ATLANTA — Unless you’re a part of the group that bought heavily into the betting line Alabama’s season opener went exactly how it was supposed to.
Aside from running back, wide receiver and tight end, the No. 2 Crimson Tide broke in new starters at every position Saturday in its 33-23 win over West Virginia.
But despite all the talk about the quarterback, the specialists and the offensive line, Alabama’s biggest problem came in coverage.
West Virginia often put Tide cornerback Bradley Sylve on an island against one of its bigger receivers. Sylve, listed at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, struggled against West Virginia’s Kevin White, who’s listed at 6-3, 210 pounds. Even when Sylve was in good position, he still couldn’t make a play on the ball. Part of the credit should go to West Virginia’s quarterback, Clint Trickett, for making near perfect throws. But Sylve has to get better at defending receivers in space.
Also, Alabama’s secondary seemed content to let the receivers catch the ball, then make the tackle. Maybe they’re being taught to keep everything in front of them this year and not get overly aggressive. Problem with that is that if a player misses a tackle, the receiver has a chance to break a big play.
Still, it wasn’t all on the secondary. Alabama’s linebackers looked lost in coverage. While sophomore Reuben Foster looked good against the run, he is still raw against the pass. With Foster and Reggie Ragland making the calls for the defense, the unit was out of sync to start the game.
This is the one area where the Tide definitely missed not having senior Trey DePriest. Whether someone thinks DePriest is a superior player or athlete is irrelevant to this situation. He’s played a significant role on the defense since he arrived and knows the playbook almost as well as the coaches. He’s the quarterback for the defense and having him back should fix up the communication issues.
Replacing C.J. Mosley won’t be easy, but at least DePriest has enough knowledge of the defense to put everyone in the right position.
The bad news Saturday was that even with a full offseason of practice, Alabama’s defense still appeared to be confused at times when West Virginia went no-huddle. The players were looking to the sideline for the call, and it didn’t come as fast as it should have on some occasions.
Alabama’s defense also gave up 365 passing yards. There could have been plenty more if not for dropped passes by Mountaineer receivers.
The good news is Alabama’s defense held West Virginia to just 28 rushing yards on 24 carries. The Tide also allowed just six points in the second half.
The Tide’s offense piled up 538 yards of offense which included two 100-yard rushers and a 100-yard receiver. Arguably the best news was the play of kicker Adam Griffith and punter JK Scott. Griffith made all four of his field goal attempts, and Scott showcased a strong leg in his debut.
Even better news, Alabama has two more weeks to figure everything out before it faces a tough opponent.
Sports Writer Marq Burnett: On Twitter @Marq_Burnett.