25 sacks). Wilson's first interception, which State middle linebacker Quinton Culberson returned for 51 yards for a touchdown, was a killer, but it's hard to knock a guy who stood in and took punishment on almost every one of his throws. And though he came up inches short of the goal line on the final play of the first half, I liked Wilson's chances of getting into the end zone more so than any other offensive player on the roster. The hits he took early in the game started to take their toll in the third quarter. After completing 13-of-24 passes for 130 yard in the first half, the sophomore connected on just six-of-15 passes for 57 yards in the final two quarters. Wilson just missed on a pair of long completions to DJ Hall in the second half.

Position Grade: C

Running backs

Alabama's fullbacks accounted for two of the Tide's longest runs of the day, with Le'Ron McClain[db] and [db]Tim Castille sandwiching runs of 15 and 11 yards, respectively, around Kenneth Darby]/db]'s 13-yarder in the third quarter. The offensive line continues to struggle, but this team obviously lacks the kind of dynamic runner that can maximize every carry.

Position Grade: C

Offensive line

Brown went Dwight Freeney on both of Alabama's right tackles. Seeing Brown repeatedly use a spin move to beat the starter was bad enough, but if you're the backup aren't you paying attention to what Brown is doing to the guy in front of you? [db]Bob Connelly switched from Chris Capps to Kyle Tatum mid-series in the first quarter, but the move did nothing to help matters. There's no quick fix to the problem, either. You're seeing the best this team has at the position, but that doesn't excuse the coaching staff. Two players who have combined for over 40 career starts should be getting better. It's not as if right tackle was the only spot that struggled Saturday. State defensive tackle Deljuan Robinson blew up the middle to pressure Wilson on his first pass of the game. Center Antoine Caldwell and guards B.J. Stabler and Justin Britt all drew penalties in the loss. Marlon Davis got most of the snaps after replacing Stabler in the second quarter. The bright spot for this group? Probably Andre Smith's tackle of MSU defensive back David Heard after Heard intercepted a Wilson pass early in the third quarter.

Position Grade: D

Receivers

After falling short of the century mark against FIU, Hall turned in his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season. Tide receivers did their best work in the middle of the field, with Hall pulling in passes of 21, 13 and 18 yards on first-half crossing routes. Some nifty footwork on McClain's behalf turned a short second-quarter pass into a 19-yard gain. Travis McCall's 9-yard reception in the third quarter was the first by an Alabama tight end in four games.

Position Grade: C+

Defensive line

It wasn't the best of starts for Alabama's front seven. Anthony Dixon, State's talented true freshman tailback, gashed the Tide for 62 yards on seven carries in the first quarter. And when State needed to run the ball the most, it was able to take the final 5:32 off the clock while grinding out four first downs. In between those failures, UA actually got some production from the tackle and end positions. Wallace Gilberry[db]'s third-quarter sack of [db]Mike Henig resulted in a turnover and Bobby Greenwood combined with Juwan Simpson for a tackle for loss. At tackle, Jeremy Clark finished with three total tackles and redshirt freshmen Lorenzo Washington and Brandon Deaderick saw meaningful snaps once again.

Position Grade: C

Linebackers

Prince Hall struggled early before picking up the pace on his way to a 13-tackle outing. Seems as if Hall's improved play has coincided with Joe Kines' decision to go more with the 4-3. In posting five solo tackles, including two for loss, and two quarterback hurries, Simpson probably had his best game of the season. Terrence Jones was in position to intercept a Henig pass in the second quarter, but couldn't hang on. Three plays later, Henig hit Tony Burks on a 25-yard touchdown pass. Zach Schreiber recovered Henig's third-quarter fumble, which Gilberry forced.

Position Grade: C

Secondary

Jeffrey Dukes became the third different Tide defensive back to score a touchdown this season when he returned an interception 24 yards for a score in the second quarter. State wide receiver Jamayel Smith was able to take advantage of man coverage opportunities in working against UA safeties Dukes and Marcus Carter in the second quarter. Smith beat Dukes on a 41-yard reception before beating Carter on a 13-yard touchdown catch two plays later. Eric Gray stepped in for Lionel Mitchell as the first corner off the bench.

Position Grade: C

Special Teams

At this point, why would Alabama offer a scholarship to a kicker? Given all the easy chances Jamie Christensen has received this season kickers should be willing to pay for the chance to kick for the Tide. Christensen now has two field goals from inside 20 yards and eight of his 11 makes have come from inside 30 yards. Pretty much sums up UA's red zone woes, doesn't it? Alabama has attempted a league-high 26 field goals through 10 games. P.J. Fitzgerald's first punt traveled just 28 yards. With the Tide needing to flip field position late in the fourth quarter, Fitzgerald produced a 25-yard punt, which netted 15 yards after Derek Pegues' 10-yard return. He did kill three of his six punts inside State's 20-yard line. Gray and Marcel Stamps (combined for two penalties on a State punt in the third quarter. With Jimmy Johns limited and Rashad Johnson lost in the second quarter with an ankle sprain, the Tide was without its top two kick coverage performers for much of the game.

Position Grade: C-

The Plan
Has Shula lost this team? That's the question Tide fans will be asking in the coming days. Actually, this might be a classic case of not being able to lose something you never had. After all, it's difficult to develop a sense of team when discipline for offseason transgressions is still being doled out four games into the season.

Ultimately, this loss wasn't about schemes and game plans. It was about an inspired (and improving) team blocking and tackling better than its opponent.

Plan grade: F

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