Five games have meant five different routes to Alabama victories this season.
Contrasting opponents meant shaking up the game plan, some more drastically than others, but the result remains the same. Ditto for the starting speed of the Crimson Tide offense.
When you throw out big wins over the two Sun Belt schools, Alabama has taken its time easing into the three wins over major conference schools. Production has been minimal at best through the first 15 minutes of the last two games especially.
Against Arkansas, only 7.3 percent (31) of the Tide’s 452 total yards came in the first period. The increase was slight in Saturday’s 38-20 win over Kentucky when 7.4 percent of the 352 yards came in the opening act. First-game issues contributed to the low numbers against Virginia Tech when the 77 first-quarter yards represented 15.5 percent of the 498 total.
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So is Alabama using the Muhammad Ali “Rope-a-dope” method ― luring the prey into a false sense of security?
It appears as if patience rules the offensive mindset. With the weapons to either run or pass effectively, Alabama is being patient enough in the first few possessions to see how the opposition is choosing to defend them.
Stack the box, and it will be an air show.
Drop the safeties, and get ready to meet Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson.
Offensive coordinator Jim McElwain even experimented with a five-wide, empty backfield in the first quarter of Saturday’s game. The drive ended three plays later without any degree of success, but trying different things appears to be another of the more daring approaches taken with this, a more flexible offense thanks to improved personnel.
Once a weakness is exposed, Alabama hits the hole at full-speed ― just as a patient Ingram did on his second touchdown run of the afternoon in Lexington.
Against Arkansas, it was the deep pass and the solution against Kentucky was finding tight end Colin Peek more than usual.
In those three big games, Alabama combined to outscore its foes 16-13 in the opening period before opening it up from there. It’s a 35-10 advantage in the third second quarters with Virginia Tech scoring all 10 on a kickoff return and an interception deep in Tide territory.
Simply surviving the first period can’t last forever if Alabama wants a repeat of last regular season. The learning curve will steepen as the season progresses.
But for now, patience has paid. And nobody has figured out how to hang for four quarters after tempering the Tide for one.
Mystery coach likes ’Bama: For the first time this season, Alabama has convinced an anonymous voter.
The Tide received its inaugural first-place vote in the USA Today coaches poll when the latest edition came out Sunday. Unlike the Associated Press poll, the 59 ballots cast by coaches are not made public until the final round of voting that represents one-third of the BCS formula.
Alabama remained the third-ranked team in the major polls and retained its one new first-place vote in the AP poll. Tom Hart of the CBS College Sports Network became the latest to vote Alabama No. 1 as it edges closer to passing second-ranked Texas. The Tide’s 1,404 points left it just eight behind the Horns who led by 20 a week earlier.
Alabama Monday playback
Three points for Alabama to remember after its 38-20 victory over Kentucky:
Fitzgerald can run: Although meaningless in the outcome, punter and field goal holder P.J. Fitzgerald showed some athleticism late in the game. His 17-yard run on a fake field goal attempt gave the Tide 11 more than it needed for a first down. Not bad for a punter. Tighten when needed: The Alabama defense certainly had its issues in the first half of the Kentucky game. But it came up big when needed. The two decent drives the Cats put together never crossed the Alabama 30 and field goals went on the board instead of touchdowns.
Replay saves: At first-glance, Trent Richardson never appeared to escape the end zone before being swallowed by the Kentucky front line in the second quarter. A safety would have meant a 8-7 deficit. But replay confirmed the freshman got just enough of the ball to the friendly side of the goal line to save the points. Ninety-nine yards later, Alabama led 14-6 and Kentucky never threatened again.