27 October 2009
If there’s one thing I want you to take away from this exciting episode of From the Couch, it’s that it wasn’t that bad.
Really. It wasn’t that bad. What happened here is that we played a team that had just beat the tar out of
In fact – although you’ll probably think I’m crazy – I’m actually more optimistic now than I was before the game. Here are some of my . . .
Reasons For Optimism
The bottom line – 18-29 for 120 yards, 0 TDs, 0 picks – is not very good. But there can be no doubt that our entire passing game looked a lot healthier than it did against
Although there were a handful of misfires, McElroy was generally on target, and with the exception of one throw behind Preston Dial in the second quarter, none of his passes appeared to create any significant risk of turnover. As I point out below, Greg missed having significantly better numbers by not very much.
Whether his better performance was a result of growing comfort with tough SEC defenses or because he got better pass protection is difficult to say. Either way, I’m a little more comfortable about the prospect of facing a fourth consecutive tough SEC defense in T-Town in a couple of weeks.
For the first time this year, we didn’t go up top early; in fact, we never went up top at all. I’m sure that was a ploy to help McElroy get his timing and confidence back, and I think it worked.
Saban has made “finish” the watchword of this season, and rightly so. The Tide had trouble finishing last year, and I’m not just talking about the lousy Sugar Bowl loss, or the 12-0 start and 0-2 finish. I’m also talking about second-half letdowns against Georgia, Kentucky, and Ole Miss.
Obviously, the coaching staff wants – and has wanted all along – to use this bye week to crystallize the team’s focus on the end of the season. A skin-of-the-teeth escape in the last pre-bye game will make it easier for the staff to get the team’s attention.
That’s just one of the reasons this is a really good time for the bye.
There was a lot of pain involved in being a die-hard Tide fan in the early part of this decade. I’m not just talking about all the losses but the way so many games were lost during the 2001-2007 period, i.e., by way of fourth-quarter collapses and blown leads.
The attitude of defeatism all those tough wins caused may have permeated the fanbase, but to the extent the defeatism affected the team it was always the kind of thing that could be turned around in a hurry with a big late win or two. The lads in crimson may know football, but they’re no historians.
There have been two games in 2008 and 2009 that went down to the last minute – LSU last year and UT this year. We won ‘em both. That will give our guys a lot of confidence if we have another game going down to the wire this year.
Close But No Cigar
If the four plays where (1) McElroy threw accurate passes to seemingly open receivers, and (2) Tennessee defensive backs closed fast and made fine plays to get a hand in, had been completions, McElroy’s stat line would’ve been 22-29 for 175 or more yards with 1 TD and no picks. Those aren’t great numbers, but they aren’t bad at all.
The offense only got stoned and had to punt on 4th and long once in the entire game. Of the Tide’s nine possession, one ended on Ingram’s fumble, one ended on a 4th and 10 field goal, and the other seven all ended on a play of 4th and 5 or less.
In other words, the offense was just half a hair short of really getting it done all day as opposed to impotent.
Of course, football ain’t horseshoes or hand grenades, and being close did us no good whatsoever on Saturday. But it’s a lot easier to be optimistic that the team can make the adjustments it needs to make when it was barely missing than it was after the South Carolina game, when our passing attack looked to be about as likely to create a turnover as a big positive play.
Bizarre Stuff At the End
This isn’t a reason for optimism, exactly, but as a reason not to get too pessimistic I will stick it here.
Basically, the only reason this game got scary was because a bunch of bizarre stuff happened in the last few minutes:
- With about six minutes left, McElroy hit Upchurch across the middle on 3rd and 9 inside the UT 40. The back judge basically made the tackle, or Upchurch would’ve made the first down and the Tide would’ve kept possession.
- With three minutes left, Mark Ingram lost the first fumble of his Bama career. It was a heroic two-man strip by UT, and they deserve credit for that, but it’s not the kind of thing that can be expected or prepared for.
- Even after that – and after our gassed defense gave up a TD – there would’ve been no scare if not for a near-miraculous bounce on the onside kick, followed by a really nifty snag by a dude wearing some orange and white stuff.
If any one of those three strange things didn’t happen, this game is probably boring at the end.
Reasons For Concern
Really my only bone to pick with McElroy is that on at least three occasions I noticed, he rushed his throw when he might’ve been able to make something happen by holding on to the ball another half-second or so. One of them was on our 4th and 5 play in the first quarter, when McElroy threw it to Upchurch when Roy had not a prayer of getting the first down – and when Julio Jones broke free across the middle just after McElroy delivered the throw.
The occasional rushed pass against a rugged D is not a five-alarm fire. Still, given the struggles of the last couple of weeks, and given that Tennessee appeared to focus more on coverage than on the pass rush, it’s impossible not to stay a little worried.
When I talked about second-half focus above, I meant the second half of the season. For that, the game perversely created a cause for optimism.
Here I’m talking about the second half of the game, and more particularly, as detailed below, third quarters. Our guys seem to be getting into a habit of coming out of halftime flat. This worries me as much as anything that’s going on for Bama right now.
A lot of folks were ragging on Jackson during the off-season after a so-so performance against Utah, but recently I have heard many of the same individuals agreeing with the opinion I’ve held all along: Kareem is our best cover guy.
Hopefully Saturday was just a matter of fatigue and lack of focus, but Jackson had possibly his worst game as a Tider. No less than three times he not only gave up a reception in one-on-one coverage, but didn’t even tackle the guy and in fact never laid a hand on him. I’m not sure he had done that three times in his entire career.
Justin Woodall also had one play like that, but at least he had a stumble to blame it on. Kareem just got beat.
Early in the season, the wildcat was pretty much a disaster. The last couple of games, it has been anything but.
From all appearances, we would’ve had an easier time against both
But I’m happy that we haven’t done so. Granted, this is not something that can be proven, but I just have the feeling that if we go to it full-time it is going to get solved, at least after a game or two when teams spend the whole week scheming against it. Defensive solutions to one-dimensional offenses tend to pop up.
As is, we’re keeping the wildcat as a very dangerous card we play from time to time. In fact, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if we are waiting for the
In the meanwhile, we’re slowly building up the attack’s diversity by doing things like:
- Actually handing off to the motion guy instead of always faking it and never handing off (by the way, on the occasion when Trent Richardson went in motion in the wildcat and took the handoff from Ingram, it looked as if Trent might’ve busted a big one if he had turned on the jets and headed outside instead of trying to cut upfield straight into the pursuit);
- Running the wildcat with
- Bringing McElroy in motion.
If we keep on adding wrinkles, we can make the wildcat something more two-dimensional, or at least 1.5-dimensional. Bringing McElroy in motion is particularly worrisome for defenses, who have to guard against the pass as if Greg were taking the snap.
Hard not to get those Emmitt Smith vibes. Mark gets up right behind his blockers, riding their hip pads, until he cuts. Reminds me of another #22.
Is healthy. Yes he has dropped a few balls this year, and if that should continue I might become concerned, but frankly his health has been the only thing about his slow statistical start that has concerned me. I commend not worrying about Julio to all.
Minimizing the Damage
Sit down before I tell you this.
Kudos to our D for making the plays that had to be made inside our 40 in this game, and in the third quarter during the past three games. Hard not to worry, but we keep stopping them when we need to. At least until we get . . .
Marcell Dareus sacked Jonathan Crompton on the first play after Ingram’s fourth-quarter fumble. After that, UT proceeded to gain 88 yards on the next 11 plays, and did not get stopped once they got inside the 40 as had happened for the entire game.
It might’ve just been a coincidence that our guys got gouged at the end . . . but I don’t think so. I think it was the eighth straight game without a bye, the fifth straight SEC game without a bye, and the second straight game where our D got left on the field a bunch. I think they were gassed.
Climbing Up On My Soapbox
Anybody who has been reading these columns for a while knows that I am a big believer in the idea that coaches should go for it on fourth down more often, for a variety of reasons. Possession is too important to give it away so cheaply just because you’re afraid of making a mistake.
A prime example occurred with about 2:20 left in the third quarter, when Bama faced fourth and inches on its own 37. It was Bama’s second possession of the third quarter. On the first possession we went three and out, after which UT controlled the ball for 14 plays, albeit without scoring. Considering how many games in a row we had played and how tough the last few games had become, we badly needed to get a first down to give the D some rest.
If we go for it, 10-1 we make the first down. If we do, does the team get g-a-s-s-e-d at the end of the game? Maybe not.
Worst case, we give Tennessee the ball at our 37. Considering that Tennessee had been pretty much sitting on our 37 the whole game without scoring, would that really have been a disaster?
GO FOR IT!
The Infamous Second and Two at the Four
Even though I said “we’re going to run it down their throats right here for sure” – out loud – when we got to the four, I’ve got no problem at all with the first play call. It took UT by surprise, and if McElroy’s pass had been inches to the outside, or if the UT DB hadn’t made a fine play to rip it loose, it would’ve been six.
But I would never ever call a fade route on third and two from the four, and the fact that it has not worked the last 70 million times we’ve tried it would not encourage me to make a one-time exception. What we had to do is run it up the middle, and if we got within a yard of the first down, go for it on fourth down.
I know Julio got interfered with. I don't care. It was a terrible call.
Jonathan Crompton looked really, really, really good. Of course, we didn’t get a lot of pressure on him for most of the game, but still. Except for the one horrible pass that Mark Barron picked, his throws were generally right on the money. I described above four plays where our DBs got beaten badly, but on all four of those plays Crompton maximized the opportunity with a perfect pass, and most of the rest of his completions required perfect passes.
Their defensive backs played a great game as well, and not just Eric Berry, either. This was the first game at least since Florida where I thought our DBs got outplayed.
But speaking of DBs . . .
Had an amazing game as a tackler, with 13 stops including a sack and a touchdown-saving tackle in the open field. We will miss him on run D next year almost as much as we will miss Cody.
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