October 1, 2006

Grading the Tide: Florida 28, Alabama 13

BOL provides a weekly report card for the Alabama football team during the 2006 season. Here's a look at how we graded the Crimson Tide in it's 28-13 loss to the fifth-ranked Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

Quarterback

John Parker Wilson's training wheels came off in Gainesville on Saturday afternoon, and the results were both encouraging and disappointing at the same time. Wilson's three interceptions and three fumbles marred his performance, but his poise under fire and decision making were very good at times. If Wilson didn't come off as the type of player who learns from his mistakes, there would be reason for concern. His tackle of Florida cornerback Ryan Smith after his first pick kept the lid on Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in the first quarter. The top priority for the sophomore at this point should involve getting rid of the ball a split-second quicker. Florida's pass rush did a good job of keeping Wilson in the pocket, taking away the running lanes that were available at Arkansas.

Position Grade: C-

Running backs

Kenneth Darby benefited from Mike Shula's decision to go to the air more on first down. Though he's still not much of a threat to get the corner, Darby showed a nice burst in ripping off 20 yards on a draw play late in the second quarter. For the first time this season, Darby averaged more than five yards per carry. With Alabama throwing 40 passes on the afternoon, UA's halfback and fullbacks were in pass protection mode for much of the game. However, the backs did manage to combine for eight receptions against the Gators.

Position Grade: B-

Offensive line

Given the high number of passes, protection up front was solid for the most part. And there didn't appear to be as many breakdowns in the running game as a week ago. Pre-snap penalties, however, were an issue once again, with right tackle Chris Capps being flagged twice for false starts. Offensive line coach Bob Connelly stuck with a substitution rotation of Kyle Tatum at right tackle and Marlon Davis at right guard. On the Tide's final drive of the day, redshirt freshman Evan Cardwell checked in at center and Antoine Caldwell slid from center to left guard.

Position Grade: C+

Receivers

With Keith Brown attracting the attention of Florida free safety Reggie Nelson, DJ Hall had plenty of room to work on the other side. The junior took advantage of Gator cornerbacks to the tune of six catches for 117 yards. And those numbers would have been better had Wilson put a little more loft on a deep sideline pass to Hall in the fourth quarter. Brown was fairly quiet in going for 36 yards on four grabs. Matt Caddell made a nice grab on a crossing route to keep a fourth-quarter drive alive, but he came up short on a deep ball that would have given the Tide a 17-7 lead in the third quarter.

Position Grade: B-

Defensive line

The defensive front started strong, playing a large role in Florida's four-yard rushing output in the first quarter. Bobby Greenwood carried over his impressive play against the Gators from a season ago by dropping quarterback Chris Leak for a six-yard loss in the first quarter. Defensive end Keith Saunders led all Tide linemen with three stops and tackle Dominic Lee chipped in with two tackles and a half tackle for loss.

Position Grade: B-

Linebackers

Matt Collins started once again in the middle, but it was Prince Hall who made the bigger impact. In addition to returning a fumble 51 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, Hall forced a UF field goal attempt in the third quarter after making a diving breakup of a Leak shovel pass. His biggest mistake came on a missed tackle of Leak, who sprinted 45 yards to the Alabama 3 in the second quarter. Demarcus Waldrop started for the second week in a row at strongside linebacker, but Terrence Jones worked his back into the lineup in the first quarter. Juwan Simpson led the defense with seven tackles.

Position Grade: C+

Secondary

Obviously, this wasn't Ramzee Robinson's best outing at Alabama. With Alabama leading 10-0, a potential career-defining moment went through his hands in the second quarter. He followed that up by interfering with UF wide receiver Dallas Baker on a third-and-4 out route that everyone in the stadium knew was coming. One play later, Baker used his height advantage over Robinson to win a fourth-quarter jump ball that resulted in a 21-yard touchdown pass. Jeffrey Dukes missed badly on Andre Caldwell, who turned a third-quarter screen pass into a 16-yard touchdown scoring reception. Simeon Castille's breakup of a second-quarter pass in the Alabama end zone was the highlight back here. Castille came off his man before getting his hands on the ball. The Tide played some dime coverage for one of the few times this season. Reserve corners Eric Gray and Marquis Johnson both saw time in the package.

Position Grade: C+

Special Teams

Jamie Christensen returned to handle field goal and extra point duties. Though he made good on two of his three field goal attempts, his kicks didn't feature the NFL form he displayed in spring practice and training camp. And given the rust he's accumulated while recovering from a right groin strain, that was understandable. Christensen's kickoff out of bounds following his 21-yard field goal in the second quarter wasn't what the defense needed. The Tide's punt and kickoff coverage units were solid once again, with Jimmy Johns' second-quarter stop of UF kickoff return man Brandon James at the Gator 10 highlighting their play. I admire Javier Arenas' courage on punt returns, but sometimes a fair catch is a return man's best friend. The freshman's 28-yard kickoff return in the third quarter provided the Alabama offense with good field position following UF's go-ahead touchdown.

Position Grade: B-

The Plan

After going conservative on first down at Arkansas, the offensive plan called for Wilson to come out throwing against Florida. Pass plays were called on 22 of Alabama's 30 first-down snaps. The three-step passing game subbed effectively for the running game in the early going. And while the Tide's red zone woes continued for another week, it wasn't as if Shula shied away from taking shots down in close. The bottom line is that there is no guaranteed formula for success inside the 20. For all of the talk about the red zone problems, this offense could also use a tempo boost -- from both players and coaches. Wilson will accept responsibility for his third pick of the game, which Nelson returned 70 yards for a touchdown, but he didn't get much help from the UA sideline in the seconds leading up to the snap. With the play call and personnel coming in late, everything about the play was rushed.

The 3-3-5 remained in place as the Tide's base defense, but Florida probably saw more 4-3 from Joe Kines' unit than any other UA opponent to date. Once the decision was finally made to essentially commit Dukes to Tim Tebow, Alabama all but shut down the freshman's ability to make yards with his legs. Why any defense -- especially one whose corners might be its greatest strength -- would play Tebow straight up is beyond me. Yes, Tebow hit on a 23-yard completion in the third quarter, but it required a tremendous adjustment by wide receiver Jermalle Cornelius to do it.

Plan grade: C+


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