No. 4 Tide trailed against Fla. Int’l

Published 12:00 am Saturday, September 19, 2009

What a difference a year makes.

During the 2008 football season, Alabama was known for fast starts. Huge early leads. A front-runner that trailed in a game only once during the regular season.

Two games into the 2009 season, however, the fourth-ranked Crimson Tide has already displayed stark contrast to a year ago. Bama trailed Virginia Tech at halftime in the season opener. It took Alabama nearly three quarters — the Tide trailed in the second quarter — to subdue upstart Florida International.

Not to mention allowing two kickoff returns for touchdowns.

It now appears to be grating on head coach Nick Saban. Earlier in the week, he even referred to the Tide game preparations as similar to getting a car ready for a NASCAR race. Saban just had one question: “Why are we driving in the slow lane?”

With a chance to accelerate, Alabama hosts North Texas in an early-morning matchup today in Tuscaloosa. It is time to get in the fast lane with SEC play about to begin.

North Texas may not provide much resistance, as the years have not been kind in the Mean Green’s jump into Division I football. A 4-22 record over the last two seasons. An 0-2 start in 2009 with losses to Bowling Green and Ohio. The resume isn’t pretty.

This game, then, may be more about supplemental storylines: Bama quarterback Greg McElroy once played for North Texas coach Todd Dodge. Alabama may be without the services of receiver Julio Jones and running back Roy Upchurch — both suffered injuries against FIU. And the game will be the Tide’s final tune-up before hosting Arkansas next week.

McElroy and Dodge led Southlake Carroll to a Texas high school state title. It would have been even more interesting had Dodge’s son, Riley, not been injured. The Mean Green starter — McElroy’s former teammate — will miss today’s game.

As for Jones and Upchurch, the injuries do not appear to be major. Their absence opens the door for freshmen Trent Richardson and Michael Bowman to see plenty of action. Both played against FIU, and Richardson’s 118 rushing yards led Bama’s win.

With the SEC opener against Arkansas looming, the Tide must use this game to shore up its secondary and special teams units. You can bet Saban spent more than a little time on corrective work in those areas this week.

Assuming the corrective work is complete, the Tide will roll, 33-6.

Scoop Rivers, a former sportswriter for the Mobile Press, lives in Selma and is a trust officer with BankTrust.