07 October 2009
I'm less enthused than usual about writing From The Couch this week, just because. This was Bama's worst performance of the year, but not so bad as to be scary. Great or really bad play gets me itching to analyze and write. This was middlin', at least for Bama - way better than the Tulane and Utah games last year. Middlin' makes me want to just move on and think about Ole Miss.
But since I love y'all so much, yes, each and every one of you, even Crump, I'm writing this now anyway. Aren't you happy?
OK, maybe not. But let's talk about the game anyway.
I guess starting my columns out with Greg McElroy is my version of the 14-0 beard. Why change something that's working?
Greg started off 2-7 for 0 yards, misfiring, throwing to covered guys, and at one point opening up some bad old memories by throwing it away on third down when not under pressure. (I won't name any names from the recent past, but. . . .)
But then he ripped off 11 of his 13 for 134 yards and finished with a decent statistical outing despite the wind. That was the familiar Greg McElroy For Heisman that we all know and love.
Coaching Greg McElroy
After McElroy's shaky start, several consecutive short passes were called. It's textbook that you do that to get your QB's confidence up, and it appeared to work, as noted above.
Secondly, Bama did not change its balanced game plan just because McElroy got off to a bad start. Coming from Saban, who is known for being a bit risk-averse offensively, this was a vote of confidence that I hope McElroy and the team appreciated.
Colin Peek was also key to getting McElroy and Bama going. He opened the 99 yard, 35" drive (at least it was that long after the stop of Richardson very near the end zone) with a clutch 3rd-down reception and capped it with his first TD reception as a Tider. And he was not done for the day. At this point, I would say that Peek has fully redeemed himself from the two early drops against Arkansas.
After Bama opened the game with a long kickoff return and a brief touchdown drive, I told my friend John with whom I was watching the game that I was not happy. He looked at me like I was crazy.
I said I had seen too many games where something was too easy at the very beginning and then the team that jumped up early played flat and get in trouble. John kept looking at me like I was crazy. Later, of course, after my continued loud throat-clearing did not get his attention, I broke down and told him that, while I hate to say I told you so, I told you so.
(Actually, I lied. I love to say I told you so.)
I'd rather start out with a methodical 8-10 play TD drive than an instant score like that. With 12:07 left in the first quarter, we led 7-0 and had 1st and 10 on the Kentucky 38. Nothing else good happened for too long.
Speaking of the beginning of the game, if you were from another planet, or Auburn or something, the opening kickoff return would've told you most of what you need to know about Javier Arenas as a returner. He showed his lateral quickness and, most importantly, his tremendous ability to find the crease when he decisively set the perfect angle by cutting hard right through a hole that was not at all obvious before he found it. Then he couldn't quite outrun the Kentucky DB that brought him down - his only weakness.
The only thing the play missed to fully showcase Arena's strengths and weaknesses was a couple of broken tackles. There aren't many returners with his kind of power..
Gifts From Kentucky
Thank you, Kentucky, for that 21-6 halftime lead you handed us.
But for the gifts, this might've been a nail-biter.
Ingram and Richardson
Last week I asked for more touches for the freshman. I might ask for it again later in the season, but as for right now I am retracting that request.
Trent is the better athlete, no doubt about it, but Ingram showed an excellent ability to make decisive lateral adjustments to find the crease on Saturday, while Richardson just as clearly did not. It's a hugely important ability for a running back. Trent looks smart, and I wouldn't be surprised if he gets the picture as the season goes on, but as for right now Mark's ability to bounce sideways til he finds the crease makes him a better runner.
Running the football is mostly about talent and less about skill and experience, as compared to most if not all other positions. But there is one very important skill that is not all talent-based: find the hole and getting through it quickly.
Is it a coincidence that, two years in a row, our lead running back had improved in this skill by leaps and bounds over the previous year? Last year, Glen Coffee, who had previously been a decent running back and no more, suddenly showed masterful skill at finding the hole. This year, Mark Ingram, who was pretty mediocre at finding holes last year, straight out of high school, is almost as good at it as Coffee was last year.
The guy who coached Coffee and Ingram up also coached C.J. Spiller and James Davis at Clemson. Does Burton Burns deserve some ink he isn't getting? I think so.
Is he healthy? I know he got a lot of attention Saturday - which we took advantage of - but he didn't seem to be getting open. Combine that with Saban's penchant for injury secrecy, and I'm a bit concerned.
Although his stats weren't great, he gets some props for a very nice catch over the middle for a first down despite heavy contact simultaneous to the ball's arrival.
Another thing about Julio - and this really has nothing to do with his slow start this year - but A.J. Green's great TD catch that appeared to win the game against LSU, the play where Green went over an LSU defender who appeared to have position on him, was a type of play Jones just has not pulled off at Bama. Given his great strength and leaping ability, it is a type of play I have expected to see from him.
Apparently Julio just hasn't quite gotten the picture on aggressively going after a jump ball instead of waiting for it to come to him. He has plenty of strengths as a receiver, and I'm not at all worried that they have gone away just because his stats are a little low so far in the young season - but the light bulb hasn't come on for attacking jump balls.
Davis and Johnson
The two seniors are the only guys on the offensive line who have been flat out beaten on pass protection more than once each this year (it was Johnson this week who let his guy blow by). They're both solid run-blockers, but we might upgrade on pass protection when we replace them next year.
Not that either of them is bad, it's just that we've got real talent waiting in the wings.
On a 2nd and 17 play in the first quarter, McClain missed a tackle on a Kentucky running back, who sprung the play for a big gain and a first down. As Chris Walsh of BOL put it [link is to pay site], McClain must have tripped over his cape.
But for the play, Rolondo's play was super-incredible plus plus plus, earning him National Defensive Player of the Week honors from the Football Writers Association of America, and here I will turn to a quote from Barrett Sallee of College Football News: "McClain had 12 total tackles, a forced fumble, INT, PBU, QB hit and a partridge in a pear tree." The three turnovers McClain caused led to 17 points.
But what I really enjoyed was that, in addition to the madd linebacker skillz #25 displayed, he also showcased some pretty spiffy fullback/tight end skills and dare I say it, an elite basketball move.
Yes, we all saw Rolondo come skying through the air with an NBA-style and -level tip that led to Eryk Anders' interception - probably the best basketball play I have ever seen in a football game - but did you notice the way he faked Kentucky wide receiver Chris Matthews right out of his tighty-whities on the interception return? Matthews was right in front of him, but McClain head-faked left, cut right, and Matthews barely touched him.
Defense on the Corners
By "corners" I'm talking about the "corner" of the line, i.e., the area that is not near the sideline but also not in the middle of the field. Sometimes it's called the "off tackle" area.
It's where we're weak. Well, maybe not really weak, but definitely not excellent. On the sidelines, and in the middle, our run D is excellent. On the corners, we can be picked on.
There are always tradeoffs, and it's kind of a hallmark of a Saban defense that the middle and outside get locked down - by behemoth defensive linemen and strong, quick defensive backs, respectively - and then Saban has to scheme to lock down the corners because his oversized linebackers and defensive ends don't quite cover that area the way 220-pounders do.
The scheme didn't really work Saturday. Rich Brooks knows what he's doing, and he brought bodies to the corners and over-powered us where we were weak. Not that we got steamrolled or anything, but Kentucky had some success on the ground.
I'm confidently expecting Houston Nutt to try the same thing this week. I'm also confidently expecting scheme adjustments to be forthcoming.
Dant'a Hightower is more physical than the guy who replaced him, Cory Reamer. Cory Reamer is more physical than the guy who replaced him, Eryk Anders.
I suggested last week that we might see more Chris Jordan, and I guess we saw more but we didn't see much. But if you put Jordan in for Hightower and leave Reamer and Anders where they were, a bunch of that physicality deficit goes away. Maybe all of it, because Jordan is a hoss.
But I'm just talking. The coaches know more than me about this situation, I am quite sure.
You may have already noticed that Mark Barron is stronger than your average defensive back.
Kentucky Gave Us Some Gifts, But. . . .
Once we got going, the game wasn't really as close as the score sounds. A couple of factoids that show that:
(1) Kentucky's kicker's season long field goal before the Alabama game: 26 yards. Longest field goal against Alabama: 49 yards. Twice.
(2) Number of points scored by Alabama over 11 minutes and 55 seconds of playing time, beginning with 40 seconds left in the 2nd quarter: 31.
(3) Number of points scored by Alabama in the last 18 minutes, 45 seconds: 0.
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