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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — A stark contrast of dragging A-Days of the past, Alabama put on show during its annual spring game Saturday. The Crimson and White teams combined for 730 yards of total offense, 661 yards coming through the air.
Of course, that performance brought about “mixed emotions” from head coach Nick Saban, who said he spent the game teetering between frustration and fulfillment as he does in most scrimmages.
Ultimately a last-second 30-yard field goal from punter JK Scott sealed a 27-24 win for the Crimson team. Now that we have had some time to process the final scrimmage of Alabama’s spring camp, here are a few things that stood out:
Alabama is set at quarterback
There isn’t a quarterback controversy, but Saturday proved if starter Jalen Hurts were to go down at any point next season the offense would be in capable hands. Hurts completed 16 of 25 passes for 301 yards and two touchdowns with an interception while playing against the first-team defense.
Meanwhile, backup Tua Tagovailoa was equally impressive. The early enrollee completed 17 of 29 passes for 313 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Tagovailoa’s job was easier, as he spent all but two of his series throwing against the second-team defense, but the true freshman was impressive nonetheless. Fellow early enrollee Mac Jones showed glimpses of excellence but was far less impressive, completing 5 of 11 passes for 45 yards with two interceptions.
“There was a lot of production,” Saban said. “I think all of our quarterbacks are better passers than they were a year ago, first-, second-, and third-team guys. So that’s encouraging.”
Receivers steal the show
At the start of the scrimmage, most eyes were locked on the quarterbacks, anatomizing every pass and decision made in the pocket. Although, it didn’t take long for the receivers to steal some of the limelight.
Early enrollee Jerry Jeudy earned the game’s MVP award, hauling in five receptions for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Jeudy’s first score came after he showed great awareness on a ball that was tipped by Xavian Marks coming across the middle. After securing the ball from the deflection, Jeudy ran 15 yards untouched to the end zone. His second touchdown was even better, out-jumping defensive back Aaron Robinson for a ball inside the 10 on his way to the end zone.
Jeudy was one of three Alabama receivers to have 100 or more yards receiving. Calvin Ridley finished with four catches for 102 yards and a touchdown, while Robert Foster had two receptions for 115 yards and a score. Foster is someone who has made waves this spring and is projected to have a breakout year in his senior season.
“It’s really good to have him back and healthy,” Alabama tight end Miller Forristall said. “He’s really fun to watch and he can move. He’s really fun to play with for sure.”
Offensive line still needs to gel
With a throng of four- and five-star players across its offensive line, there is no doubt Alabama has plenty of talent at the position. The challenge now will be finding a way to put that together in order to get results on the field.
Alabama struggled to create much of a push in the running game, gaining a combined 69 yards on the ground between both teams after taking account for sacks. That brings up another problem for the Crimson Tide on the day. Alabama quarterbacks combined for 12 sacks on the day.
“Right now, I might say we probably have four offensive linemen, I’m not going to say who, who can play winning football,” Saban said. “We probably have another four that have the potential to play winning football that may not be where they need to be. We’re going to play the best five guys that give us the best chance.”
Expect more passes to tight ends
The A-Day game isn’t the best place to look when trying to determine what Alabama’s offense will look like next season. The scrimmage is often watered down in order not to give away too much to opponents to start the season.
Taking that into account, it does appear that the Tide will go to its tight ends more this year. Alabama tight ends combined for six receptions for 71 yards and were targeted 10 times between both teams throughout the scrimmage. Leading the way was Irv Smith, who was targeted six times and tallied three receptions for 37 yards.
It will be interesting see what newly hired offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s attack will look like. Daboll comes to Alabama after spending the past three seasons coaching tight ends for the New England Patriots. Talking on the sidelines, injured linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said, “It’s easy to see why the Patriots are so successful.” The linebacker said to expect multiple packages from the offense next year and said Daboll has been embraced well by the team.
“He’s a really good offensive coordinator,” Forristall said. “When he first came in, everybody was like ‘OK, I want to know who this guy is.’ You know his past experiences, but he’s here now and he trusts us and we trust him.”
Alabama can get to the quarterback
The flip side to Alabama’s struggles on the offensive line was a dominant performance from its front seven. Nine different Tide players registered a sack in the game, while Keith Holcombe, Rashaan Evans and Christian Miller tallied two apiece.
The play of the game might have come from outside linebacker Terrell Hall who burst into the backfield before making a perfect read on a swing pass from Tagovailoa for an interception returned for a touchdown. Hall timed his jump perfectly, snapping the ball in the air before returning it 60 yards for the score.
Keith Holcombe steps up
Holcombe has taken advantage of Hamilton’s absence, as the returning starter is still recovering from a torn ACL he suffered during the SEC Championship Game last season.
Starting in Hamilton’s place on the first-team defense Holcombe finished the game with a team-high 10 tackles and two sacks. Holcombe is expected to undergo surgery on his labrum after the season which could be a potential setback moving forward. However, he said he isn’t worried about the injury now and is instead focused on improvement.
“I’m very excited to have this opportunity here,” Holcombe said earlier in the spring. “I feel more comfortable in playing my role, making the calls, having guys ask me questions. It’s kind of crazy, like the new guys coming in asking me questions, because I remember when I was doing the same thing a couple years ago when I was in their role. But I mean I think I’m stepping up to the plate the right way for my new role, and I’m really enjoying this opportunity here.”
But don't forget Hamilton
Talking to Hamilton on the sideline, it’s obvious he’s itching to get back on the field. When asked how his rehabilitation has been, the linebacker replied, “I feel like I had to sit out a whole season.”
Hamilton finished fifth on the team with 64 tackles last season and also recorded nine tackles for a loss with two sacks and two interceptions. The rising senior said he will be back on the field this summer. He also said the time on the sidelines allowed him to see and understand the game better.
Secondary needs work
On a positive note, Alabama's secondary recorded four interceptions and made several nice plays during Saturday's scrimmage. However, as has been the case in each of the Tide's scrimmages this spring, the defensive backs struggled in the deep part of the field, giving up several explosive plays through the air.
"I think we've got to do a better job on defense with the 50/50 balls," Saban said. "If not, that's going to be an issue in the future."
Alabama defensive back Minkah Fitzpatrick, who played for the White team, said the A-Day performance was especially bitter given the way the Tide's season ended last year, giving up 420 yards to Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson.
“I was real disappointed in the team because we didn’t finish at the end,” Fitzpatrick said. “We kind of let the offense go down the field and finish, so basically it was like how we lost the championship game.”
So does the kicking game
Alabama’s kicking game continued to struggle Saturday. Walk-on Andy Pappanastos missed both his field goal attempts from 31 and 38 yards respectively. J.K. Scott, who has served exclusively as a punter until this spring, was 3 of 4, hitting on field goals of 37, 30 and 20 yards. He did miss a potential game-winner for the White team from 45 yards out.
The good news for Alabama is that it has help on the way. The Tide have a commitment from Joseph Bulovas, the No. 1 kicker in this year’s class. Bulovas will be a blue shirt, meaning he will join the team as a preferred walk-on next season before earning a scholarship when one opens up in the future.
It's still just a scrimmage
While it’s easy to get caught up in numbers from A-Day, it’s important to remember that it is still just a scrimmage. Saban essentially said as much, stating the “statistics are very misleading” while explaining that much of the scrimmage was situational.
Watching the scrimmage, it was apparent Alabama came into the day wanting to establish its passing game. It was able to do that, making A-Day an overall success. Playing against itself, there will always be things Alabama will need to work on.
Following the scrimmage, Saban seemed content but not overly impressed.
“I don’t think we’re an elite team right now,” Saban said. “We’re kind of an adequate team.”
That should give Alabama plenty of motivation heading into the summer.