11 November 2010
If you’ve been reading my columns for a while, you may have noticed that I’m usually here to try to tug you back a little from drawing extreme conclusions about the team. When we win big, I point out the flaws; when we don’t, I encourage y’all to put down that rum and Seconal cocktail and the rusty razor blade and keep on breathing.
That’s this week, too. Alabama did not play (particularly) poorly and did not by any means prove that it is “not a championship caliber team,” much less “not very good” or all the other stuff you’re reading on the message boards. We went into what turned out to be a lion’s den and played decently.
Decently wasn’t good enough for a tough SEC road game. We needed to play lights out to win, and we didn’t. As a result, the dreams of a second straight national championship are over.
A little more about the above. A football has a funny shape, in case you haven’t noticed. Throw it straight forward and it isn’t going to just keep bouncing and rolling forward after it hits, like a baseball. It will do all kinds of funny things, and you never know which we it’s going to go at any given moment. It just might surprise everybody.
20-year-old boys do funny things. Sometimes they surprise everybody, too.
Who was the team of the 70s in pro football? The Steelers, right, by a mile? Did you know that the Steelers won 109 games in the ‘70s and the Raiders won 108? Remember the Immaculate Reception? Think that was all skill, no luck? Cause it’s 109-108 the other way without that, and probably 3-2 in Super Bowl wins instead of 4-1.
In other words, without an absolute miracle, it’s not at all “clear-cut” who the team of the ‘70s was. I watched those seasons, and those teams were a damn good match for pretty much the whole decade, and the fact that the Steelers won more of the playoff games than the Raiders did doesn’t irrevocably prove anything from my perspective. You never really know how good a team is. You can only talk about what happened.
Same deal here. Last year we got lucky against Tennessee. The game was just the right length against Auburn. Jordan Jefferson got hurt in the 3rd quarter of the LSU game. Maybe this year we just didn’t get the breaks we got in ‘09.
Saturday, the game turned on a play that was basically a miracle, Jordan Jefferson’s 75-yard TD hookup with Rueben Randle.
Earlier in the 3rd quarter, my friend John and I talked about how we impressed we were with Greg McElroy’s throw to Marquis Maze on a short crossing route. Maze was only about 3-4 yards across the line of scrimmage when he caught the ball, but the pass was so perfect that Maze was able to run through it full-speed with no hesitation at all and catch the ball easily, and catching that ball full-speed is exactly why he turned the short toss into a 14-yard gain. A crossing pass needs a good throw to make it really work, and it’s not often you see a throw so perfect that it forces the receiver run full speed while still making an easy catch.
Jefferson’s throw to Randle was just as perfect – except that Randle was 30 yards across the line of scrimmage instead of 3 yards. And it was on a rope, never getting more than 7-8’ off the ground.
Randle was wide open and any QB with any kind of arm could’ve found him for the 30-35 yard gain. A TD is another story. Mark Barron was in good position to contain the play if the pass had been anything other than picture perfect. He almost caught Randle before he turned the corner anyway, and if Randle had been forced to hesitate even minutely to catch the ball, then Barron is on him before he gets up to speed and LSU probably isn’t even in field goal range.
Not quite the Immaculate Reception, but when you think of a guy whose passing has stunk so badly throughout 2010 throwing what is basically the best pass any quarterback has thrown in an Alabama game this year? It ain’t so far off. It was a miracle.
A guy who is having a bad season, but has played well against a particular team in the past, is always a threat to step up and play well against that team again. As I wrote in the last MFTC, that was my basic fear about this game: that Jordan Jefferson would play well again.
Last year Jefferson played very well against Alabama, well enough that the ankle injury he sustained on a Nico Johnson hit half-way through the third quarter may have been the key to our victory. In this two and a half quarters, Jefferson rushed for 16 yards and hit 10-17 through the air for 114 yards, a TD, and no picks, and should have had another 70-yard TD pass if Charles Scott hadn’t dropped a very easy catch. Backup Jarrett Lee was much less effective, 4-10 for 44 yards, a pick, and no TDs, and rushed for -12 yards.
Coming into this year’s game, Jefferson had been 50-104 for 472 yards for zero TDs with seven picks, over the last seven games. For those of you who are not familiar with passing stats, a brief comment: those are atrocious stats, among the worst in the nation. 4.7 yards per attempt is unacceptable – nearly 7% interceptions is unacceptable – 0% TDs is unacceptable – under 50% completions is unacceptable. Most teams have better backup and even third-string QBs.
Against Alabama Saturday, Jefferson played lights out, particularly in the second half. And yes, it’s true that we made it a little easier by not giving him much of a pass rush, but the fact is that we had a guy in his face several times in the second half. Jefferson always made eluding our DL look easy, consistently made good decisions, and consistently threw accurately. This is the guy who had passed for a total of 74 yards on 22 attempts in the previous two games, against two not-so-great Ds (McNeese St. and Auburn); his four yards of total offense on 12 plays against McNeese St. was particularly impressive.
Our offense came out flat again. On the first 13 offensive plays, we gained 25 yards, threw a pick, and fumbled. Yes, LSU has a good D: but not that good. After averaging 1.9 yards a play with poor ball security early, we average a respectable 5.8 yards per play for the remaining 52 plays of the game, with nary a turnover.
The D did not come out flat, but lost the game by giving up big plays in the second half. Most of the big plays, though, did not involve horrible Alabama defense, just terrific execution by an LSU offense that had done little in the way of good execution in the previous portion of the season.
I’ve already talked about Jefferson’s miraculous throw to Rueben Randle on the game-changing TD strike. And yes, our D inexplicably left Randle wide open across the middle, but it was only LSU’s execution that turned that from a 35/40-yard gain into a 75-yard TD.
Our DBs stayed home on the Russell Shepard 41-yard sweep late in the 3rd quarter, and strung the play out with good technique, with Barron and Dee Milliner stacking up next to each other on the end of the line just the way it’s drawn up. But LSU got bodies on both of them, just enough to make them hesitate as Shepard nicely knifed between the two and was off to the races.
The reverse toss on the 4th and short play was a thing of beauty. The plunge fake was sold to a tee, with the ball not coming out of the scrum until the perfect last-second pitch was made. Yeah, you’d like to see Bama keeping its contain on the play, but realistically speaking it’s pretty normal to see a team sell out against the plunge on 4th and inches.
You do have to wonder, though, how we could possibly have been so out of position on a fake punt from a Les Miles team trailing in the second half.
McElroy threw well but once again did not avoid the big sacks.
I like aggressive play-calling. A run up the middle on 3rd and 19 from our own 28 with a 1-point 4th-quarter lead is a pretty passive move, and not one I like.
At best we got a draw in the trenches. Probably not quite that.
Patrick Peterson is a great athlete, but he had to have that rented mule feeling by the end of the game. That’s because Julio Jones seems to have suddenly graduated from “Alabama’s best receiver,” a title he has toted since his first game in Tuscaloosa, to a guy who is at least worth being talked about when you mention the best receivers in the nation.
It was nice to see the O rip off a 74-yard drive in 2:04 elapsed time after LSU put up a 10-point lead mid-way through the 4th. We needed a quick score, knew it, and got it.
But Jarrett Lee’s 47-yard game-clinching strike to Rueben Randle on the subsequent 3rd and long brought back a very very bad memory involving Tom Clements and Robin Weber. Ring a bell, anyone? If so, then you have my permission to go ahead and forget that again. If you can. (OK, here’s a hint: ’73 Sugar Bowl.)
Around College Football
If you’re heavily following the Cam Newton saga, and you aren’t into a tongue-lashing, step away from your computer screen. If you stick around, then you asked for it.
First, and foremost, it is immoral to wish the worst for a young man just because he happens to play college football for a rival. And don’t tell me he deserves it. You have no idea whether he does or not, I don’t care what rumors you have heard. There is nothing but fragmentary information out there, and the only source that says that Cam and/or his dad were asking for money is unnamed. Don’t bet the farm on an unnamed source and NEVER draw conclusions about a story when you’ve only heard one side.
Second, one of my favorite whipping boys is cable TV news and the know-it-all-now mentality that it fosters. It cheapens and degrades our politics, turns ordinary people into grotesquely distorted cartoon villains, and whips people into a frenzy over imaginary threats. Thanks to cable news, everybody thinks he’s an expert on everything, and everybody thinks he knows all the answers. Anybody who is breathlessly speculating on what the fragmentary Cam Newton info means, and who thinks he knows what really happens, has fallen for this BS point-of-view hook, line and sinker.
Face it. Sometimes you just have to wait to know. You can guess and manipulate microscopic little bits of information til you’re blue in the face, and you still won’t know. Go about your lives, though, and in a few months you’ll find that the truth is out, and you won’t have somebody who cut and pasted your stupidity throwing it back in your face permanently.
Third, we are Alabama. They are Auburn. If we take care of our business, Auburn will be our little sister in the long run. We don’t have to worry about them at all. Let me repeat that: the nature of the universe is that Alabama is on top of the state, and Auburn is looking up. It has always been that way, and thus shall it ever be: if we take care of ourselves. During much of the last decade we did not take care of our business, and some young folks got a distorted idea of what the real Alabama-Auburn relationship is. But it is what it is, and you can trust me on this one. Alabama = king of the hill. Auburn = little sister, and not a real threat. Don’t worry about Auburn.
Fourth, it’s an extremely short-sighted point-of-view to think this business helps Alabama. It hurts college football and everybody associated with it. If Newton is ultimately found to be on the take, then that makes two of the biggest college football stars of the last decade (along with Vince Young). That’s a huge black eye for the entire sport, and the kind of thing that average folks who are not obsessed with college football will remember for a long time. It’s very very bad.
Fifth, last week our fanbase was wildly distracted and showed outright disinterest in one of the Tide’s biggest games of the year, right up til gametime. Is it a coincidence that the team was a bit listless and we lost to a team we could’ve beaten with a focused effort? Maybe it was.
Or maybe it wasn’t. Don’t try to tell me that the focus of the fanbase doesn’t affect the focus of the team. That’s malarkey, college football teams are subject to wild emotional swings, which you know if you watch much of it. The Alabama team is part of the Tuscaloosa community, and what that community thinks and does affects the mindset of the young people who make up the team. Period.
As much great stuff as this team has done over the last three years, focus has been a recurring problem. As a fan, you should help, not hurt.
Speaking of which, this would be a good time to start thinking about Mississippi St. Our team had damned well better be thinking about them by Saturday, or we will lose again.
The last time Alabama played a game with no national-championship implications was against Utah. The Tide got humiliated in that game precisely because they came out on the field unready to play. That game was lost in the first half of the first quarter. In a way, you could say that the game was lost during the weeks before it started, when Utah was getting fired up to play and Alabama wasn’t.
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