Sandwiched between a marquee season opener against USC and a conference-opener against Ole Miss, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers came to Tuscaloosa for a Week 2 matchup against the Crimson Tide. While Alabama didn’t have the sharpest of outings, the Tide handily defeated Western Kentucky, 38-10.
After the win, Alabama coach Nick Saban said he has never been “this disappointed after winning a game, maybe ever,” per AL.com’s Michael Casagrande. Even after another blowout win, there is still plenty for the defending national champions to work on.
Here’s what we learned in Alabama’s win over Western Kentucky
1. Quarterback Competition is over… for now
The biggest question for the Crimson Tide heading into the matchup against the Hilltoppers was how the starting reps at quarterback would be divided between true freshman Jalen Hurts and redshirt freshman Blake Barnett. The number of opportunities given to the two quarterbacks left little doubt over who will be the starter going forward.
Jalen Hurts got the start after coming off the bench against USC. While Hurts probably should have been expected to receive the majority of the snaps on Saturday, it was surprising to see him attempt 37 passes to only six for Barnett. The emphasis on getting Hurts as many snaps as possible made it seem that the game plan for Alabama was to prepare Hurts for next week’s game against Ole Miss rather than continue the battle between Hurts and Barnett. Hurts took advantage of his increased role in the Tide’s second game, throwing for 287 yards and two touchdowns while connecting on 23 of 36 attempts. Those numbers could have been higher if it weren’t for two would-be touchdown passes that were dropped in the second half. If the true freshman proves to be incapable of leading Alabama back to the SEC championship and College Football Playoff, a change could always be made.
For now, the job belongs to Hurts.
2. Alabama’s run game could be an issue
This probably sounds blasphemous for anyone who has watched Alabama football in the last decade, but for the first time in Nick Saban’s tenure in Tuscaloosa, the Crimson Tide might actually have an issue running the football.
Against the Hilltoppers, Alabama was never able to generate any consistency on the ground. Some of that was due to the play-calling, which focused more on giving the quarterbacks the chance to make plays through the air than establishing any rhythm in the running game. A feature back hasn’t yet come into his own. Damien Harris has been the most productive so far, but he rushed for just 45 yards on 11 carries against the Hilltoppers. Even in his 138-yard outburst against USC, the majority of his yards came on two long runs of 50 or more yards, not from consistently moving forward on the ground.
History says Alabama should have this “problem” ironed out in no time, but this could be a perceived weakness for a team that doesn’t have many.
3. Alabama’s defensive players are what we thought they were
Okay, maybe we didn’t just learn this lesson against Western Kentucky, but we were certainly reminded of it.
On a day, when the Crimson Tide looked flat for the most part, Alabama’s vaunted defense didn’t show any signs of easing up against the prolific WKU passing attack. The talented WKU offense could have given the Tide problems on Saturday if the defense had played with any lack of urgency. Instead, it was pretty much nothing doing for the Hilltoppers’ offense, which mustered 239 total yards.
Outside of a flea flicker that put Western Kentucky in field goal range in the first half, Alabama’s defense did not allow another score until the starters exited and the backups allowed Drew Eckels to hit Lucky Jackson for the first touchdown the Crimson Tide have given up this season. Still, it was impressive to see the Alabama defense keep the intensity ramped up against a C-USA opponent.