Alabama report card: Tide hit its stride in October
by Marq Burnett
mburnett@annistonstar.com
Oct 30, 2013 | 1754 views |  0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has given the Tide offense a measure of stability. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron has given the Tide offense a measure of stability. (Photo by Trent Penny/The Anniston Star)
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TUSCALOOSA -- We’re two-thirds through the season, and Alabama is still at the top of college football world.

The Crimson Tide hit its stride in the month of October, outscoring opponents 190-20. The second biggest game on the Tide’s schedule is next week with LSU and a win entrenches them that much more firmly in the driver seat for a return trip to Pasadena.

But how did Alabama get to this point?

We're breaking down down the Tide's performance in six different areas before assessing a final grade, with eight regular-season games in the books and four to go.

Rushing Offense: B+

Alabama has developed another two-headed monster in the backfield with sophomores T.J. Yeldon and Kenyan Drake.

Yeldon, who burst onto the scene as a true freshman, has rushed for 729 yards and 10 touchdowns on 115 touches. He averages 91 yards a game and 6.3 a carry. Yeldon is the hammer this year after spending last season as Eddie Lacy’s backup.

Drake truly offers a change of pace. He’s speedy and is a always a threat to break a long run. After not playing in the season opener, Drake has come on strong with 491 yards and seven touchdowns. He averages an otherworldly 7.8 yards a carry.

But both backs have had issues with ball security and have each had more fumbles than previous Tide backs under Saban. Still, The Tide is currently fourth in the SEC with an average of 210.8 yards per game and is getting better each week as the offensive line grows.

Passing Offense: A

With all of the talent and speed Alabama has on the perimeter, teams are scheming to take away the deep ball. So, Alabama’s passing stats won’t wow you, but the Tide can make explosive plays when needed.

Quarterback AJ McCarron remains efficient, completing 69.4 percent of his passes. He’s tossed 16 touchdowns to three interceptions to go along with 1,862 yards.

His top target a year ago, Amari Cooper, is slowly getting healthy and beginning to stretch the field. Kevin Norwood, Christion Jones and DeAndrew White have taken turns making big plays for the Tide.

Rushing Defense: B

Alabama is just outside the top 10 nationally by allowing 101.9 rushing yards a game. Its past two opponents (Arkansas and Tennessee) have coming in average better than 200 yards on the ground, but the Tide held them well below that mark.

Alabama’s defensive statistics are bit skewed with Texas A&M and Johnny Manziel shredding them early in the season. The defense has since settled down and is looking more dominant than ever up front.

Passing Defense: B

Again, outside of the Texas A&M game, the Tide’s pass defense has been solid. Alabama allows just 179 yards through the air, which is good for seventh best in the nation.

The secondary is the team’s most interesting group. With injuries and suspensions, players have had to step up and fill in whenever needed. Strong safety Vinnie Sunseri has been lost for the season with a knee injury.

Free safety HaHa Clinton-Dix was suspended for two games. No. 1 cornerback Deion Belue has battled nagging injuries since the spring, and no one has emerged as a consistent starter at the second cornerback spot.

Four players have started opposite Belue as the Tide’s second cornerback: John Fulton, Bradley Sylve, Cyrus Jones and true freshman Eddie Jackson.

Sylve and Jones are currently in a battle for that spot. But with Clinton-Dix and Landon Collins at safety, the Tide will be fine moving forward.

Special Teams: A+

Special teams has been Alabama’s most consistent group. While Cody Mandell hasn’t punted much, he makes the most of his opportunities. Kicker Cade Foster has been spot on all season. Also, Alabama’s coverage units hardly ever allow a team to have good field position.

Coaching: A-

With all of the off the field issues and distractions surrounding the program, this may be Nick Saban’s best coaching job. Alabama has a unique blend of talent and experience and Saban and his staff seem to be pushing the right buttons to help the team remain hungry.

At 8-0, including 5-0 SEC, the Tide is in prime position to make another trip to Atlanta and the BCS National Championship Game, and the coaching staff would deserve a lot of credit for keeping the team on track. The minus comes from the fact that there has been a lot of off the field issues with suspensions.

Overall: A

Only one of Alabama’s game has even been in jeopardy all year (Texas A&M). While outsiders may question the schedule, the Tide can only play who’s in front of them and Alabama is currently manhandling everyone.

The Tide has a tough test coming up with LSU on November 9 in Bryant-Denny Stadium and if they pass it, it will be smooth sailing until the Iron Bowl.
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