Alabama bye-week checklist: Paging Gehrig Dieter, Robert Foster, more

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Quality control is the name of the game this week at Alabama.

Rest and relaxation, even after eight consecutive games to start the season, comes secondary to the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide focusing on the details. Now is the time for what coach Nick Saban refers to as self-scouting.

Whether it’s how they play the run against a certain front or how they play a coverage against certain formations, nothing goes unchecked. Saban and his staff will examine every running play they have and determine: What’s our average? What’s our efficiency?

Because there’s a difference between average and efficiency, Saban said, pointing out how one 75-yard play can overshadow 10 plays that went for no gain.

“You can take just about everything that you have and break it down and look at it and try to figure out how you can improve it, how you can coach it better,” he said.

With that in mind, here’s a broad look at some of the things Alabama should hope to accomplish before returning to action against LSU next week:

Improve the downfield passing game: If there’s one knock on Jalen Hurts, it’s that he’s not particularly adept at the deep ball. He’s a freshman, of course, so he should be graded on somewhat of a curve. But nonetheless, completing just 13 of 35 passes thrown 20 or more yards in the air isn’t as efficient as you’d like to see from a championship-caliber quarterback.

Get more playmakers involved: The good news is the running game has taken off in recent weeks. The bad news is that it seems to have come at the expense of the receivers. While it’s great that Calvin Ridley and ArDarius Stewart are having solid seasons, you’d like to see the ball spread around a little bit more. Gehrig Dieter hasn’t had more than two catches in a game all season and didn’t catch a single pass against either Tennessee or Texas A&M. Meanwhile, Robert Foster continues to go unused with just five receptions this season.

Limit penalties: Even after a convincing 19-point win over a top-10 team in Texas A&M, Saban was upset. In his opening remarks Wednesday, he mentioned the eight penalties in the game. Whether it was a false start of an offside call on defense, it’s the so-called “unforced errors” that drive him mad. And he has a point. Alabama has a robust 50 penalties on the season, which is tied for the most in the SEC.

Secure the football: Speaking of unforced errors, Alabama needs to be careful to not turn the football over. It’s been largely overshadowed by the defense’s ability to create takeaways and score, but it’s still a point of concern. Alabama, which had 17 turnovers all of last season, has 12 through eight games this year. One more fumble lost would be one more than the Tide had all of last season.

Touchdowns, not field goals: The first half against Texas A&M was interesting in that Alabama was dominating both sides of the ball and the scoreboard didn’t reflect it. The Aggies scored a touchdown before the half and suddenly it was a close game. Why? Because Alabama continually went into the red zone and had to settle for field goals. Doing so let the Aggies hang around when it should have been a run-away win. Now, Saban is fond of saying that any drive that ends in a kick, whether it’s a punt or a field goal, is good. But obviously it’s not ideal. Alabama ranking in the middle of the pack in the SEC in red zone touchdown percentage (62.2) isn’t ideal.