30 December 2008
"Uh, did you say yutes?...What is a yute?"
Judge Chamberlain Haller from My Cousin Vinny
Usually, when we bring you a breakdown of the Tides next opponent it is stat driven in an effort to give you some insight on the opponent's players to watch. Since we are drawing close to a new year, and I have been off dang near two weeks so I am bored silly, I have decided to change the format up a bit.
Instead of statting you to death, I am going to give you, in my opinion, what Alabama must do to win the game and to a lesser extent what Utah will do to win the game. All the while, look for the players and things to watch for in Bama's first bowl game in 15 years.
When Alabama has the ball
The big match up in this game is no secret. Alabama's massive offensive line versus Utah's small, quick defensive line. I will get to that in a moment but I think there is another match up that might be more important. Julio Jones, as a freshman, has been a match up nightmare for every team the Tide has played this season. At 6-4 215ish, number eight has towered physically over every DB in the SEC.
Let me introduce you to Junior Sean Smith. The 6-3 214lb junior corner will be assigned to Jones the whole game. Smith is considered one of the top underclassmen in the country by NFL scouts and is a certain first round pick should he declare.
Smith's stats reflect that gaudy praise. He has 40 tackles this season to go along with five interceptions and eight pass break ups. More impressive is the 30 yards he averages per interception return. Considering Smith has accumulated these stats as teams try to stay away from him, the kid is obviously a threat.
Did I mention that Smith has 4.4 speed? Also, for all of you recruiting aficionados who live and die by star rankings - Smith was a Rivals.com two star player as a high school senior in California.
So what does this mean for the Tide? John Parker Wilson has a tendency to lock on to one receiver and this year it was Jones. Wilson will need to get away from that in this game. The obvious answer would be for another receiver to step up. Someone like Darius Hanks or Mike McCoy (finally?).
That would be nice but I think the passing game can be successful. Were I Jim McElwain, I would always put a back or tight end in the same third of the field that Jones is in. When Julio runs the deep square in, have Nick Walker sit down in the short middle. When Julio is running a pattern on the edge, run Glen Coffee or Walker out in the flat.
If the Utes are in straight man, Jones will clear out that portion of the field and if they are zoning it will flood the zone with the obvious focus on #8. Jones is going to get his share of balls thrown his way but doing something in this regard can keep the Utah defense honest.
Now back to the line versus line match-up. Let's look at pass protection since we were just talking about Julio Jones. This is where the absence of Andre Smith will be noticed the most and here is why.
The line will most likely look one of two ways: Mike Johnson moves outside and David Ross plays left guard or Drew Davis flips tackle spots and John Michael Boswell plays right tackle. Doesn't really matter to me which, the philosophy will be the same.
Short passes. Short passes until the line proves they can handle the stunts and twists they are going to see from the Utes front four. The Utah defensive line averages about 260 lbs so look for them to not go straight at the Tide offensive line, especially now that there is one less All-American tackle on the field.
I agree with nxojkt that we will most likely see Boswell on the field before Ross because when defensive lines are stunting and twisting the guards become more important in pass protection than they ordinarily are. I would rather have a veteran inside in this situation. It doesn't hurt that Boswell has played very well this season.
When Utah has the ball
The running game won't be a factor. Looking at Matt Asiata's 678 yards rushing that leads the team as exhibit A. That averages out to 56 yards per game.
The passing game is where Utah makes its' hay. With Urban Meyer having coached at Utah and his offensive coordinator, Kyle Whittingham, having taken over as head coach upon Meyers trip southeast everyone wants to compare the Utes to Florida. That would mean comparing Senior Brian Johnson to Tim Tebow.
Brian Johnson is no Tim Tebow. Johnson is a talented player. His 2636 yards passing and 68% completion percentage are good numbers. Johnson has thrown for more yards than Tebow but has rushed for half as many yards.
The key to stopping the Utes passing game will be pressuring Johnson. The problem with the passing game Utah employs is that if you zone against it, they will dink and dunk you to death in the holes of the zone. If you man against it, they will cross players in routes.
Put some pressure on the quarterback and make him throw off rhythm and you can gets some picks or worst case incompletions.
That being said, I think the more important match up in this game might be Bama's defensive line versus Utah's offensive line. While the Ute's have a veteran line with two seniors and a junior to go along with two sophomores, I doubt they have seen a defensive line with as much speed to go with the size of the Alabama defensive front.
Looking at the Utes schedule, the only decent defense they played this year is TCU and they only manged 13 points at home in that victory.
The big concern going into this game is that Alabama might not mentally be in the game due to missing out on a chance to play for a national championship and having to play a non-BCS team in the Sugar Bowl. A lack of respect for Utah could have been an issue until...
Here is where I get controversial. Losing Andre Smith might be a good thing.
Hear me out. While the Tide may have been over looking Utah before, now Saban will be able to circle the wagons by pointing to the Tulane game to focus Bama on the task at hand. Saint Nick loves it when he can use a negative to push his team to get better and this could be it.
The players know they didn't play well when 'Dre was out against the Green Wave, so know they will buckle down and maybe (hopefully) focus on the task at hand in the undefeated Utes.
The game will be close for a half or so before Alabama's depth and strength prove to much for Utah to handle.