October 8, 2006

Grading the Tide: Alabama 30, Duke 14

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 30-14 win over the Duke Blue Devils at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.

<Quarterback

With Duke bringing pressure on almost every play, John Parker Wilson absorbed more big hits from the Blue Devils than any other opponent in the first half of the season. Had he not lost three completions for 99 yards to penalties, Wilson would have posted his first 300-yard passing game at Alabama. The sophomore was largely responsible for two of the Tide's three red zone touchdowns, improvising in flipping four yards to DJ Hall for a score in the second quarter and taking a shot before finding Keith Brown on a nine-yard touchdown pass in the third. Both plays came on third-and-goal. A third quarter interception, which went off the outstretched hands of tight end Travis McCall, and taking a third-down sack on the Tide's first drive of the game were his most glaring mistakes. The Jimmy Johns quarterback package is now 0-for-2 (with two false start penalties) this season.

Position Grade: B

Running backs

All but three of Kenneth Darby's 63 fourth-quarter rushing yards came on a scoring drive that put the Tide ahead 23-14. Saturday night marked Darby's first 100-yard rushing performance since last season's LSU game. More than half (72) of Alabama's 134 rushing yards came in the fourth quarter. Fullback Le'Ron McClain's second-quarter catch-and-run for 26 yards was the perfect call against a blitz-happy Duke defense. Offenses that don't have an effective screen package, which Alabama obviously does not, need to find other ways to slow down the pass rush. For Alabama, that means throwing to the fullback.

Position Grade: C+

Offensive line

Alabama struggled with blitz pickups in the first half. The Blue Devils had an outside linebacker or safety running free at Wilson on several occasions (and, yes, some of that falls on the backs). The Tide was able to run the ball behind the right side in the fourth quarter. On a nine-play, 54-yard touchdown drive that didn't include a single pass, the Tide ran for 46 yards while working behind right guard Marlon Davis and right tackle Chris Capps. Before spending a few snaps at left guard on the game's final drive, Davis played in place of B.J. Stabler at right guard for virtually all of the second half. Evan Cardwell continues to pinch hit at center in end of half situations. Cody Davis, Mike Johnson and Kyle Tatum finished the game at left tackle, right guard and right tackle, respectively. Cardwell checked in at center and Marlon Davis flipped from right guard to left guard in joining the group.

Position Grade: C

Receivers

In making six catches for 116 yards in the first half, Hall needed just two quarters to secure his third-straight 100-yard game. Had he not lost 84 yards to a pair of penalties, Brown would have joined Hall in surpassing the century mark. Nikita Stover saw his most extensive action to date, checking in on the game's first offensive series. Increased playing time did not result in a Stover reception, however. Alabama's tight ends were shutout for the first time in four games.

Position Grade: B

Defensive line

A Duke offensive line that was largely responsible for the eight sacks Virginia recorded just a week ago pushed Alabama's front seven around in the first half. Kudos to defensive end Wallace Gilberry on being among the few Tide defenders who weren't a full step behind the Duke offense in the first half. The junior finished the night with four tackles, including one for a loss, and two quarterback hurries. Redshirt freshman Brandon Deaderick saw limited snaps at tackle after the outcome had been decided.

Position Grade: D+

Linebackers

Duke backs had plenty of room to work with in running for 158 yards in the first half. The Blue Devils' rushed for more yards in the first quarter (82) than they did in any of their first four games. A running game that came into the night averaging 37 yards per game went for 201 against the Tide. Prince Hall started at middle linebacker, but defensive coordinator Joe Kines went through three players at the position (with Matt Collins and Darren Mustin, who also saw time at defensive end in passing situations, filling out the trio). Juwan Simpson led the Tide in tackles with eight, and he also forced a Blue Devil fumble in the first quarter, which cornerback Simeon Castille pulled out of the air in his own end zone. But even Simpson missed on a tackle or two. Despite being in position to make the play, the senior couldn't bring down Duke running back Ronnie Drummer on a fourth-and-two play in the second quarter. In the second half, strongside linebacker Terrence Jones appeared to re-aggravate the left shoulder injury that has limited his effectiveness in recent weeks. He did return after being examined by the medical staff. Redshirt freshman Eryck Anders got a few reps at strongside linebacker late in the game.

Position Grade: D

<Secondary

The two second-half interceptions led to touchdowns, but Duke quarterback Thaddeus Lewis and his receivers were able to make plays against Tide defensive backs in the first half. Duke scored its first touchdown in three games when Lewis hit Enron Riley, who didn't appear to be covered by anyone in particular, on a nine-yard scoring pass early in the second quarter. On the Blue Devils' next possession, Jomar Wright beat cornerback Lionel Mitchell for 35 yards to setup Lewis' five-yard scoring run, which gave the visitors a 14-10 lead. Castille had another productive night, although he too missed on a couple of open field tackles. Strong safety Jeffrey Dukes, who was in on eight stops and broke up a pass, may have graded out higher than any of the Tide defensive backs. Ramzee Robinson's interception early in the second half led to Alabama's go-ahead score and Mitchell's 50-yard interception return for a touchdown sealed the deal in the fourth quarter. Tide defensive backs had a hand in each of Duke's three turnovers. Cornerbacks Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson and safeties Justin Woodall and Sam Burnthall were on the field for Duke's final offensive possession. Woodall saw a potential interception go through his hands.

Position Grade: C+

Special Teams

The Tide came up short in nearly every aspect of the kicking game. Placekicker Jamie Christensen's miss from 31 yards provided an appropriate ending to the first half. He followed that up by having an extra point blocked in the third quarter. Alabama's coverage teams have been a strength, but Duke had kickoff and punt returns of 38 and 22 yards, respectively. Rashad Jonson's 55-yard kickoff return in the third quarter was wiped out by a penalty.

Position Grade: D

The Plan

If you were to compile a list of the Tide's worst first-half performances under Mike Shula, Saturday night's opening two quarters would have to rank right up there with Georgia and Ole Miss in 2003, South Carolina in 2004 and Auburn in 2005. A four-point Duke lead at the break should have been 11. It was probably bad enough to make the two Capital Bowl representatives who were in attendance to question why they bothered with making the trip. Against the nation's least productive offense, UA's defense couldn't produce a three-and-out in the first half. In his post-game remarks, Shula said he didn't sense that a letdown was in the offing for a team coming off a pair of grueling road losses. While he was thankful for the win, Shula conceded that the Tide didn't take much of a step forward in struggling with one of the nation's weakest teams. We're now halfway through the 2006 season and this team is still without a complete performance.

Plan grade: D

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