04 January 2012
The University of Alabama football team concluded its Tuscaloosa practices on Tuesday before heading to New Orleans on Wednesday. Bama is checked in to the New Orleans Marriott and the media onslaught will begin on Thursday. There has likely never been a more anticipated BCS Championship Game.
Here's what you need to know:
Bama has arrived in New Orleans in good shape health wise. The staff is still being cautious with both Mark Barron (rib cartilage) and Eddie Lacy (turf toe), but both guys should be ready to play.
Both guys are dealing with the type of injury that is painful, but not debilitating. It's simply a matter of how much pain they can stand. Barron played nearly a quarter against Auburn in 2010 with a torn pectoral muscle, so I don't think anyone will question his toughness. Lacy is a Louisiana native, so having the chance to play for a title in his home state, against his home state school is likely all of the motivation that he needs to play through his injury.
Part of the reason that the staff was a little more cautious with Lacy than it would have normally been is that Bama spent most of its time in Tuscaloosa practicing inside the Hank Crisp Indoor Facility. Obviously the game will be played inside the New Orleans Superdome, and practicing inside, on an artificial turf is as close to game-type simulation as Bama could get. Artificial turfs are notoriously bad on turf toe, and while the synthetic field turf used in the Super Dome is better than the old Astroturf, it will easier for Lacy to tweek his injury than if the game was being played on natural grass.
As expected, the Bama staff is been very secretive about any actual game plan information getting out. Having said that, I stand by the fact that we will pretty much see what we have seen all year from the Tide - especially in the three games since Bama dropped the November 5th game to LSU. That means that you can expect to see a lot of Brad Smelley, and a lot of the intermediate passing game that we saw against Auburn and Mississippi State.
The fact that Jim McElwain will be coaching his last game for the Tide will have no bearing on his play calling. He isn't going to all of the sudden abandon what Nick Saban wants to do and start calling a ridiculous game with formations that we've never seen. You are going to see a lot of runs between the tackles, a lot of short passes, a lot of pass plays to the backs (something that worked frequently in the first game against LSU), and an occasional shot down field to try to get the LSU safeties off of the line of scrimmage.
In other words, just what I said above - expect to see what we have seen all year. Personally, I wouldn't mind seeing 35 carries for Trent Richardson, 20 for Eddie Lacy, and 15 for Jalston Fowler. I think that would be extremely tough for the LSU defense to stop, especially if Bama went no huddle and kept the Tigers from substituting along the defensive line.
On defense, the only change that we're likely to see personnel wise is Vinnie Sunseri in place of the injured Will Lowery at safety in the dime package. Don't be too surprised to see Bama go a little more in its base 3-4 defense with LSU not as much of a threat to pass with Jordan Jefferson in the game. If so, that means we'll see more of Jerrell Harris than we normally see. With all respect to Sunseri, who has had a great freshman season, Harris is more experienced and likely a better candidate to stop the LSU option.
The big key for the Tide will be figuring out a way to make up its disadvantage in special teams. All reports are that both Jeremey Shelley and Cade Foster are confident and ready. Calling the November 5th game a disaster for Bama's two place kickers might be a bit of a stretch, but only a bit. If Bama is going to win the game, Foster and Shelley will have to be a part of things. The Tide players, especially those in leadership positions, have made it a point to rally around the two guys. The staff has confidence in them, and I think you won't see Nick Saban hesitate to attempt a field goal of normal length. Don't expect to see any 50+ yarders this time around.
Otherwise, everything is moving along nicely. There have been no new injuries to report, and the only real question for this team is over who will start at right guard - Alfred McCullough or Anthony Steen. Both guys have started games over the course of the season, and both guys have taken practice reps with the first unit in the last two weeks. I expect we'll actually see them both play, because I expect that we'll see Bama use a six-lineman set some during the game. Right now it looks like the senior (McCullough) will get the start.
I will be heading to New Orleans on Friday and Ell will be headed that way on Sunday. We will do our best to keep you informed of anything that comes out. But I will be honest and tell you that on a trip to New Orleans, typing on a computer is going to be pretty low on the list of things to do. If anything of major importance happens, we'll at the very least have it on Ell's twitter feed.