October 1, 2007

Grading the Tide: FSU 21, Alabama 14

Quarterback C-
John Parker Wilson's completion percentage, yardage and touchdowns all were up from his Georgia performance, and without an interception, yet the criticism seems louder than ever. That can be explained by the zero on the scoreboard for more than three quarters, as well as a fumble inside the Alabama 10 that set up an easy FSU touchdown. Wilson finished 28 of 53 for 240 yards and two touchdowns, but too much of that came with the game already FSU's to lose. Wilson simply looks uncomfortable right now, but the first-time disappearance of the running game Saturday didn't help.

Running back C
Terry Grant learned what it feels like to be shut down on the college level for the first time Saturday, although with only nine carries he wasn't exactly asked to do much, either. Grant ended up with 36 yards while the team as a whole finished with under 100. There were very few broken tackles, if any, and the longest rush of the day for the team was an 18-yarder by the quarterback. Glen Coffee performed his usual role, but got only five carries himself.

Offensive line D+
The absence of a push in the running game requires the line to take its worst grade of the season to date. The struggles of the passing game are making it clear that the running game can not afford to take a Saturday off, and that's exactly what happened against Florida State. While the play-calling may have lost its balance a little too soon, the line might have prevented that with a few more holes for Grant in the first half. FSU's Everette Brown also became the first player this year to get more than one sack against the Crimson Tide front.

Wide receiver B
DJ Hall made seven catches for 83 yards and a touchdown to lead the receiving corps. Keith Brown made a tough catch for Alabama's final touchdown, but had a crucial drop earlier in the quarter on a fourth-down play. Mike McCoy notched three more grabs, but none downfield. The receivers had trouble getting separation from FSU's defensive backs, but running short routes on tight defenses, as Alabama did most of the day, lends itself to a lot of traffic.

Defensive line B+
Despite the loss of Bobby Greenwood, who missed almost the entire game, the defensive line did an excellent job against the run. Alabama wasted no time in forcing Florida State to go to its passing game and held Antone Smith to a 1.2-yard rushing average. Wallace Gilberry had his arms around Xavier Lee for his first sack of the season, but Lee slipped away and got rid of an incompletion. Drew Weatherford was sacked once on a linebacker blitz, but once the elusive Lee entered the game, the pass rush had its hands full.

Linebackers B
Ezekial Knight is beginning to spend more time in the opponents' backfield than the rest of the linebacking corps, which is to be expected from one of the outside positions. Knight notched a sack in the first quarter, added a TFL for minus-3, and finished with a game-high nine stops. Prince Hall made an outstanding interception on a hard-thrown ball over the middle that would have bounced off most linebackers' hands, especially a Mike run-stuffer like Hall. Keith Saunders had a quiet day with one assisted tackle.

Secondary B-
The opening drive of the second half, which resulted in a touchdown for the Seminoles, was just about the only FSU drive of the day that sustained any real success in the passing game. Were it not for a missed tackle that turned a hitch pass into a back-breaking touchdown, the secondary would grade out even better. That was a bitter pill for Marquis Johnson in his first defensive action of the season, but like all DBs, Johnson's memory will have to be short with pass-happy Houston coming to Tuscaloosa. Kareem Jackson made eight tackles, including one for loss, to lead this unit.

Special teams D+
Punter P.J. Fitzgerald hit a 56-yarder, but was otherwise inconsistent.
The punt return game yielded nothing for Javier Arenas, although the Seminoles kept him in fair-catch mode for most of the day. Arenas' muff of a kickoff forced Alabama to drive 91 yards and use 3:53 for its first touchdown, too much time given a 14-0 deficit. Leigh Tiffin had no chance to make a difference from a field-goal perspective. By the time Alabama got into field-goal range for the first time all day, it already needed a touchdown to have a chance.

The plan C
Defensively, Alabama's plan couldn't have played out better. UA forced FSU to abandon its running game quickly, which has been the book on defending the Seminoles for years. Credit Xavier Lee for the most impressive pinch-hit of his career. For the first time this year, the approach on offense called itself into question. Most of Alabama's receivers need to get behind the secondary before the catch to make big plays. With a distinct height advantage on FSU's corners and a stifled running game, the deep ball was needed early and often, but was tried neither. Instead, UA was content to throw short and wait on missed tackles that never came.

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