TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — It happened a few times during the season opener even though when it comes to Nick Saban once is too many.
Busted coverages led to the Alabama defense giving up gains of 27, 19, 12 (for a touchdown) and 30 yards against Louisville in the Camping World Kickoff, and too often it was obviously a linebacker not making the correct read or picking up the intended receiver fast enough.
It can happen to the best of them, especially when facing such a creative offensive coach like Bobby Petrino. Nevertheless, the player it reflected on the most was junior Mack Wilson, the signal caller for the defense who had the responsibility of being the defensive quarterback for the first time in his career.
“Mack is a really good player,” Nick Saban said. “He's a very conscientious guy. I think in most cases these issues are not capability issues, they're guys who don't have experience in those roles and the only way that you can get experience and confidence in those roles is to go out there and do it. And Mack's very capable of doing it.
“Louisville presents a lot of multiples so it was a difficult game, especially first game, not knowing exactly what they were going to do. The good news is when we did it correctly, we had good success. Most of the errors that we made are very correctable things.”
Consequently, ifthere’s a common theme to the Crimson Tide this week, and what it needs to do to improve from Week 1 to Saturday’s game against Arkansas State (2:30 p.m., ESPN2), it’s communication.
The offensive linemen weren’t pleased with how they played as a unit early on against the Cardinals, especially in pass protection.
The interior linebackers were challenged by Louisville’s play-calling, which included a lot of crossing and wheel routes, some on delays that can be difficult to read.
The defensive backs also had some breakdowns.
But all of that was expected … to a point, and partly why Alabama has scheduled the teams it did to start this season. Louisville didn’t care that the Crimson Tide defense has new starters at every spot over the middle and in the back end. It’s obviously something the Cardinals tried to exploit.
So will Arkansas State, a rapid-fire team that will test Alabama similar to what Ole Miss will do next week and Auburn later in the season.
“We had a lot of mental errors and we busted a lot of plays … lack of communication, which is on my part,” Wilson said. “I take the blame for it.
“We're going to make mistakes. We're going to make mental errors but it's about how you get back to work and how you correct those things and move on to the next thing.”
Senior Ross Pierschbacher, who was playing his first game at center, essentially said the same thing about the offensive line.
But to give an idea of what the offensive players were up against Louisville, consider that the Cardinals had a new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who has 35 years of coaching experience including seven in the NFL, four as the coordinator of the Atlanta Falcons.
One thing that’s he’s especially known for is his blitz packages, although Alabama had no idea how much of what he had done before would be implemented, especially compared to what Louisville had previously done. So the Crimson Tide had to study both.
“There’s one blitz they have 41 ways to run the same blitz,” junior left tackle Jonah Williams said. “Different fronts, different coverages, secondary shells, that type of things. Multiple different blitzes, I mean, it’s little nuances that you don’t go out there and think ‘Which of the 41 [is coming]?’
“We have rules that pick things up. But that’s shown over time. We were watching film of him at Notre Dame because that was really his last defensive coordinator gig.”
Although the emphasis will always be on the plays that didn’t go well and minimizing mistakes, Alabama obviously did have a lot of things go right during the 51-14 victory.
It scored in every facet of the game (offense, defense and special teams). The offense was outstanding on third downs. Seventeen different players had a rush or catch.
A good example of communication leading to a successful play was on junior quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s touchdown run, when Williams saw the defense line up and thought “something’s not right”
“I noticed that the end is usually outside of the tight end and he was head-up on the tight end and the ‘backer was a little plused over, so we made a call where we can exchange those blocks knowing the D-end going inside and the linebacker is scraping over the top,” Williams said. “I made that call to Irv [Smith Jr.] and he went up and covered the guy up.”
Look for more of the same moving forward, as there’s often more improvement between Week 1 and 2 or 3 than any other point of a season. There’s still no substitute for experience, but the more these players go through together the better they’ll be.
This was just the starting point.
“No patting on the back because there are many, numerous ways we can improve,” junior safety Deionte Thompson said. “ If we get those little things corrected, we can be so much better than we are.”