Bonus observations, notes more interesting than expected from Alabama blowout

Nothing to see here, right?

Alabama beat the taste from Louisiana-Monroe’s mouth in a predictably ugly 63-7 game. Why should anyone rewatch this or read the notes of a guy’s rewind of a snoozer?

Well you made it this far and there are actually some interesting postscripts from the cupcake feast. Stick with it and I promise there will be some nuggets below worth discussing at the office Monday morning.

So let’s do this and we’ll get through this together.

— For all the talk about penalties and correcting the mental errors, to see Alabama flagged for illegal formation on the first snap was almost comical. Granted, only four of the 15 flags at Texas were on offense, but to open with a formation issue on the first scripted play was not the first impression Nick Saban expected.

— The efficiency improved after a one-yard run on the first play that counted. The two longest throws to wide outs of the season came on the third and fourth plays, respectively. The 33-yarder to Traeshon Holden went for a touchdown on a play the cornerback really bungled the tackling angle. Plays like that expose the talent gap between programs like this, all due respect to the Group of 5.

— This was also the kind of game where it was all or nothing on offense. Alabama was 1-for-6 on third downs. The six attempts were the fewest the Tide’s had since 2018 when it was 3-for-5 against The Citadel. For the season, Alabama’s no. 74 with a 38.71% success rate. Last season, Alabama finished No. 3 at 52.02%.

— Young’s first interception of the day came after spending 8.3 seconds looking downfield on the opening snap of the second possession. He went completely flat footed at one point of his survey with so little threat from the pass rush. The Warhawks rushed four and left seven in coverage with two receivers and one running back running routes. Young looked off Jase McClellan who was open for a dump down with Isaiah Bond and Jermaine Burton downfield. So, doing the math, there were six players in coverage with two receivers in the mix.

— Will Anderson was in the right place at the right time for the interception of a pass that hit the RBs hands and bounced high in the air. Henry To’o To’o said Anderson knew the play they were running but was still somewhat surprised to end up with the ball in his hands. The stiff arm he threw on QB Chandler Rodgers was downright rude. In the moment, I remember saying he missed an opportunity to strike a Heisman pose on the first time he’s held a football in three years of college game action.

— Also of note, that was Alabama’s first takeaway of the season.

— One more of note, the Crimson Tide defense has allowed two touchdowns on 190 snaps by opposing offenses.

— Safety Brian Branch had himself a good day with a sack and a punt-return touchdown. More on that coming.

— Ja’Corey Brooks recorded the second blocked punt of his career, both ending in touchdowns. The first came last year at Texas A&M and Malachi Moore scooped the one Saturday to make it 21-0. It’s interesting because ULM had a three-man shield to prevent the block but Alabama overwhelmed the right side of the Warhawk line. Three Alabama blockers made it untouched to that wall and won the 3-on-3 race. That punt formation will become a factor later on.

— For a while, this looked like it would be every bit as dominant of a defensive performance as the Utah State game. ULM managed just 21 total yards on 21 first-quarter snaps. Alabama has a 55-3 first-quarter scoring edge through three games but the second 15 minutes was an adventure again. ULM actually outgained the Tide 112-97 yards in the second quarter.

— The visitors possessed the ball for 12:08 of the second quarter, not something you typically see from a team that loses 63-7.

— After the 112-yard second quarter, ULM managed just 36 and a single first down in the second half.

— On the punt returns, a few things stand out. First, ULM continued to kick it between the white lines. Bad call. Second, Alabama showed impressive discipline to record eight punt returns without a single blocking penalty. That dogged the Tide all last season as any impressive return, usually by JoJo Earle, came with a hold or block in the back. If one happened Saturday, the flag was never thrown.

— Also, there weren’t many records older than the punt return yardage mark Alabama set in 1947, four years before Saban was born. The Tide had 204 return yards that day in a 41-12 win over LSU. That number is now 262 after the eight returns averaged 33 yards with Branch’s 68-yard score topping the cake. Saban did an interesting job explaining what worked so well in his postgame news conference and in a clip from his TV show seen below.

— Kool-Aid McKinstry’s 136 return yards on five attempts was the third-best game in Alabama history. It followed just two 2008 performances from Javier Arenas.

— From the naked eye and hazy memory, Alabama hasn’t run too many run-pass options with Bill O’Brien on the headset. One came with five minutes left in the first quarter on a play that went for a 16-yard reception to Jermaine Burton.

— It was Burton’s only catch of the day after a two-catch, 10-yard visit to Texas. Through three games after transferring from Georgia, Burton’s eight catches are fourth-most on the team.

— Saban doesn’t much but praise Young from the podium but noted he missed Burton on one deep ball he overthrew. It would’ve been a touchdown. Instead, Alabama went on to fail on a fourth-down play that set up ULM’s short field for its only score of the day. Saban took the blame for that decision.

— Young’s 7-yard touchdown run was one of the more deliberate scoring plays you’ll see. On my watch, he crossed the goal line 7.58 seconds after taking the snap.

— Will Reichard got a nice ovation during pregame introductions after kicking Alabama’s first game-winning field goal since the 2005 season. He didn’t get a shot to kick anything but extra points and kickoffs Saturday.

— ULM had practically no success running between the tackles but found a few broken contains to hit the edge in the second quarter.

— Alabama is the only team in the nation with more than 10 punt returns and an average north of 20-yards. In fact, the 13 Tide returns is second most nationally behind Utah’s 14. Alabama is averaging 21.46 a return. None of the eight teams with double digit returns averages more than 18.

— There was a mention on the broadcast about Alabama playing best when it’s in a hurry. We did some math, and of the 13 touchdown drives led by the first-team offense, they averaged taking 1:53 off the clock. They took an average of 5 plays and covered an average of 66 yards.

— On the final drive before halftime, wasn’t sure if Saban would look for more starting 93 yards from the goal line with 1:57 before halftime. A delay handoff to Gibbs went for 13 yards so it looks like they amped it up from there. A 38-yard throw to Cameron Latu was probably the best-looking throw and snag of the day. Just a nice-looking ball for what’s the longest completion of the year through three games.

— Freshman tight end Amari Niblack had his first career catch go for a touchdown to close the half. He’s the fifth to catch a TD pass for Alabama with 10 total in three games.

Thank you for reading till the end.

Michael Casagrande is a reporter for the Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @ByCasagrande or on Facebook.

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