28 September 2009
In 2008, Bama stuck it to Arkansas hard, 49-14 hard. But 2009 is the second Arkansas season for renowned offensive mastermind Bobby Petrino, who now has former five-star recruit Ryan Mallet on hand after the mandatory one-year transfer sitout. Mallet and Petrino were fresh off a wild offensive shootout where Mallet looked to be everything that had been predicted for him, lighting up the Georgia secondary for five touchdown passes, including several longish strikes.
It was to be a marquee matchup, offensive genius versus defensive genius. Could Petrino and Mallet keep it up against Nick Saban and his physical Alabama defense?
That would be a no.
Offensively, Bama started a bit slow, but little to none of that can be attributed to weakness in the Tide's personnel or system. Dropped passes were a killer early on - at one point McElroy was 1-4 with three drops and one of the drops was a certain TD - but Bama's normally-reliable receiving corps bounced back and did not drop another one. Eventually, McElroy torched the suspect Arkansas pass defense at will.
The rest of the early offensive struggles might just be chalked up as a failed experiment. We ran a fair bit early on, with little success as Arkansas was consistently stacking eight in the box. This was probably a good time to find out whether we could have run successfully against run-stacked SEC defenses, as we were sometimes able to do last year. We have our answer, and it's not a good one. Since we appear to have the ability to feast on any old kind of defensive weakness, I think we should be diligent about taking whatever is given, be it run or pass.
I've had "Greg McElroy" as my first bolded heading every week, so why change something that ain't broke? Greg deserves it anyway. (A little hint of my thoughts about McElroy's level of play may be garnered from the title of an article I posted yesterday.)
His arm looks so accurate, and his awareness is special. But that ice on the hip thing scared me. We can't lose this guy.
Speaking of Losing Guys
There were a couple of interesting threads on BOL right after the game with practicing physicians talking about having witnessed a "Lachman test" on Hightower on the sideline, and that it seemed to mean he had an ACL tear that would sideline him for the season. But us non-docs had already figured out the same thing from the expression on Dont'a's face as he was carted off. We've seen that look before.
I have been a little slow to jump on the Dont'a Hightower bandwagon, but I was fully on board before the injury. This guy was and hopefully will again be a heckuva football player. His chance at a complete recovery seems good..
Nevertheless, I don't expect his absence to have a dramatic impact because we are loaded at linebacker. This week we didn't miss a beat with Courtney Upshaw taking over at jack, Eryk Anders rotating to sam, and Cory Reamer rotating to will, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see a lot of Chris Jordan with a little Nico Johnson over the next couple of games.
After that, Jerrell Harris, originally slated as Hightower's backup, will be back. Whether he can claim the job over some stout opposition after several weeks out of the rotation is anybody's guess.
Interestingly, Anders revealed in a post-game interview that the defense practices situations where various starters are injured, and had prepared specifically for a Hightower injury.
That's what you call coachin'.
Since it would take me about 10 pages to write up everything the Tide D did right, let me instead start out with a description of pretty much the only thing that went wrong: the sole Arkansas touchdown, set up by two big plays.
First, Arkansas set up the score with a 23-yard gain to the Bama 20 on a delayed-release pattern to running back D.J. Williams. Bama's corner on that side got pulled to the middle by a slant, leaving McClain with the flat zone and Barron providing deep help.
McClain picked up the first back out of the backfield, who went deep. Rolondo was distracted trying to haul his 255-pound body alongside a running back on a fly pattern, so he can't really be blamed for failing to notice the second back coming out of the backfield.
The same can't be said of Barron, who was rotating to his right to provide deep help on that side of the field. The TV screen didn't show what was getting his attention over there, but you have to wonder why he didn't stay left to help Rolo out on the deep pattern, which would've put him in good shape to limit the damage on the pass to Williams. As it was, not only did he not do that but he didn't see Williams coming out of the backfield until the pass was thrown, which was too late to prevent the big gain into scoring territory.
After that, Arkansas hit paydirt when Kareem Jackson's man got by him and into the end zone. Kareem looked as if he may have been expecting deep help on that play, but I couldn't say that for sure. If so, then it's Justin Woodall who gets the blame; if not, it's Kareem. (I dare say the coaches know more about who had which assignment than I do.)
Generally, this was not Barron's best day as a Tider. He missed a couple of tackles, something he does not often do, including one on Arkansas' fake punt that would have denied the first down. And although he made what looked like a good play breaking up a third-down pass early on, the replay showed that he was lucky not to be flagged for interference, as he had his right arm around the guy's waist. Normally you might excuse a little aggressive contact in pass D, but not this time - it was a 3-yard flat pass on 3rd and 19, and Barron was all over the guy and could've just tackled him after the catch. His aggressive play to knock down the ball was a flat-out mistake, and I expect he's hearing about it this week.
But Doesn't This D Deserve a Little Praise?
No, it doesn't. It deserves a lot. Despite all the bandwidth I wasted describing Alabama's lone significant defensive breakdown of the day, this was the defense's most impressive performance of the year. Arkansas got about half of their average yardage against us and only 14% of their average points.
Golden boy Ryan Mallet was constantly under pressure and constantly looking at shifting coverage. He was never comfortable and did not throw as well as he did against Georgia.
Mallet caught most of his grief from Javier Arenas and Marcell Dareus. Marcell's bull rush cannot be stopped by one man, as Mallet quickly discovered when Dareus shoved his blocker straight back into Mallet's face and got a hand on the Arkansas QB's throwing arm as he attempted to deliver a pass on Bama's first of many third-down stops in the game.
Arenas is a great tackler who has steadily improved as a blitzer during his tenure at Bama. He has a particular knack for bouncing around to keep up with scramblers; on one of his blitzes he took an inside angle on a called bootleg right, then quickly reversed his field to run Mallet down.
The actual running down part, as it turns out, was not a very challenging proposition. Mallet has a great arm and a good feel for the passing game, but he is s-l-o-w. He got in a foot race with Terrance Cody at one point, and I'm not sure he was winning before he threw it away.
Apparently, Mallet just won't run under any circumstances: he rolled left on an early play, was near the sidelines and near the line of scrimmage, and could easily have picked up two or three yards and then stepped out of bounds. Instead, he threw it away.
Other D Props
Itty bitty Robby Green had a couple of big hits, including maybe the hit of the day on a third-down pass that would've been a big completion.
Kareem Jackson for some nice early plays in run support, including a run blitz where he got clipped to the ground (a 15-yard penalty was assessed) but still rose up from the ground to take the running back's legs out from under him three yards deep in the backfield.
Rolondo McClain for being his normal scary self.
Punting Game Stuff
What the heck was Petrino thinking? Down two TDs, midway through the third quarter, fourth and one in Tide territory, Bama had gone 80 yards in one play on their last possession - and he punts??? I say he pretty much got what was coming when Lorenzo ("Lionel") Washington blocked it.
Speaking of punt coverage, Cory Reamer must've felt kinda picked on with two flags on two marginal plays. They were both good calls, though, and I'm sure Cory probably thought he could get away with the slight push in the back that negated Javy's 50-yard return, but it wasn't a smart thought: it was right by the return man, and the ref was right there.
On the other hand, while you won't see me giving out free passes for penalties too often, I have no objection at all to Dre Kirkpatrick's interference with the receiver penalty. It was an aggressive play, where Dre was trying to time his hit to interfere with the ball right after the ball got there. He mistimed it by a quarter-second, but the payoff if he pulled it off might've been high, so it was a chance worth taking IMO.
Speaking of the Punting Game (i.e., This Week's SID Fiasco)
Cue up my whipping boy: when is our Sports Information Department going to start publicizing the fact that Javy is closing in on a huge record, the all-time NCAA record for career punt return yards? Wes Welker of Texas Tech set the record in 2003 with 1,761 career return yards.
Well, if you dig deep enough on the Bama website - and read through a huge block of text in Javy's profile to spot his career stats - then go elsewhere to find his stats for this season - then do the math yourself . . . Well, you'll see that Javy currently has 1544 yards and is averaging 71 yards a game this season. At that pace, he will break the record against Tennesee.
It is outrageous that our SID is not making a big noise about this. Our program makes close to $100 million a year. We should run it like a big business and not get lazy on the little things.
So let's talk about some fun offensive things.
Trent's Run and the Shenandoah Valley Campaign
In 1862, in perhaps the most famous military campaign in American history, Stonewall Jackson was pursued in the Shenandoah Valley by four separate Union armies, each of which was larger than his own force. In a brilliant display of generalship, Jackson outmaneuvered the Union armies, engaged each army separately on his own terms on a place of his choosing, and defeated them all.
Saturday, in a brilliant display of runningbackship, Trent Richardson was faced with four separate Arkansas defenders, engaged each defender separately, and defeated them all.
In other words, he broke four tackles. Now that may not sound all that incredible - nice, but not incredible - until you go a little deeper.
None of them were arm tackles. Each of the four guys got his full body into the shot.
They were a defensive end, two linebackers, and a safety.
They averaged 228 pounds - in other words, like those Union armies with Jackson, they averaged being bigger than Trent.
And then, while those four tacklers were lying on the ground wondering what in the heck had just happened, Richardson outran a defensive back who had the angle on him big-time.
I hope y'all enjoyed that run. It was truly special.
And by the way, I'm a big fan of Mark Ingram, and I'm also a big supporter of the idea that the coaches know more about our personnel than you or I - but still, I'm asking for Trent to get more touches.
Don't know about y'all, but I got a kick out of that DB trying to tackle Julio high. NOT!
And speaking of DBs trying to take Julio down, how 'bout that DB he stiff-armed straight to the ground right before getting gang-tackled.
On the gang tackle - I know Danielson said there were ten guys in on it, but I paused it right after the play and counted the Arkansas players. The whole team was in on that tackle.
But really, that wasn't necessary. I think 8 or 9 of 'em could probably have gotten him down without any more help.
Cody on Offense
After having run straight behind him the first three times he came in, he was very effective as a decoy, allowing Ingram to step into the end zone.
Speaking of Cody, somebody took a pretty funny shot of him leaping over Mallet. Jehremy posted it in the Football Forum, so if you haven't seen it, step on over, it's worth the view.
But I managed to freeze the frame on TV and it was even funnier, mostly because the camera was a much wider shot. I swear, in the freeze frame, it looked like Cody had just been dropped from a helicopter (one of those big Marine Sea Stallions most likely. . . .) and was about to land on Mallet. There woulda been nothing but a grease spot in a red uni.
Us Left Coaster Bama alums had to really enjoy that lingering aerial shot of the campus that popped up during the second half. You could see Denny Chimes, the President's Mansion (and Byrd Hall, where I lived as a freshman), the Library, even the edge of The Strip, and much more. Nostalgia!
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