Even with clear problems in the offensive line and secondary, top-ranked Alabama had the playmakers to beat Virginia Tech 35-10 in Saturday’s Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game.
Even with a so-so debut from new starting quarterback Nick Marshall, Auburn got enough big plays from running backs Tre Mason and Corey Grant and three turnovers from its defense to beat Washington State 31-24 in Gus Malzahn’s debut as Auburn’s head coach.
Even with a slow-to-crank offense and two costly late turnovers, JSU had defense enough to open the Bill Clark era with a 24-22 victory at Alabama State.
Alabama, Auburn and JSU won on the same weekend for the first time since Nov. 19, 2011, when JSU beat Tennessee State, Auburn beat Samford and Alabama beat Georgia Southern.
Some observations as we smile:
Alabama: Secondary concerns
While the offensive line drew most of the fire in the aftermath of the Tide’s win over Virginia Tech, the secondary was the primary concern on defense.
It didn’t show statistically, because Tech quarterback Logan Thomas overthrew some long balls. When he was accurate, his receivers dropped his passes.
Had the Hokies been able to pitch and catch, they would have had more than one explosive play against Alabama. At least one overthrow likely would have gone for a touchdown, had Thomas’ second-quarter heave caught Demitri Knowles in stride.
Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have two weeks to get that fixed before facing Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel, who dazzled as much with his accuracy as his legs in Tuscaloosa a year ago.
Oh, and LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger looked good under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron against Texas Christian on Saturday. Come to think of it, he looked good against Alabama in 2012.
Auburn: Secondary surprise
OK, so Auburn’s depleted secondary gave up 344 passing yards against Washington State. That’s bad and not unexpected against Mike Leach’s offense.
The Tigers also came up with three interceptions in their season-opener, one more pickoff than they snagged all last season. That’s good.
Auburn wound up getting only seven points out of star Robenson Therezie’s two interceptions and safety Joshua Holsey’s one, but it was an encouraging sign for a Gus Malzahn-coached team.
Malzahn’s offense doesn’t need a dominant defense. He’ll take three-and-outs, but turnovers serve the same purpose. They get the ball back for his offense and, often, in better field position.
Give Malzahn’s offense a few turnovers to work with, and odds are he can outscore a lot of opponents. The first-quarter touchdown Auburn scored after a Therezie pick gave the Tigers possession at State’s 28-yard line wound up equaling the margin of victory.
JSU: The “phew” factor
First-year JSU coach Bill Clark saw a lot of “phew” factor in his first game as a college head coach, and there were reasons other than Brent Tolson’s clinching interception for JSU fans to say “phew!”
Phew, the first-time college head coach can manage a game and improvise. He wasn’t stubborn about his choice of starting quarterback, spelling Eli Jenkins with Max Shortell after the offense sputtered through the game’s first 20 minutes.
Phew, the coach with a defensive background appears to have brought good defense back to JSU. Alabama State’s two touchdowns came on drives shorter than 10 yards, after JSU turnovers.
Phew, JSU opened by winning a losable game on the road and looks likely to start 2-0, when Jacksonville comes to Burgess-Snow Field at JSU Stadium this week.
Phew, nothing happened in a road season-opener to zap enthusiasm for Clark’s first home game as his alma mater’s head coach.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.