Alabama, Auburn have room to improve

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 5, 2007

College football has begun. Alabama and Auburn both won, which bodes well for workplace relations in the state, though each side has their own slant to their cross state rivals&8217; victory. Luckily, the Michigan Wolverines provided the safety escape topic for Alabama and Auburn faithful getting close to a heated conversation.

The previously ranked No. 5 Blue and Yellow up north fell, 34-32, at home in front of 109,218 fans against Appalachian State. Of course, one should remember that Appalachian State is one of the premier programs of NCAA Division I and for the first time in school history during the regular season after their Ann Arbor win, Appalachian is the nation&8217;s unanimous top-ranked team in this week&8217;s NCAA Division I Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) national poll. ASU was ranked No. 1 on all 88 ballots cast by media and sports information directors nationwide.

But it still is Division I, maybe the loss will remind the guys ranking Michigan in the top ten every year that the team isn&8217;t as good as it once was. Not even last year, during a good season for the team, when everyone thought they and Ohio State were the top teams in the Nation. (This is one of the few times I will say this) Go Gators.

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But in all seriousness back to our instate programs. Looking at the numbers, Alabama looked astounding on Saturday, while Auburn looked a little stagnant. Unfortunately for Alabama fans and fortunately for Auburn fans, pure numbers alone can sometimes be deceiving. Anyone who was watching both games knows Alabama isn&8217;t near as good as their win over the Western Caroline Catamounts suggests and Auburn is not a shoddy team after their close fought game with the Kansas State Wildcats. Something both coaches know:

Alabama put up strong numbers and showed a number of bright spots in its opener against the Catamounts. For the first time in a long time an offense came to the game for the Crimson-clad players. The team put up 575 total yards (the most since playing the University of Texas El Paso in 2001), 313 of which were on the ground, winning, 52-6. They set a school record with 35 first downs in the game, had a back (a freshman too) break a big rushing gain on the first play, drove the ball down field consistently and saw Saban&8217;s first win.

But they did it against Western Carolina. The group wasn&8217;t facing an SEC defense. And the Tide&8217;s defense wasn&8217;t on point like they need when they enter their real schedule against conference opponents.

The defense allowed the Catamounts 247 yards, which will not get it done in the SEC. Even worse, only 76 yards of that was on the ground, so the Bama coverage allowed 171 yards passing from the team. A lot of this was getting burned in man, so Saban needs to look at what has been traditionally his most hands on position, the defensive backs, and find out what the hell is going on before the team faces a real opponent.

For Auburn&8217;s part, the Tigers trailed in their match up until two scores with only 2:01 remaining in the game saved the group. The Orange and Blue&8217;s quarterback played most of the game with the Wildcat defense in his face, due to his team&8217;s young offensive line. He was sacked five times in the game, four in the first half. And the rushing game didn&8217;t help. The Tigers rushed for only 62 yards on the day.

The up side is that Kansas State was gunning to knock off a ranked opponent, and I am sure the team&8217;s coaches left it all on the field with their first game match up. Most of Auburn&8217;s problems fall on the offensive line, which can afford to struggle early with the backing of the rest of the Tiger roster.

If the unit can get it together by the beginning of the SEC schedule for Auburn, the passing game and rushing game will both show vast improvements.

Both Alabama and Auburn have serious issues to which to adjust, but both programs have a small bit of time still to work out the kinks before they head into the meat and potatoes of their schedule. Their only worry right now is a fluke upset that Auburn was almost privy to and Michigan fans will never forget.

Brandon Glover is the sports editor of The Times. He can be reached at