November 19, 2006

Grading the Tide: Auburn 22, Alabama 15

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 Saturday's 22-15 loss to the Auburn Tigers.

Quarterback

So much for the running game carrying the Tide offense until John Parker Wilson could get up to speed. Without Wilson's stellar play, a 6-6 regular season would have been worse. In his first season as the starter, Wilson set UA single-season marks for passing yards (2,539), pass attempts (346) and is currently tied with Brodie Croyle and Mike Shula for touchdown passes (16). The sophomore stood in against the blitz to hit Nikita Stover on a 52-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter before hitting Travis McCall with a strike for six in the third quarter. Five of Wilson's seven turnovers in in the last three games have either led to points for an opponent or prevented the Tide from cashing in on scoring opportunities. At times, Wilson is still a tad slow getting the ball out and he occasionally stares down receivers. Still, there's no doubt that he is the guy to quarterback this team for the next two season.

Position Grade: B-

Running backs

The running game didn't come close to living up to preseason expectations. Blame it on injuries, the offensive line or the backs themselves. Whatever area you choose to target, it won't change the fact that this offense couldn't run the ball effectively on first down. And over the last four games of the season, it seldom made a yard when it needed to. Against Auburn, the Tide's two longest runs came from the quarterback and wide receiver positions. Kenneth Darby turned in a determined effort, but had just 48 yards to show for it.

Position Grade: C+

Offensive line

Twelve weeks into the season and Antoine Caldwell is having to play musical positions in the biggest game of the year. Some will call the decision to play him at right tackle a good adjustment, but in reality it spoke to this group's inability to improve as the season wore on. Kudos to Caldwell for making the most out of what could have been an ugly situation. The Tide went with slide protection on the right side in an effort to help Chris Capps with Quentin Groves. But that didn't prevent Groves from forcing two Wilson fumbles in the second quarter. Heading into the season, we all knew Caldwell and Andre Smith were talented. Twelve weeks later, that's still all we know about this unit.

Position Grade: C

Receivers

Auburn played a lot of man coverage on Stover and Will Oakley and both players responded with big plays. Oakley turned a short crossing route into a 35-yard pickup in the third quarter and Stover scored his second touchdown in as many weeks. Stover posted the first 100-yard receiving game of his UA career. Oakley appeared to strain a leg muscle in the third quarter. He spent a good bit of the second half alternating between a stationary bike and stretching. DJ Hall, who set the new single-season mark for receiving yards in a season in the first quarter, had a potential big play go off his finger tips in the second quarter. The positive from Keith Brown's injury-plagued second half of the season has been the realization that the passing game can survive without him. McCall's touchdown grab was the first by a Tide tight end since the Arkansas game.

Position Grade: B-

Defensive line

Wallace Gilberry recorded two sacks, including one in which he split a double team, during a third-quarter series and he also combined with middle linebacker Matt Collins for a tackle for loss. Bobby Greenwood finished with two quarterback hurries and Gilberry added one of his own. Senior tackle Jeremy Clark saved his best for last, racking up six total tackles and a fourth-quarter fumble recovery. Senior end Chris Harris forced the fumble that Clark recovered.

Position Grade: B

Linebackers

Prince Hall led the Tide in solo stops with five and had a third-down tackle for loss in the fourth quarter. Terrence Jones, who recorded six tackles in his final regular-season game, was injured in the first half but returned to action. Like the defensive tackle and safety positions, plenty of question marks here when looking ahead to next season.

Position Grade: C+

Secondary

Despite being without its top receiver, Auburn was able to hurt the Tide through the air, as Brandon Cox piled up 134 passing yards on just six completions. With Tide defensive backs keying the run, AU offensive coordinator Al Borges took advantage by going with wheel routes, a hitch and go and a halfback option. The Tide's top three corners were all beaten at one time or another. Eric Gray had good position on Prechae Rodrguez's 22-yard touchdown reception in the third quarter, but the junior wasn't able to make a play on the ball.

Position Grade: C-

Special Teams

In a surprise, Alabama won the net punting battle. P.J. Fitzgerald finished with a 43.2-yard net average. The redshirt freshman had his best punt of the season in the second quarter, booming a 53-yearder that was downed at the AU 1. Marquis Johnson turned Fitzgerald's worst punt of the day into a 34-yard net by dropping Tre Smith for a 1-yard loss in the second quarter. Tristan Davis returned Jamie Christensen's first two kickoffs of the game beyond the 30-yard line. Davis' third attempt fell short of the 20 when after he was taken down by Jimmy Johns at the 18. After coming to the realization that he wasn't going to outrun Auburn's punt coverage team to the corner, Javier Arenas ripped off a 22-yard return in the fourth quarter.

Position Grade: C+

The Plan

If the decision to go for two in the second quarter didn't leave you scratching your head, then opting to go for a fourth-and-15 with 5:17 remaining in the game certainly did. Once Shula burned the Tide's second timeout of the second half, the decision to go was basically made for him. Even if you take a delay of game penalty there, a 36-yard field goal would have turned into a 41-yarder, which is still well within Christensen's range. Why was there so much uncertainty to begin with on the two-point play and the fourth-and-long?

From a defensive standpoint, Kines loaded up against the run, which made perfect sense. I wish I could report that this was a bridge-the-gap kind of season and that the future is bright at almost every position. I can't. Other than Hall, there's reason to think opponents will look to attack the Tide defense up the middle in 2007.

Plan Grade: D

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