Sunday, October 19, 2008

weekend thoughts: ungrateful wretch edition

Weekends in the fall are always full of football for me. They have been ever since I was in elementary school, when my dad and I used to attend Eufaula High games at old Senior Stadium on Fridays, then spend our Saturdays watching every game we could find on the dial -- especially Auburn and Alabama (not in that order, but you get the idea). The NFL (and the Braves through October) would provide background noise for the afternoon nap.
So this weekend, in some ways, was no different than it has been for most of my life. Friday, however, was quite different from my recent activity -- I actually took in a high school football game in Opelika, with no written agenda and not on the clock. It's the first time that's happened since 2002, before I graduated from high school and joined the workforce of professional media.

(Note: The Tampa Bay Rays just won the American League pennant, which is one of the most bizarre things I've ever witnessed. But, good for them. Also, damn Boston.)

In any case, my life as a football fan taught me about heartbreak at an early age (1989, at Auburn), gave me euphoria and insane expectations (1992, in New Orleans) and pretty much raised me to be who I am today. One of the most important lessons from the last 10 years? Don't ever complain about a win, especially in the SEC.

I found myself repeating that over and over again quietly on the way home from Tuscaloosa, following second-ranked Alabama's 24-20 squeaker over Ole Miss at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Like nearly every game against these guys -- and like every game involving Houston Nutt -- this game was a study in contradictions. Alabama should've won the game 31-3. Alabama also probably should've lost.
Consider the following things:
  • Alabama turned the ball over twice in the second half. Alabama also converted two Ole Miss touchdowns into 10 points. If not for the first sentence, the game's not even close. But if not for the second, um, Ole Miss wins.
  • Alabama dominated the game in the first half, then got thoroughly dominated -- physically and from a coaching standpoint -- in the second.
  • Alabama held Ole Miss in the second half twice on downs. Alabama also lost run-stopping beast Terrence Cody, definitely for a few weeks, possibly for the season (we'll see).
Even I was a study in contradiction. As the seconds ticked away in the fourth quarter, all I ould think about was how in the hell we're going to stop Tennessee -- rejuvenated after avoiding a Crooming at Neyland -- next week. At the same time, it occurred to me that this game might yet be lost, if someone didn't step up and do something.
As the game ended, I was too spent and too irritated to sing Rammer Jammer. Alabama didn't deserve to win the game, the way the second half went. But they came out on top, and being 7-0 ... can you really argue with that? I feel like an ungrateful wretch for even complaining about it.
But that's where we are, and still ranked second in the nation, both in the human polls and the new BCS standings. I guess I'm feeling like coach Saban at this point -- happy to be here, angry about the mistakes ... ready to go back to work.

Some other thoughts ...
-- People tailgating around where we were on the Quad actually couldn't remember the last time Alabama was 7-0. Really, folks -- it was three years ago. I wish I could pretend the Mike Shula fling didn't happen either, but it did happen -- I was here. Maybe the loss to LSU, followed by the sack debacle at Auburn took away the joy of that season, but it did happen.
-- 'Bama's staff added a few new wrinkles offensively during the off week, most notably a counter-trap with Travis McCall pulling that worked very well in the first half and then was never seen again (of course, the offense was barely on the field, so it's difficult to say).
-- John Parker also played well, continuing to show his deft touch on "touch routes" -- fades, post routes, etc., that call for a feathery touch on the football. His only real mistake of the day -- the interception in the third -- wasn't a bad throw as much as it was a busted assignment, although by whom, I don't know. We had pretty good seats behind the offensive bench, and the coaching staff seemed surprisingly diplomatic after that play (I was expecting a nuclear blast).
-- If I could become president of the world tomorrow, I'd tear down every jumbotron, everywhere.
-- While I'm praising the offense, let me add that I'm sick & tired of throwing on 3rd-and-1. I'm declaring jihad on a coaching staff that doesn't believe his OLs can gain a yard. C'mon.
-- Biggest play of the game? Kareem Jackson chasing down Enrique Davis in the first quarter to keep him out of the end zone. That was an outstanding play-call by Houston Nutt's staff -- he had Alabama badly out of position, something no one's really done to them all season. But Jackson made the stop, Alabama held Ole Miss to a figgie and -- of course -- won by four.
-- Saban's defense did an outstanding job of containg the vaunted "Wildcat" formation all game, allowing only one play of more than a yard or two and forcing a turnover -- Rashad Johnson's interception, which turned into John Parker's second TD. Good film study and outstanding coaching gets that done.
(By the way, I'm boycotting the term "W**d R*b**" because the name makes no sense. The formation is called "Wildcat" by whatever high school coach drew it up, Nutt adjusted it to "Wild Hog" at Arkansas in an effort to be clever (similar to Tuberville dubbing Al Borges' offense the "Gulf Coast" unit). But "W**d R***l" makes no sense.)
-- Jevan Snead reminds me more and more of Matt Jones. Ugly as hell to watch, but frustrates other teams' fans to no end.
-- Alabama's defense took a huge gamble on the game's deciding play, sending seven men at Mr. Snead and playing man-to-man in the secondary. It worked, but ... wow. What a chance.
-- I'm not giving any more money to the university until someone announces they'll no longer do the gimmicky "cheerleader-with-the-mic" thing in pregame. It's hokey, it's ridiculous and nobody digs it, not even the cheerleader with the mic. Let the band play an extra minute or two or something.
-- Alabama's offensive front didn't block a soul most of the second half. Those guys deserve to spend all week on the sled.
-- I understand coach Saban being upset at Marquis Maze after his touchdown -- he's not good enough to cost the team 15 yards for something so trivial as a first-quarter touchdown. On the other hand, the actions that prompted the penalty -- he posed with his arms crossed briefly -- seem pretty trivial. Was it as egregious as the official at Washington flagging poor Jake Locker for throwing the ball up after scoring a touchdown with 3 seconds to play against BYU? It was not. But it was still pretty bad.
-- Brad Smelley caught a pass Saturday. So it must've been a pretty good day for him.
-- If I'm Jim McElwain, I'm thinking of every conceivable way to get the ball in Julio Jones' hands this Saturday and Saturdays beyond. The kid needs it.

No 24-hour rule is necessary for me with this one. All I can see right now is orange. And it ain't pretty.
Then again, when you're 7-0, can it be anything else?

For more, read Cecil, BSR and Dr. Saturday.

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