04 November 2008
Let's get this straight: I LIKE boring, methodical beat-downs of outmanned foes. They smell like victory - or like old times around Tuscaloosa. And that's why, although the last two Bama games have not really shown all that much that would thrill an outside observer, I have quite enjoyed them.
Here's a toast to numerous boring dismantlings of inferior opponents over the next few decades.
Not only did Bama beat down Arkansas State, but we also beat down that nasty oh for November streak before it had time to get in the guys' heads during a real game.
By now, we pretty much know what the Tide has offensively: a strong, but not great, running game, and an average passing game that we trot out to keep foes from focusing on the running attack. Against teams like Arkansas State, Bama could probably line up and run at 'em on every play and leave 'em bloody and battered by the last whistle, but we don't want that passing attack to get rusty. It will be needed to help carve up LSU this weekend.
This week, the passing attack didn't really add much, and in fact we could probably have scored more than the 28 offensive points we racked up if we had just run it down their throats. But keeping the rust scrubbed off the passing attack was more important than racking up another score or two against the Red Wolves.
One thing you have to hand to John Parker Wilson - and I'm not being sarcastic here (at least not much) - he knows when to have a bad game. He was pretty awful against ASU, nearly as bad as he was against Tulane. Hopefully that will clear him to carve up the Bayoux Bengals this week the way he handled a certain group of bulldawgs a few weeks back.
Funny thing is, JPW actually threw the ball well on Saturday, some of his better passing of the year. But that thing he has about locking onto a receiver and never checking off? It was at its full-blown worst on Saturday. He threw into heavy coverage when he was not under pressure over and over and over. And when the pressure did come, he pretty much freaked.
Just to tell the whole story, he did in fact "find" Travis McCall as a secondary receiver for a six-yard gain off a scramble on the first play of the second half. But when the guy you "find" is a large-bodied type and you would run smack into him if you took another three steps in the direction you're going, well personally I give kind of minimal credit for going through the progressions on that play.
By the way, I've come up with a theory on why Wilson has overthrown the deep ball so much this year. It reminds us of something that perhaps we should bear in mind more often, and that is that we tend to see what we expect to see.
Something about Wilson's passing has been nagging at the back of my mind the past few weeks. I finally came up with an idea of what it might be before the Arkansas State game, and along about the time he uncorked one in the third quarter that was well over Julio Jones' head, I figured out I was on to something.
What I had been thinking was that Wilson's arm strength had improved since his sophomore season. On the play I'm talking about, Wilson released the ball on his own 43-yard-line, and it fell to the ground about three yards deep in the end zone. 60 yards downfield. It didn't have a rainbow arc, either, which suggests he could get it a little bit more downfield if he put a higher arc on it.
I don't think John Parker had that throw in him two years ago, or last year either. So maybe he is consistently overthrowing the bomb this year because he literally doesn't realize his own (new) arm strength.
The moral of this story - for us - is to always remember to see what you see, even if it's not what you expected to see. For Wilson, the moral is bring it down, son! You're overthrowing almost every downfield pass!
It was another big game for the three-headed monster, but it's more than a little worrisome that both Coffee and Ingram got dinged in the second half. There's really no way of knowing how healthy they will be this week, because Saban keeps that kind of info on the down low.
Ingram finally looked healthy again. I love the way that big guy cuts. And Coffee didn't fumble - I trust his running, so that's what I'm mainly watching him for.
Running-back pass blocking was much improved this week.
I promised to report to you when Julio dropped a pass - and I'm not quite certain whether or not I have something to report. He got his hands on a JPW pass in the first quarter and did not haul it in, but it was thrown behind him. Unfortunately, the camera angle didn't really show whether the ball was catchable or not, and I'm not going to call it a dropped pass until I can determine it was catchable. So we'll just call that a maybe.
Kudos to ASU DB Daylan Walker, by the way, who showed exactly how to tackle Julio Jones one-on-one: (1) Hit him as soon as he makes the catch and before he has time to start running, (2) hit him hard around the waist, and wrap him up, and (3) slide down from the waist to the legs and don't let go. Walker dropped Julio in his tracks on a short pass in the second quarter, perhaps the first time we've seen that this year.
I must report that Earl Alexander did not show particularly well. Not only did he drop an easy first-half reception, but later caught a ball in the left flat with his defender six or seven yards downfield - and his first juke was BACKWARD. Sheesh!
My hope was that we would use this game as a tune-up to get more wideouts into the flow, but with the way Wilson was locking on, he wasn't about to see a bunch of secondary and tertiary receivers. At least Julio only got 50% of our wideout yardage in this game - 62 of 124 yards - instead of the bulk of it as in most games.
A lot of times you miss wideout blocking when you're watching it on TV, but there were at least three plays Saturday where Nikita Stover was very visible taking his man clean out of the play. Usually, you look for a wideout to kind of screen a guy off, make him take a couple of extra steps to get where he's going, maybe push him a foot or so, but when Nikita blocked 'em they stayed blocked. One of his TV-visible blocks was a pancake, and it wasn't a blind-sider either, it was just two guys hitting each other head on and one of 'em getting knocked down.
There were a couple of pass-coverage breakdowns, but other than that, the line was on its game.
Mike Johnson looked great hauling his 300-pound body out on some very effective sweep pulling to the left side. Andre Smith is fun to watch in pass blocking. If his guy bullrushes he gets stopped. If he loops around, he winds up looping WAAAAAY around. Whatever he does, Andre keeps him well away from the QB.
We might've hung 100 on 'em if we had run student body left every play. Some of those plays it looked like our backs were running down building corridors with brick walls. And those walls weren't going ANYWHERE.
I know this was just Arkansas State, but this had to be one of the Bama defense's best games. The Red Wolves were averaging 33.3 points a game coming in and had scored at least 17 in every ballgame, including games against semi-respectable foes such as Memphis, Southern Miss, and Texas A&M. They never crossed the 35 against Bama, and the one time they made it there they were immediately thrown back to their side of the field after giving up a ten-yard sack on 4th and 20.
By the time Bama made it 14-0 in the second quarter, you had the sense that whatever the Tide offense added from then on was just window dressing. It was going to take a fluke for ASU to score any points at all, and a 14-point lead in the second quarter was safe as houses.
It looked like our best pass-rushing game of the season. How good was it really? Hard to say, because it's hard to say how good Arkansas State's pass protection really is. They were giving up two sacks a game against fairly thin competition, and we got four. What does that mean? You tell me.
At any rate, our pass rush took what was already an undistinguished ASU passing game and made it pretty much useless. That left us with a better chance to concentrate on the Red Wolves' offensive strength, running the ball, and when the nation's #2 rushing defense concentrates on your running attack, you're probably not going far.
Arkansas State did show off a nice stable of running backs, particularly that little fire-hydrant-looking guy, 5'9" 220 Reggie Arnold, who probably broke more Bama tackles than any other back this year, but when the smoke had cleared Arkansas State had rushed for 91 yards on 47 carries. 1.9 yards per carry is not going to win you many when the passing game is kaput.
Brandon Deaderick and Bobby Greenwood led the way with a sack and a half each. Deaderick added another TFL and had six tackles overall.
Marcel Dareus continued to impress in limited time. I'm sure ASU QB Corey Leonard remembers Dareus - probably every time he breathes, and definitely
every time he laughs.
Poor Mr. Leonard also remembers Rolando McClain, whose savage tackdown of the Red Wolves QB on the aforementioned 4th-and-20 play competes with Dareus' hit on the same fellow for the hit of the game. (Sorry, Mark Barron. . . .) McClain had six tackles, the sack, a hurry, and although he is not credited for them in the box score, two deflected passes.
Don'ta Hightower added five tackles, although in a bit of a reversion to early-season form, they averaged a bit farther downfield than you would like to see your linebackers making most of their plays. Arkansas State's offense is run-focused, leading to increased playing time for Cory Reamer, who leaves the field when Bama plays the nickel, as it frequently does. Given that, Reamer's two tackles were a bit of a disappointment compared to his early-season play.
I guess one reason the tackle numbers weren't incredibly high for the Tide linebackers was because Rashad Johnson kept tackling guys before our backers could get to them. Rashad racked up 13 tackles, by far the best total for a Bama player this season, 2.5 of them for loss, and added a pass breakup and a pick six.
Johnson's father was last seen bragging about his son, who had always dreamed of scoring a touchdown for the Tide. Kareem Jackson told a reporter that Johnson "is going to be talking so much trash about that touchdown, I should have tackled him myself." A little trash-talking may be forgiven after the kind of performance Johnson had Saturday. His tackling technique - hit 'em low and wrap up - is as good as it gets, and was very much on display against ASU.
Between Johnson's tackles and the Red Wolves' tendency to run, the rest of Bama's DBs got less work than usual. It should be noted, though, what when Corey Leonared DID pass, he hit only 8-17 for 67 yards with no TDs and the aforementioned pick.
That kickoff coverage still worries me. We were back to the unwelcome sight of Leigh Tiffin making a tackle, and the middle of the field is just not getting clogged.
Tiffin missed a relatively short field goal in his only attempt. His consistency is not coming around as I had hoped. At times, he looks just like dear old dad; other times, like some random guy snagged from the student body to kick. To be fair, he did record a touchback, although accuracy demands I tag it with the adjective "rare."
I know Javier Arenas has good hands, but after his second fumble in as many weeks hopefully he will be getting the message on when to fair catch - and the answer, Javy, is more often