The shrill sound of the official’s whistle had become all too familiar. So when it shrieked halfway through the first quarter Saturday, it brought about several groans.
For the crowd at Bryant-Denny Stadium, Alphonse Taylor’s false start on the Alabama’s second possession against Kent State appeared to be a sign that the Crimson Tide had yet to solve its penalty problems across the offensive line.
In its previous two games, the Tide had racked up 21 penalties, 13 of which were called on the offensive line, including nine false starts.
After catching heat in practice all week from coaches, the line was determined to improve.
“We just kept playing the next play,” Alabama center Bradley Bozeman said after the game.
From there, the Tide was able to recover. Taylor’s penalty was one of just two penalties called on Alabama in the game and the only one flagged on the offensive line.
“It was better, much better,” Alabama head coach Nick Saban said. “It’s been what we’ve been trying to emphasize, and I think we only had one false start today, which was monumental. I thought we did a nice job of controlling the line of scrimmage, had good balance on offense and did a pretty good job of executing overall.”
Bozeman chuckled a little when asked if playing clean was stressed by coaches in practice last week.
“For sure,” he said. “Major.”
Heading into the game, the Tide’s offensive line knew it had little room for error as far as penalties were concerned. Taylor paid the price following his false start. The starting right guard was substituted for Lester Cotton on Alabama’s next possession. Cotton remained in the game after that, playing well in his first appearance on the right side of the line this season.
Cotton started the season at left guard as Taylor was suspended for the Tide’s opener against Southern California. Taylor, who started all 15 games at right guard last season, then worked his way back into the starting lineup Week 3 against Ole Miss, pushing Ross Pierschbacher to left guard and Cotton out of the starting lineup.
Saturday’s switch was yet another experiment as Alabama looks to finally find the right combination across the line.
“You have to play with who’s next to you,” Bozeman said. “No matter what’s thrown at you, you have to keep going to the next play.”
Cotton’s reentrance appeared to be promising. After three weeks of starting slow on offense, Alabama scored on its first six possessions Saturday. The Tide’s ground game was also improved, as Alabama rushed for 285 yards despite losing starting running back Damien Harris to a sprained ankle in the first quarter.
“We came out, we played fast, we started fast and didn’t stall any,” Bozeman said. “I think we did really well.”
The fast start and clean game Saturday were certainly welcomed sights for a line looking to reestablish its dominant form. Players believe it will also serve as a turning point heading forward.
“I think that will give us a lot of confidence as far as going ahead to tougher games where we are going to need to start fast,” Pierschbacher said. “I think that was key for us this past week.”
Alabama will now look to see if it can carry its success into SEC play. The Tide will host Kentucky at 6 p.m. this Saturday for its homecoming game before traveling on the road for back to back games at ranked opponents in No. 20 Arkansas and No. 11 Tennessee.
“Incomplete can be a habit, and complete could be a habit,” Saban said. “We’d like to develop the habit of being a complete team that can go in and play down-in and down-out with some consistency.”