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September 11, 2012

O-line is in a bind

TUSCALOOSA | The University of Alabama's offensive line came into the season billed as one of the best blocking units in the country, and maybe one of the best of all time.

For the linemen, last weekend against Western Kentucky was the worst of times. The Crimson Tide was unable to generate a consistent rushing attack, gaining just 103 yards on 31 attempts on the ground, and allowed six quarterback sacks, the most by UA since it allowed seven in a 2010 loss to South Carolina.

Those aren't the kind of numbers expected of a line that includes three Outland Trophy watch list candidates in Barrett Jones - last year's Outland winner - D.J. Fluker and Chance Warmack. The line itself expects better.

"We all feel the same way about how we played on Saturday," Warmack said. "We need to get better as a group, collectively, and we're taking it upon ourselves to do that as a group."

Warmack said the problems were myriad, and hinted that the line might have believed its own hype and taken Western Kentucky lightly.

"Communication for one," Warmack said. "Some people weren't on the same page in terms of communication. Technique, you can't be sloppy in your technique - sometimes depending on who you play, you take plays off, and you can't do that. You have to play every play like you're playing a high opponent, and those guys are pretty good. Some plays we didn't execute."

Alabama coach Nick Saban has commented after both of Alabama's victories so far that the Crimson Tide needed to "clean up" its pass protection. A few of Western Kentucky's sacks were assignment problems, the coach said, but a couple came on plays where Alabama's tackles - Fluker and Cyrus Kouandjio - were just beaten by edge rushers who got around them.

"Most of the time when you get beat, is it what the other guy did or what you did?" Saban said. "We didn't play very well fundamentally. We didn't set properly, we didn't look at the right things, we didn't pay attention to details. So you get a little bit behind in a down because a guy beats you, and if you're not doing it the right way you're not giving yourself the best chance to be successful. On several occasions, that's what happened.

"It's something that we've got to get corrected. The guys have got to pay more attention to detail, focus on doing the little things right."

That is the line's mission this week.

"I know that we're going to fix it," Warmack said, "and I know that we have a long way to go in terms of reaching the standards. We'll just take it one step at a time and one day at a time."

Reach Tommy Deas at tommy@tidesports.com or at 205-722-0224.

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