Sunday, September 21, 2008

thoughts, Week IV

During this past week, I caught part of ESPN's Scott van Pelt Show, where I was flabbergasted to hear Nick Saban's voice doing a live interview with van Peazy and Mike Tirico. I was surprised because a) I didn't realize the Saban hate-fest at ESPN was over and b) Saban rarely does those kinds of appearances.
In any case, like most such interviews with athletes and coaches, Saban's segment on ESPN Radio was predictably cardboard for the most part. But there was one aspect of this particular interview that struck me: Saban, it seems, is gradually becoming more and more annoyed with Alabama fans.
"Every time we do anything positive, the fans want us to be back," the coach said. "After the Clemson game, we drank the Kool-Aid a little bit, and it showed -- we didn't play well the following week.
"We've been trying to help everyone understand that it's a process: you have to play every week."
(Note: This is an approximation of what he said. The audio archive -- which I'm sure is available on ESPN.com somewhere -- would likely betray me in some way.)
The message was obvious: championship teams play at a championship level all the time, and Alabama won't be one until it can take care of business in games it's supposed to win.

The mood hadn't changed much after Saturday's 49-14 win at Arkansas.
Even after a quality win on the road in the SEC opener, a game that was never in doubt, a game that featured two interceptions for touchdowns and a goal-line stand -- after all that, Alabama's second-year head coach still seemed irritable.
"Look, I'm pleased and happy with our team. I don't want anybody here to say I'm not pleased and happy with them. I don't want our team to think I'm not pleased and happy with them. I'm very pleased and happy with the way we played."

But?
"If we get full of it, if we drink the Kool-Aid too much, as I say, which I think we did after the Clemson game - everybody got all over me being Attila the Hun for saying it, but I was right."

If it seems somewhat strange that the head coach of a team that just won a game 49-14 would speak in that fashion, that's the mentality necessary for a team if it's going to have a chance to win a championship. There are no plateaus. We all enjoyed the Clemson game, we all enjoyed Saturday. But for the players and the coaches, each week has to be given its due diligence.

As usual, Cecil Hurt put this best (and yeah, the link was dead the last time I tried it, too -- I'm posting on the assumption that someone fixes it) in his column: we don't know what kind of team Alabama has yet, because Alabama has yet to face adversity this season. We know Alabama can be a very good defensive team; we know Alabama has an experienced front and some explosive players on offense; we know Alabama has an up-and-down senior pulling the trigger.
But we don't know much else about them, because we haven't seen them put in difficult situations. In 1992 -- and everyone forgets this now -- the eventual national champs endured narrow escapes against Tennessee, Mississippi State and Florida before reaching the Sugar Bowl. They faced down adversity and responded in kind.

This coming week will tell us a good bit about what Alabama does when confronted with adversity. Georgia is playing at home (in black jerseys, of all things); Georgia is third in the country; Georgia has scary athletes to put all over the field. Suffice to say, it will be an adverse situation for the Tide.
So we'll find out if we can answer the questions coach Saban keeps publicly asking.

Some other notes from Saturday in Fayetteville ...
-- Biggest drive of the game: Alabama's TD drive in the second quarter to make it 28-7, the one that ended with JP finding Julio to cap it off. That was the moment when Arkansas might have climbed back into the game; to wrest the momentum back at that point was huge.
-- Kudos to Javy and Justin Woodall to understand that the other team's quarterback can't tackle you in the middle of the field. Two years ago, Simeon Castille had a potentially-game-changing INT in Knoxville, but hugged the sidelines the entire way and let himself get forced out by Erik Ainge (Alabama wound up settling for a field goal and losing by four). So I'm glad that at least those two guys understand that Casey Dick stood absolutely no chance with them unless he used the sideline as an extra defender.
-- Speaking of those picks, we may want to investigate Arkansas to make sure Casey Dick isn't shaving points. I've watched the replay of that last pick-6, and I still have no idea where he was throwing the ball on that play.
-- One leftover note from the week: Gregg Easterbrook is one of my favorite ESPN columnists to read on a weekly basis, if only because I enjoy his style and willingness to digress into subjects that have absolutely nothing to do with football. But every time he attempts to include something college football in his column, his relative ignorance of the sport shines through. In last week's column, he made an off-hand reference to this week's game between Saban's and Petrino's team as "The Weasel Bowl" and then went out of his way to mention that Saban's, Petrino's and Rich Rodriguez's -- all either first-or-second-year head coaches taking over programs that need complete overhauls -- were a combined 13-8 coming into this week, essentially imply that all three have been failures.
Every time TMQ attempts to address college football, his observations have that "drive-by" feel that besets many national columnists: you read part of a story online and automatically assume you have an educated opinion on the subject. Problem is, you don't know 80 percent of the story. And the people who do will respect you less because of it.
-- Alabama's goal-line stand before the half was my favorite moment of the game, if only because afterwards Nick Saban smiled briefly.
-- Take that back: my favorite moment of the game was this one:



Moving on to Auburn ...
As I've said in this space before, I'm often puzzled by the culture of fandom. It's not that I don't get having a team and being a fan -- I just don't get the Kool-Aid drinkers, the ones who think it's a sin to either criticize your own team or compliment anything about your rivals.
For example, for most of last week, the Kool-Aid drinkers on the Auburn side -- my friend Kurt, for example -- spent the entire week explaining away the performance of Auburn's offense against Mississippi State: the coaching staff didn't want to show too much (a ridiculous argument, by the way), State's defense is better than people realize -- the "real Auburn" will show up for this Saturday vs. LSU.
Quietly, however, more honest Auburn fans -- my friend Zach among them -- wondered if what happened against Mississippi State was the real Auburn, and the offense wasn't going to get much better.
The good news from Saturday vs. LSU: Auburn played about as well as it can on offense -- 14 points, 320 total yards, 29 minutes time of possession.
The bad news: LSU simply played a better game. The Bengal Tigers racked up nearly 400 yards of total offense, kept the ball for 31 minutes and put up 26 points, all on their own.
And on the game's biggest possession -- with Auburn cinging to a one-point lead and the ball with 4 minutes to play -- the home team simply couldn't get it done, going three-and-out quickly and following that up with a shanked punt that set up LSU's game-winning drive.
Not all of this is Tony Franklin's fault, of course -- the punt is the responsibility of the special-teams coach, and the game-winning drive was the result of LSU's offense putting together a great drive (the game-winning TD was about six inches from being a game-ending interception). But these things do happen when you have an offense that's simply not equipped for your personnel, which is the biggest problem Auburn's facing at the moment.
Other notes ...
-- Remember when watching a football game just meant watching a football game? Did anyone tune into last night's game to listen to Mike Patrick cackle like a girl, or find out where Todd Blackledge went for Todd's Taste of the Town (which ESPN injected into a one-point game in the fourth quarter)? Do we have to keep listening to Big & Rich (or the completely unbearable Rascal Flatts on Raycom)? Can't we just watch the game? Please?
-- Which reminds me: Lee Corso celebrated his pick of Auburn to win Saturday night's game by putting on a helmet with no facemask, then covering himself with toilet paper. Just kill me. I'm not kidding. Shoot me in the head.
-- I still don't understand the appeal of Chris Todd. He's a decent quarterback if you're trying to win Conference USA. And he played about as well as he could have Saturday night. But you're not winning the SEC with Chris Todd as your QB. You're just not.
-- Speaking of quarterbacks, I can't believe no one mentioned that Jarrett Lee played a great deal better when Andrew Hatch went out of the game, and he became LSU's only option. Sometimes kids play better when their backs are to the wall.
-- Even though LSU's offense still resembles something drawn up your backyard, their staff called a great game in the second half Saturday night. They took advantage of the one place where they had an advantage -- their receivers vs. Auburn's secondary -- and kept in enough people to keep Auburn's rush off Lee.
Which brings us to the most important thing Auburn fans should take away from Saturday: LSU is a better team that played a better game. Auburn didn't give it away; LSU simply outplayed Auburn in the second half. It happens. Move on.

And that's about all I can do at the moment. For the best and worst from Saturday, read BSR, EDSBS, Dr. Saturday and Awful Announcing.

2 comments:

Al C Hemist said...

WHL,

Completely concur on all the entertainment add ons during the broadcasts. Really there is nothing like missing a couple of plays to hear what Holly Rowe has to add that will be more compelling than actually watching the game, or getting a run down from Mike Patrick about all the great new shows coming on ABC during the week.

Peter said...

The Dance Party has regretfully failed to note that the Tennessee program was caught red-handed in an FBI sting operation this weekend. There are possible devastating implications for the program, as responsible individuals have connections that go all the way to the top.

Sadly, I speak not of the football program, but rather their computer science community, which needs a little more training on how to mask their online identity, particularly if they're planning to hack into Sarah Palin's email account.

Sorry, just had to get some folks' blood pumping with a little UcheaT rumors.