Sunday, September 27, 2009

Week 4 thoughts: it's all happening

If the Crimson Tide isn't the most impressive team in the country through the first third of the season, then who is? Or, more to the point, what is Nick Saban's third Alabama team missing that would otherwise make it among the legitimate national championship favorites? ... But the Crimson Tide is the most serious challenger to the Gators' throne at this point. That's because Alabama is substantially better in almost every area from a year ago.
— Randy Kennedy, Press-Register (h/t: RBR)

Shhhhhhh ... don't tell. We haven't really proven anything yet. The real tests are still in front of us.
We have looked good though, right?
Yes, but don't say anything. You'll jinx it. I swear this will all make sense later

The first part of this season has been chock full of teams steadfastly refusing to fulfill their preseason expectations. Already one month into the season, Oklahoma, Ohio State, USC, Notre Dame, Penn State, Miami, Ole Miss and even BYU have sent their hype machines careening off into a ditch. Even Florida and Texas — still undefeated — have turned in "meh" performances on the national stage.
Amazingly, of all those top-10 contenders, the one that looks the best right now is Alabama. We don't like to admit it around here, frankly.
This is, of course, the same Alabama replacing its quarterback and its offensive line. The Alabama that staggered through a lackluster Sugar Bowl loss to Utah. The Alabama that should be suffering some kind of Year 3 malaise that normally befalls a rebuilding program (and we still have one, for those who don't know).

E'en so, this team continues to have the same workmanlike quality we've discussed in this space before. Saturday was the perfect set-up for that precipitous fall: Arkansas is capable of scoring in bunches, and particularly after Dont'a Hightower was lost early in the game and the offense failed to move, things looked a little ominous — we were ripe for yet another upset bid, the same kind that had just wrapped up over in Starkville.
A funny thing happened on the way to that, though: Alabama wouldn't let it happen. Instead, the Tide hit the big plays Arkansas was daring them to make (the Hawgs crowded the line of scrimmage all day and dared Greg McElroy to beat them deep — he did) and locked down a pretty good Arkansas offense, ultimately pulling away for a pretty ordinary 35-7 victory.

There's really not much you can say about it. Here are a few thoughts from Section N-6:
— A theme that has definitely emerged over the first four weeks: Greg McElroy. He played like a guy who was lost on the field during the first three quarters at the Georgia Dome, and ever since has played exceedingly well. Inparticular, the deep ball he threw to Maze for an 80-yard TD was sweet — the coverage on the play was decent and McElroy just put the ball in the perfect spot.
In the interest of fairness, we should also note that he a) hasn't been hit that often this season and b) is playing in a system that doesn't require him to be a wunderkind. But you knew defenses were (and are) going to dare Alabama to beat them with something other than the run and Julio Jones. And thus far, Alabama is finding ways to accomplish that.
— Does Bob Petrino not know that fortune favors the bold? Twice on Saturday his team (with a supposedly explosive offense) faced fourth-and-short in Alabama territory ... and twice he punted. The second was the most egregious: trailing 21-7 in the third, the Hawgs needed less than a yard in plus territory (roughly the 'Bama 40) for a first down (it was basically a do-or-die drive). Instead, Petrino trotted out the punt unit — Lorenzo Washington blocked the punt, Alabama took over at the Arkansas 35 and scored to basically end the game.
Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. Don't be gay in God's house, dude.
— OK, given my history as a football player, I'm the last guy who should call another team's linemen dirty. On the other hand, the following are statements of fact about Arkansas.
• On its first series, Arkansas was penalized for clipping (declined).
• On its second series, Arkansas was penalized for a chop block.
• Later in the same quarter, Alabama's best defensive player (in terms of talent) left the game with a season-ending knee injury.
(Are those three items related? You tell me.)
— Drive of the game: Alabama's 99-yarder to salt it away, beginning when McElroy (him again) drew the Hawgs offisdes at the one. That's the kind of thing a well-coached team does.
— If we blow one more kickoff coverage, I swear I'm going to have a coronary.
— Unfortunately, the final stats for Ryan Mallett — 12-31-1-1, 160 — don't really account for how many of his passes were on target but dropped. If his receivers could have held a few more of those, the game might have been a lot closer.
— As much as I enjoy Tuscaloosa, I'm really glad we're playing somewhere other than Bryant-Denny the next two weeks. The people in charge of the gameday experience at BDS have some real soul-searching to do. I'll let Matt Miller take it from there.
— Finally, to cap things off, here's a photo of Julio Jones taking on the entire state of Arkansas.

Not a week goes by that I don't think, "Geez, I'm glad he plays for our team."
[Note: I think I'll be saying that about Trent Richardson very soon, as well.]

It's great to be from Alabama. Roll Tide.


-D. said...

I'm telling you, these busted kickoff coverages are Leigh Tiffin's fault. He's afraid of contact. On the Hogs' big return Saturday, 99 found himself in the ball carrier's path, and he stepped aside and tried to two-hand tag the guy. Surely we have SOMEBODY on the roster who can kick the ball off, then hustle downfield and contribute to our coverage.

As the season goes on, it really is going to wind up being 11 on 10 when we kick it off. Our opponents are going to see that 99 is a non-factor, and they won't even bother accounting for him in their return scheme. Why assign a man to Tiffin if you can double-team Dre Kirkpatrick or Lorenzo Washington?

dbh said...

We disagree on the Kiffin thing: he should never HAVE to make a tackle, because the kicker is never supposed to be in a position to make a tackle on a kickoff. Every team's kicker is supposed to be a non-factor on kickoffs, because kickers aren't really football players (Lane Bearden is a notable exception).
Don't be blinded by anger, just because the kid's missed a few chipshots so far this season.