September 17, 2006

Grading the Tide: Alabama 41, ULM 7

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 41-7 win over Louisiana-Monroe at Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday night.

Quarterback

John Parker Wilson got off to a bit of a shaky start, fumbling on the game's opening play from scrimmage. The sophomore rebounded quickly to complete 7-of-8 passes for 89 yards -- including a 17-yard touchdown pass to fullback Le'Ron McClain -- in the first quarter. With ULM's outside linebacker and safety jumping tight end Travis McCall, Wilson flipped to McClain, who made a nice cut before rumbling into the end zone. Wilson took responsibility for the two incompletions inside the Warkhawks' 5 that led to a field goal in the third quarter. After wisely ditching the ball on first down, Wilson just missed Keith Brown on the next two plays. "The first one in the back of the end zone was close and the other one was the perfect play call," Wilson said. "The defense gave us exactly what we wanted. I saw it come open, but I hurried it a little bit. I know exactly what I need to do from now on to capitilize in that situation." In addition to being on the money twice to McCall, Wilson set up the Tide's second score of the night by hitting Brown, who was on a corner route, in stride for 33 yards. Backup Marc Guillon connected on his only two pass attempts, with his best throw going to Will Oakley on a hitch route.

Position Grade: B

Running backs

In rushing for 79 yards, Kenneth Darby did a good job of taking what was there on each of his 14 carries. Instead of trying to hit the homerun, Darby took four yards when that was all to be had. In making his backfield debut, Roy Upchurch showed the combination of speed and power that was previously limited to scrimmage carries. Most importantly, the ball security issues that have plagued him on the practice field didn't show up on any of his 12 carries Saturday night. A fresh-legged burner was the last thing a tiring ULM defense wanted to see in the fourth quarter, but in Terry Grant that's exactly what it got. Grant came close to scoring on his first carry at Alabama, but was forced to settle for a 19-yard pickup instead. And how about some love for Ali Sharrief? The redshirt freshman doesn't blow you a way with speed or flashy moves, but he hits the hole and makes subtle cuts while getting up field. In getting three touches (two receptions and one carry), it was a fairly busy night for McClain. His first-quarter fumble came at the end of a 13-yard reception in which he gave great effort. McClain continues to do an excellent job of run blocking. He teamed with offensive guard Marlon Davis to lead Tim Castille into the end zone from three yards out in the second quarter. Reserve fullback Baron Huber showed well as a blocker while seeing time in the fourth quarter.


Position Grade: B+

Offensive line

It came against an inferior opponent, but this group got the confidence boost it needed as it prepares to head into a tough two-game stretch. ULM's lone sack came on the first play from scrimmage. Wilson, who was loking for Hall on an out-and-up, actually had adequate protection before leaving the pocket. Marlon Davis was the first reserve off the bench, checking in for B.J. Stabler midway through the second quarter. Center Antoine Caldwell threw a key block on a second-quarter reverse to Brown that netted 20 yards. Left guard Justin Britt and left tackle Andre Smith paved the way for Hall's 43-yard catch-and-run for a score in the third quarter. Behind reserves Marlon Davis, Mike Johnson, Cody Davis, Drew Davis, Kyle Tatum and Evan Cardwell, UA backs rushed for 79 yards in the final quarter.

Position Grade: B+

Receivers

Tide receivers expected to see tight coverage from ULM's experienced cornerbacks, but they got more of the off technique previously employed by Hawai'i and Vanderbilt. If teams continue to give Brown a free release, the junior will threaten the 1,000-yard mark by season's end. Look for Arkansas' corners to come up and challenge Brown and the rest of the receivers next Saturday. While it's an often overlooked aspect of the job, Brown, Hall, Oakley and Matt Caddell continue to do a good job of downfield blocking in the running game. Having McCall step up as a receiver will make it hard to key on Alabama's personnel groupings. In the past, McCall's presence has signaled run.

Position Grade: B+

Defensive line

Alabama's defensive tackles didn't record a tackle Saturday night.
The extent of the position's stat line for ULM consisted of Jeremy Clark's pass break up. As expected, end play continues to be the strength of this group. Defensive end Keith Saunders forced and recovered a ULM fumble in the first quarter, and Wallace Gilberry was the Tide's most active lineman for the third week in a row.

Position Grade: B-

Linebackers

Poor tackling by UA linebackers and defensive backs was largely responsible for the 106 yards ULM running back Calvin Dawson picked up in the first half. Early in the third quarter, Terrence Jones set the tone for an improved performance in the second half. The Tide limited ULM to 30 rushing yards over the final two quarters. Matt Collins got his second start at middle linebacker but didn't record a tackle. However, he did pressure ULM quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster on a third-quarter blitz. Prince Hall posted five tackles while splitting time with Collins.

Position Grade: C+

Secondary

Four different defensive backs had pass breakups and safety Jeffrey Dukes recorded his first interception of the season. With Darren McFadden and Felix Jones on deck, tackling early in next week's game will need to be better. With the Tide in command in the fourth quarter, safeties Bryan Kilpatrick, Justin Woodall and Sam Burnthall joined cornerbacks Chris Rogers and Marquis Johnson in seeing action.

Position Grade: B+

Special Teams

In a surprising development, Jamie Christensen handled kickoffs in making his returning from a groin strain. In posting touchbacks on his final two kickoffs of the game, Christensen seemingly got stronger as the evening wore on. Due in parge part to improved hang time, Alabama's kickoff coverage unit limited ULM to a long return of 21 yards. Woodall was particularly impressive in coverage and Kilpatrick stayed at home on ULM's second-quarter spot pass. Leigh Tiffin sandwiched field goals from 34 and 25 yards around a poorly-struck miss from 43 yards away. The punt return game finally got some opportunities, with Simeon Castille (two for 24 yards) and Javier Arenas (three for 16 yards) combining to average eight yards per return on five attempts. While he showed promise, Arenas learned that outracing Division I athletes to the corner isn't as simple as it was in high school. P.J. Fitzgerald's first punt of the night benefited from a lengthy roll on its way to covering 51 yards in all. Neither of his two punts were pretty, but Fitzgerald's net average of 43.5 yards looked good no matter how it was accomplished.

Position Grade: B+

The Plan

With next week's showdown at Arkansas looming, Mike Shula kept things basic on offense. For the most part, Alabama worked out of its base formation (two backs, two wide receivers and a tight end) on first down. The Tide went with its four-wide receiver set only on third-and-longs. UA did show a split-back look that had Tim Castille and tight end Nick Walker in the backfield together. With Walker leading the way behind a strong surge from the left side of the offensive line, Castille picked up nine yards on a third-and-five play in the third quarter.

Defensively, Joe Kines mixed the 3-3-5 and 4-2-5 looks for the third straight week. With a strong Arkansas running game on the horizon, the 4-3 might be dusted off and put back into play this week.

Plan grade: B

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