21 October 2008
OK, now it's getting old. Predictable, and old. Alabama comes out firing in the first half, firmly establishes itself as the best team on the field and commandingly proves that the opposing team is outmanned. Then Alabama firmly and commandingly goes away and sends some peewee team out for the second half.
64-13 for the 2nd half of the last three games: bad guys. 64-13. Yes, we won those games, but we are currently at the level where politics counts and consistently winning nail-biters by surviving second-half collapses is bad politics.
I was glad to hear Saban say at this week's presser that there would be focus on changes from both the players and coaches to end this trend, because after three straight games responsibility is officially on the staff. That doesn't mean that players are guiltless, but it does mean that this has become a trend without staff doing what was necessary to prevent that from occurring. Ultimately, the buck stops in the head coach's office. Everybody from Saban down to the managers needs to take this personally and do what has to be done to stop it.
One thing I would suggest to the coaches is to show some damn aggression in the second half, even if we're up twenty. It doesn't say "stay aggressive - finish" when you punt on 4th and 1 in the opponents' territory just as your team has started moving the ball, as Bama did on the first series of the fourth quarter Saturday. That signals "stay cautious and don't screw up this lead."
How 'bout going for it on a fourth-down second-half play? Starting the half with an onside kick? Throwing a halfback pass? Faking a punt? In other words, don't just tell the team to be aggressive, show the team what aggressive means.
Les Miles draws a lot of derision around these parts, but his teams never have to wonder whether they are really supposed to stay aggressive. Not that I'm proposing a coach trade, mind you, but Miles has some traits to learn from. Bobby Bowden used to be the same way back when his neurons still fired.
Ole Miss was giving up 24.7 points per game coming into Saturday's match, but even though their best defensive player barely saw the field and they handed Bama three turnovers, the Tide could only cash in for 24. That result doesn't match Bama's offensive talent level.
The game plan was a factor. We didn't mix the direction of our runs up as much as we usually do, and we obviously got complacent in the second half both in play-calling and in execution. Once we drew in our horns offensive balance-wise we didn't score again.
Especially if you take away the ugly overthrow pick - I've heard all kinds of theories blaming this on McCoy or Jones and I'm not buying for a second - this was one of John Parker Wilson's most accurate throwing games. This performance was about the best you can expect from a quarterback who doesn't go through progressions, has no pocket presence, and has an arm of average strength at best. In fact, despite all the quarterback deficiencies cited above, if we had kept piling on the steam in the second half Wilson could easily have wound up with a 350-yard four-touchdown game, despite the fact that he dealt with probably more pressure than he has seen all season.
Still, JPW just didn't get it done in the second half. Yes, the game plan went conservative, but he had a few chances to make things happen and didn't do it.
Like most good running backs, Mark Ingram will probably only improve with more carries.
He's likely to get them, because Glen Coffee was already living on borrowed time even before coughing one up at a crucial point in the game on Saturday. I think Coffee is officially past the point where he can fumble without seeing a cut in PT. I predict Coffee and Ingram to split carries equally in the future, and if Coffee drops another one it will only get worse for his involvement in the offense. Conversely, if he puts together a couple of games without a drop he could be the feature back again against LSU.
(By the way, Ole Miss players claimed that Coffee put another one on the carpet in the first half, but the refs disagreed and no replay was ever shown. Normally I would ignore something like that, but given Coffee's play of late, I would like to have seen that replay just for informational purposes.)
Overall, it was not a distinguished game for our running backs. Coffee and Ingram each averaged 4.0 yards a pop, well below their yearly averages. Coffee dropped the aforementioned ball. The two combined for one yard receiving. Neither distinguished himself in pass blocking, as Bama's running-back pass blocking continues to look less and less like the strength it appeared to be early in the season.
That big new H-back in the goal-line set looked like a pretty good route-paver, though. . . .
Nick Walker's 40-yard third-quarter ramble off of a nicely thrown out turned out to be the last real offensive life the Tide would show. Nick's stiff-arm may not quite have the technique or Julio Jones', but that big old pawing arm managed to hold an Ole Miss DB at bay long enough for the gain to be registered. Walker led all Tide receivers with five catches and 65 yards, but also kept Ole Miss in the game with a late drop of what would have been a first down pass.
And Chris Smelley releasing the redshirt? He must have really impressed the staff to lose it at this late date, because he is one of the guys you figure would stick around for five full years to actually take advantage of the shirt. Look for his play-time to continue and perhaps grow.
Marquis Maze's posing penalty after what was essentially a practice-easy TD catch speaks for itself.
So does Julio Jones' continued play. Julio's bobbling of a first-quarter pass was as close as he has come this year to dropping one, but instead of dropping it he hauled it in and proceeded to demonstrate the fine art of how to turn power running and stiff-arming into a 40-yard gain. Standard Julio, who is everything he was said to be. It is only a matter of time before his first 200-yard game.
Ole Miss undoubtedly has one of the best defensive lines in the conference, but still, you have to call this the worst performance of the season for a healthy Bama OL that is expected to dominate every team. Alabama ran for only 107 yards, less than the 113 a game Ole Miss was giving up to its average foe, and John Parker Wilson only had a handful of those take-all-day passing attempts that he has seen so often early in this season.
Drew Davis turned in a particularly woeful performance against the Ole Miss pass rush - it looked as if a healthy Greg Hardy could've had a sack on every passing down against Davis (he had a sack and a hurry on the only two plays I saw him in the game) - and Marlon Davis was seen waving at Rebel linemen on more than one running play. Mike Johnson was named the SEC's Lineman of the Week, but I'm sorry I can't really tell you why.
Don't let my wailing and moaning deceive you into thinking that the Bama line was awful. It wasn't. It just wasn't what I have come to expect, and I really don't think it is all explained by the brilliance of Ole Miss.
I guess you could say it's understandable that the wind left our defense's sails when Terrence Cody was hauled off the field, or maybe it's just that our defense was so astonished that he left on the regular cart instead of the back of a flatbed truck that they couldn't get their heads back in the game.
Whatever happened, it started getting more interesting, and in a bad sort of way, when Ole Miss had the ball. Yes, credit the D with two big stops on downs, including the game-ender, but Jevan Snead looked way too comfortable and in the flow out there in the fourth quarter. It's a good thing that we had just enough talent to hold him off, because he was ready to win that thing for his team.
Still, though, don't get too fooled by the Rebels' 158 yards rushing. That was mostly one big play and some late quarterback scrambles when the DL was winded. Like all Bama's opponents, Ole Miss could get nothing dependable going on the ground.
As good as Terrence Cody is, nothing changed all that much insofar as Bama's interior defense goes when he left the game. That has been true all year, and it is a sign that Josh Chapman is going to be holding the fort in future years after the Big Guy is gone.
The question for now is as to the backup. Nick Gentry has good DT technique, but he's only about 2/3 of one Terrence Cody. Will Washington shift? Will Square lose the redshirt? Will Motley switch back to D? Tune in next week, same time, same station for the answer to these and other exciting questions.
Meanwhile, Bobby Greenwood is providing some answers of his own, and in particular he is answering Lorenzo Washington's challenge to his starting spot. Greenwood, who has been the best pass-rusher on the line all season, is becoming more and more adept at jamming his side of the line the way Deaderick jams his and Cody and Chapman have jammed the middle. Greenwood racked up five tackles and two hurries on Saturday.
Overall, though, the four-man pass-rush push was not terribly strong on Saturday. Fortunately, Ole Miss eschewed the screen and let us get away with more blitzing than is our norm.
The linebackers spread the wealth Saturday. As a group, our top five linebackers - the starters plus Anders - combined for 21 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one sack, one forced fumble, two pass break-ups, and a hurry.
Of particular note was Corey Reamer, who saw the most action he has seen since the Tulane game, and unsurprisingly responded with six tackles, including 1.5 for loss. Reamer's play has been infrequent but his run-stopping has been stellar when he has gotten a chance. It should be noted, though, that it was Reamer who bit inside and lost the initial contain on Enrique Davis' 62-yard run.
Dont'a Hightower added six more tackles, including a huge fourth-down stop at the end of the third quarter. Rolando McClain's four tackles, one nifty pass break-up, and one QB hurry were rather ho-hum by his standards, but his standards are very high.
As good as Snead looked Saturday, he still only hit 16-31 for 192 yards, with one TD and a pick, and the one TD was thrown into a window of opportunity allowed by Javier Arenas about the size of quart Mason jar. In other words, most of the good things that happened for Ole Miss Saturday were things they made happen, and not things that Bama gave away.
The Rebels' other TD, on a fake field goal, was of the same variety. Justin Woodall gets the goat horns for not keeping contain on Jason Cook's 9-yard TD reception, but the fact is that the 5'11" Cook was virtually invisible as he sprinted across the Ole Miss backfield about one inch away from five big gray-clad butts and was close to unstoppable when he suddenly emerged full-speed into the open with the ball in his hands. You don't congratulate a guy for giving up a TD, but the fact that Woodall nearly stopped such a beautifully-executed play is not really a sign that he was sleeping on the fake.
Otherwise, Woodall, Arenas, Rashad Johnson, and Kareem Jackson all played lights out. Arenas is playing so well that teams are going after Kareem Jackson surprisingly often - but with very little success. Woodall inexplicably took out the blocker on Davis' long run when he had no help, but his pass defense was stellar, with a well-timed read and pick and a gorgeous over-the-top breakup. One of Woodall's best plays was a heads-up non-play, when he pulled away from an ill-advised Wild Rebel sling to allow Rashad Johnson to make an unopposed pick. Rashad led the team in tackles, added the pick, and had a pretty deflection of his own.
Not much of note, but this was the second straight game where the kickoff coverage looked much improved - probably because several starters are participating. Yes, there was a 41-yard return, but it was a result of fumbled tackles on the sideline on a run that was always hemmed up, not of a guy running through a big hole in the middle as we have seen too much of this year. Tiffin was reliable, Fitzgerald serviceable, and Javy failed to break one.