03 November 2008
The November monkey is off of Bama's back. Yes, the Tide was a heavy favorite against Arkansas State, so a win was expected. But expected wins don't always turn into real wins. It was a bit of luck that the game fell on the first day of November, so that the Tide players got to win a game in the season's final month for the first time since 2005. So that bit of negativity is over, and Bama can move on to games that should provide a greater challenge.
It looked from the outset that Alabama could have dictated the score without ever throwing a pass. Bama was much better up front on both sides of the ball, and the Red Wolves had no answer to the Tide rushing attack. But Nick Saban takes opportunities like these to work on things in game situations, so Bama took to the air more often than I expected.
When Glen Coffee crossed the goal line to cap Bama's 16 play first drive the game was over. From that point forward it was simply a matter of keeping healthy and shifting the focus to LSU. That almost certainly wasn't the case with the players or coaches, but it sure that way for those of us spectating.
Other than it being a win, it was not a Homecoming that John Parker Wilson will look back on fondly. He never established a rhythm of any kind and the numbers showed it. There was a little cause for alarm when he went three for eleven after throwing an interception in the first half. That stretch was frighteningly reminiscent of last year, and it can not happen if a turnover happens again in Baton Rouge.
To his credit, John Parker got things going again when he had to, and the numbers the rest of the way were respectable. He did face a little more pass rush than I think any of us expected, but he absolutely must
have a better game this Saturday if Bama expects to leave LSU as the nation's #1 team.
The numbers: 15-28-1, 152 yards
When leaving the stadium it looked like the Tide might be in trouble at this position next week. Glen Coffee didn't play at all in the second half with what looked like a shoulder injury and Mark Ingram appears to hurt his knee on his final carry. Both guys worked at full speed at practice today, so a sigh of relief can be breathed.
Coffee started off running well, piling up 56 yards on just nine carries, including another touchdown. With a long of just 12 yards there was nothing spectacular to note for Glen, but ending up with an average of 6.2 yards per carry without having a long run in the mix is impressive in its own right. Throw in a reception for nine yards and you end up with 65 yards of offense in a half. Him not playing in the second half might be a blessing, as he should be more fresh this weekend.
Roy Upchurch continued to have a solid second half of the season, equaling Coffee's 6.2 yards per carry. Of his 31 yards (5 carries), 22 did come on one play, though that one play was an impressive scamper that put up Bama's first points of the second half. He likely would have gotten more touches in the second half if not for...
Mark Ingram! Welcome back, son. After a sub-par game against Tennessee the Bama freshman put up his first career 100 yard game, and earned SEC Freshman of the week honors. He finished with 113 yards on just 12 carries, an awesome 9.4 per carry. He did have a 30 yard run that skewed the average a little, but even without that play he put up an average of 7.5 yards per. Throw in two more touchdowns, his seventh and eighth of the season, and Ingram showed the ability to come back from a poor game. That's big, folks.
Bama dominated in run blocking. Really, really dominated. When you total 205 yards on 36 carries (5.7 per), you have to feel really good about your performance. Mike Johnson is becoming one of the better guards in the SEC and his development will go a long way towards helping the Tide build a dominant line in 2009 when Caldwell and (likely) Smith are gone to the NFL.
Unfortunately there was a second part to the Tide offense, and the pass blocking was not particularly good. Arkansas State managed two sacks, but also totalled four quarterback hurries from the Bama stats crew that has been notoriously stingy with giving out hurries. John Parker was rushed a lot more in this game than he should have been, and LSU's defense is certain to provide a better pass rush. This simply must
be better this weekend.
Juuuuuuuuuuuuuuulio. This guy just continues to impress. Other than a first quarter drop that ended John Parker Wilson's school record tying consecutive completion streak he was great again. It's not so much the catches as what happens after the catch that is so impressive. He does not go down on first contact. Or second. Or third. I can't imagine what he's gonna look like after a year in the strength and conditioning program. Ho-hum.... five catches for 61 yards.
Mike McCoy was the go-to guy early. The Red Wolves started the game shading the safety towards Julio, which created an opportunity for someone else. McCoy was the guy who seized that opportunity, which caused ASU to play Bama honest... and that's why Julio ended up with five receptions, mostly against one-on-one coverage. There were no big plays for Mike, but three receptions for 24 yards is a serviceable day.
There was one catch each for Marquis Maze, Travis McCall, and Earl Alexander. Maze had the longest with a 24 yarder that showed his continued ability to get behind defenses. It's only a matter of time before he puts up a 50 or 60 yard play. For McCall and Alexander it was, I'm sure, nice to see the ball headed their way. Neither guy has been a major part of the passing game this season.
Also with one catch was Brad Smelley. That's three straight games played, and three straight games with a catch. It's also three straight times that he's made a catch on third down that resulted in a first down. It was a play called with him as the primary receiver, indicating the trust that the coaches have developed in him quickly. He looked great running after the catch, showing some of the athleticism that he used as a QB in high school.
Darius Hanks got some solid comments from Coach Saban during the week, and then got some playing time in the third and fourth quarter. He had two balls thrown his way, with one going for a 10 yard gain. For a guy that has had tons of praise in each of the last two off seasons, the physicality of the game seems to still be a problem. He has the ability, though, and getting him into the game only helps him to build confidence.
Three seniors played and did not make a catch - Nick Walker, Will Oakley, and Nikita Stover. It's a particular shame for Walker, because it was the first game this season that he hasn't caught a pass (Julio is the only guy that can still say that). But all three of these guys deserve special notice, not just for being seniors on homecoming, but more specifically for their downfield blocking. As a tight end, Walker is a major part of the running game, and is much less heralded than McCall. Stover and Oakley are Bama's two best blocking wide receivers, with Stover being one of the best in the SEC at this.
At first glance it might look like these guys had an off day. Arkansas State's 91 rushing yards were considerably more than the Tide typically allowed. It was also more than 100 less than the Red Wolves typically gain. Their bread and butter play, the zone read, was a non-issue. For the second consecutive week without Terrence Cody in the middle, these guys dominated the line.
The seven guys who played the bulk of the game on the line - Deaderick, Chapman, Greenwood, Washington, Davis, Dareus, and Talbert - combined for 17 tackles, 4.5 for a loss, with three sacks. Those are big numbers in Bama's scheme where linemen are typically only there for the purpose of occupying blockers.
Throw in the fact that Brandon Fanney is really a lineman, and you can add additional seven tackles, with 1/2 for a loss.
Rolando McClain recorded his first sack of the season as part of another blue collar day for the big man in the middle of the Tide defense. While everyone else on the front seven rotates liberally, Rolando plays virtually every play. Can you think of a single meaningful snap this entire season that Rolando wasn't on the field? I don't think there has been.
Don'ta Hightower is getting better. He's played very solid all season, but his play recognition, and willingness to maintain his assignment, rather than run to the ball, are both light years ahead of where they were in game one. This kid is going to be special.
Cory Reamer, Eryk Anders, and Courtney Upshaw took most of the remaining meaningful snaps, and each guy played well. Throw in some late snaps for Prince Hall, Chavis Willimas, and Jerrell Harris, and this group got a lot of action on Saturday.
Teams like Arkansas State love to hit you with the running game and screens to running backs. The fact that no back for the Red Wolves had more than one catch signals that these guys did their job in pass coverage.
Rashad Johnson finally scored a touchdown. I imagine when he walked on at Alabama as a running back he had dreams of scoring a TD in Bryant-Denny Stadium, but under completely different circumstances. Rashad struggled a bit early in the season, but he has played at an All-SEC level for the last four games - with this game being his best.
He was the guy given the responsibility of taking the back on the zone read play, and he kept it from being an issue. He ended the game with 13 total tackles, including 2.5 for a loss. Usually it's a bad thing when a DB has this many tackles, but the way that Rashad played the run made him something close to a hybrid linebacker in this game.
When the opposing QB is just 8-17 for 67 yards on the day it means that everyone in this group had a solid day. Javier Arenas and Kareem Jackson were great in pass coverage. Marquis Johnson was solid, though he was more noticeable on special teams. Justin Woodall wasn't as active, but that had more to do with his assignments for the day within the scheme than with anything he did wrong.
Ali Sharrief and Tyrone King both saw significant action when the Red Wolves spread the field, and both guys continue to be good at the money (dime back) position. They likely won't see a ton of action the rest of the way, as Bama's final three regular season opponents are more likely to grind it out than to try and go five wide.
It seems like every time one aspect of the special teams is shored up (coverage), another becomes a problem. I said in the preseason that I thought "special teams coordinator" was a bit of a misnomer, as all of Bama's coaches work on special teams. There's a problem somewhere here, though, and I don't know where it is.
Yes, PJ Fitzgerald has improved. Leigh Tiffin has been mostly reliable. But the return teams, both returns and coverage have been down from last season. It would be nice to see these groups become a factor for the positive in Bama's last three games.
All in all it was what you want for a Homecoming game. It would have been nice to get another score in the first half so that more guys could have played late, but that's just nit-picking. When you win a game 35-0 and you come out of the game without significant injury, you clap your hands and move on to the next week.