North Texas wrap-up: Alabama loves it when a plan comes together
By Jess Nicholas
Sept. 19, 2009
A big win with no drama? Check. Quality snaps for a freshman backup quarterback? Check. A spotless 3-0 start prior to the conference schedule getting under way? Alabama has that, too.
For the most part, Alabama’s 53-7 win over North Texas was a rousing success. Alabama escaped almost completely unscathed on the injury front, although Tide opponents have been hard on the running backs this year (Demetrius Goode left with what looked like a tweaked ankle or knee late in the fourth quarter). The Tide got up early behind another masterful performance by new starting quarterback Greg McElroy, then continued to put the pedal down until North Texas’ hopes were completely snuffed.
North Texas proved to be exactly what Alabama hoped they’d be when the Tide scheduled the Mean Green: a Sun Belt patsy that didn’t hit particularly hard nor put up much of a fight. If Florida International came unglued just prior to halftime last week, North Texas was down for the count before the first quarter even ended. The Mean Green were some of the worst tacklers to come through Bryant-Denny Stadium in decades, if not ever, and as a result there wasn’t much of a fight put up against an Alabama offense that could be one of the best in school history.
Special teams continued to be a concern. Alabama yielded another long kickoff return, but it was wiped out by an illegal block on Rod Woodson. That was the good news. The bad news is that Woodson was so far off the play, the block had no bearing on the return. So opposing kick returners continue to penetrate Alabama’s kick coverage unit.
Placekicker Leigh Tiffin missed not one, but two extra points, bringing to mind bad memories of Alabama vs. Arkansas in 2006. And guess who comes to Tuscaloosa this week?
Still, there was much to be pleased about. Alabama’s receiver corps has proven to be much more than just Julio Jones. Mike McCoy is following the Matt Caddell Plan, coming to life as a senior after a ho-hum career up to this point. Darius Hanks and Marquis Maze continue to make big catches, and Alabama is finally developing some real depth in the form of Earl Alexander, Brandon Gibson and Michael Bowman. Tight end Colin Peek continues to impress.
But the biggest story of all might be Greg McElroy. Alabama’s schedule couldn’t have set up any better for the new signal-caller: a tough win in the opener, followed by two much easier games, then the worst secondary of any SEC opponent (Arkansas) that Alabama will face this year.
And since the start of the second half against Virginia Tech, McElroy has been sublime. I don’t have the exact numbers in front of me (curse this deadline-based business), but it’s somewhere in the neighborhood of 44-of-57 (77.2%). It’s a little too early to call McElroy one of the country’s top quarterbacks, given Alabama’s cumulative opposition for the first three games, but it is fair to call him one of the conference’s three or four best signal-callers, a group that includes names like Tebow, Snead and probably Ryan Mallett as well.
Best yet, McElroy has put up those numbers while having Julio Jones available for only half the snaps McElroy has played. He’s found multiple receivers, helped make McCoy and Hanks into reliable contributors and has shown impressive leadership ability, as well as the ability to unify a team.
And speaking of the ability to unify, Star Jackson appeared to unify support behind him for the backup job Saturday. Jackson’s previous passing display, which came at A-Day in the spring, was sketchy at best. Of course, that outing was against Alabama’s first defense, while Saturday’s effort came against a North Texas team that was considerably slower and overmatched.
The rest of the game was similarly nice to watch. Alabama’s Trent Richardson is everything his Signing Day press clippings said he was. Colin Peek continues to give Alabama a downfield receiving weapon at tight end. The offensive line continues to block well (although shotgun snaps from both William Vlachos and David Ross need work) and punter P.J. Fitzgerald looks like a different player in 2009.
Arkansas will be a much more difficult test than Alabama fans probably want to believe, but given the Razorbacks’ defensive struggles coupled with the emergence of McElroy and a well-diversified Crimson Tide offense – not to mention a stifling defense – good things are on the horizon.
And what of the conference and national title races? Florida looked positively human in struggling to beat an average Tennessee team at home, while LSU has its problems and, outside the conference, Southern Cal again found a way to lose to a PAC-10 bottom-feeder and remove itself from the title chase for the time being. Alabama has the chance to take care of some unfinished business, so long as the Tide plays its games looking only one step ahead.