Monday, November 30, 2009

Tuesday 'tube: croc huntin'

(Editor's Note: Yes, I'm very well aware that the University of Florida's sports teams' mascot is the Gators, not crocodiles. I thought it sounded funny. OK? OK.)

Any objective history of the relationship between Alabama and Florida should note that the two teams just don't play that often — in this decade, they've met exactly twice: in 2005 and 2006. In fact, since the conference split into divisions, the regular season meetings have been as follows:
1998: Florida 16, Alabama 10. I have little to no recollection of this game, except for Andrew Zow throwing a late INT and my dad flipping out like a person with Tourrette's.
1999: Alabama 40, Florida 39 (OT). The famous "extra point" game — with its head coach's future at the school teetering on the brink, Alabama mustered up the game of its life, playing Florida off its feet, recovering a late fumbled punt (the key to this game) and forcing overtime.
And then this happened.

2005: Alabama 31, Florida 3. Easily the biggest game of Mike Shula's tenure at Alabama — the Tide simply had to beat Florida that day. Even now it marks one of two times Mike Shula's offense functioned at a truly high level (the other was two weeks earlier vs. South Carolina). Throw in the fact that Urban Meyer was coaching the Gators and it's hard to believe this game even happened.

Not pictured in that highlight reel: Tyrone Prothro's lower-leg fracture. And for good reason.
2006: Florida 28, Alabama 13. I had to look this one up as well, as my only real memory of it involves Prince Hall returning a fumble for a touchdown. Alabama actually led the game game well into the third quarter, before the Gators put a touchdown drive together to take control. A John Parker pick-6 sealed the deal.

And that's really it in terms of regular season meetings. The Gators come back to Tuscaloosa next October in what should be another fantastic atmosphere (brief aside: ordinarily in even years, the home schedule has kind of sucked, but not next year: Penn State, Florida, Ole Miss and Auburn all come to town, and that's not even counting the visit from Bill Curry's Georgia State program).
In any case, the "rivalry" between Alabama and Florida exists in the SEC Championship Game. Here is their history there:
1992: Alabama was in position to play for the title, and Steve Spurrier had yet to really establish his reputation as evil genius. This was the beginning.

1993: Florida 28, Alabama 13. As with the '98 game, I have little memory of this game, probably because I was on a Boy Scout campout and didn't watch it. I do remember Jay Barker didn't play in the game after he hurt his knee against Auburn. And apparently Antonio Langham didn't either — he'd been suspended because of the cloud of an impending NCAA investigation.
1994: Florida 24, Alabama 23. Once again, I didn't actually watch this game because (wait for it) I was in a concert band that started playing at halftime. When last I saw, Alabama was leading. I think.
(Fun fact: this was the first SEC Championship Game played in Atlanta. Somehow the game wound up at Legion Field the first two seasons.)
1996: Florida 45, Alabama 30. Because of its blitzing of the Tide — the best defense in the country at that point — in Gene Stallings' last SEC Championship Game, the Gators actually played themselves back into national championship contention, earning a Sugar Bowl bid and beating Florida State for the crown, roughly 6 weeks after losing to the 'Noles at Doak Campbell Stadium. One other funny memory I have about this game: Steve Spurrier spent much of the month leading up to the Sugar Bowl comparing Alabama's defense to FSU's, basically saying Alabama's was just as good but didn't play dirty, the reason they'd struggled vs. one but not the other. Evidently the ploy worked — Florida was barely challenged by FSU in the rematch, and was voted national champs after Arizona State (the other undefeated team) lost in the Rose to Ohio State.
1999: Alabama 34, Florida 7. Looking back, the game was an incredible one for multiple reasons:
  • It was the first rematch in SEC Championship Game history.
  • It marked the denouement of an incredibly weird season: the coach had a fling with his secretary that came to light during preseason practice; the team lost to Louisiana Tech in Week 3 (and the coach appeared to be fired); somehow it rallied to beat Florida on the road, Mississippi State (undefeated at the time) and become the first Alabama team to win at Auburn.
  • Um, Mike Dubose beat Steve Spurrier, head-to-head, twice in one season.

Safe to say, this was one of those "lightning-in-a-bottle" moments. And I won't even go into what was going on with me personally at the time.
2008: Florida 31, Alabama 20. Um, you know what happened in this one. It's not really even worth repeating.

And that's really it. That's the entire history of Alabama-Florida since 1992.
Here's to a new chapter. Roll Tide.

mid-Monday links: like deja vu all over again

Could this week have any more hype? Let's try ...

That work for you? Alright then.

— First off, the boys at Tower of Bammer post a video retrospective of the regular season. As with most things related to ToB, it's hilarious and quite profane.

Also, because the boys at BSR are good like this, here's a retrospective on some of the best drives in Alabama history. Not included: John Parker Wilson's valiant march at the close of the 2005 Auburn game, capped off by a two-point conversion to make the final a respectable 28-18. Classic.

— Standard preview stories, first from RBR, who will have us know that Florida is (kind of) human this time around. But the Gators looked pretty dominant vs. Florida State last week, even if FSU is fading quickly and should've changed regimes at least two years ago. So, feel free to chew your nails down to the cuticles.
— Injury report: coach Saban says Mark Ingram "should be fine" for Saturday. Know who won't be fine? Me. I'm decidedly not fine.
(One other note, because my cousin pointed this out: anybody know what's up with Robby Green? Ali Sharrief played most of the game at the "other" safety position, and Green did play enough to register one unassisted tackle. What gives?)
— Is an Alabama-Florida rematch possible in Pasadena? The answer is no ... and yes? Also, it's still possible to have a gate-crasher in Pasadena, too. And, if you're into conspiracies, the BCS Guru has one.

— In news completely unrelated to last weekend or this one, Alabama's hoop squad finished 2-1 over the weekend, complete with a clutch win over Michigan yesterday. I was just excited to turn on the game Thursday and see someone not named "Gottfried" coaching the team.
— And finally, because a) this blog probably needs something on the Tiger story and b) I want more of you to read Joe Posnanski and understand how good he is at writing ... here's JoeP's blog about the Tiger story.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

week 13 thoughts: bloody but still standing

"It was a better game than you thought it would be, wadn't it?"

Actually, um, no. It was almost exactly the game I thought it would be. No one believed me beforehand, not even my own mother (part of the Auburn family since birth). I explained to her all the same things I explained to the guys at last week: in addition to two full weeks of preparation, Auburn had every intangible in its favor (a ferocious home crowd, the symmetry of the '89 team, nothing to lose).
Further, as the boys at RBR noted last week, the character of this series — even if it rarely sees a lot of colossal upsets — is one of tight, nip-and-tuck football games. Neither Auburn nor Alabama ever lets the other blow it off the field (at least, not usually).
And so Friday came to pass almost exactly as I predicted: Auburn struck early with a big play, completely emptied its bag of trick plays (with the surprise onsides coming in as my favorite, and only because I predicted that too from my seat in Section 39) and Alabama weathering the early storm to assert itself once the adrenaline wore off.

One thing I didn't count on: Auburn playing its best game of the year, particularly on defense. Not sure if it was the extra week of rest or the adrenaline shot from 87,000 screaming devotees, but Auburn's defense didn't wilt down the stretch (a la Kentucky and Georgia) and never allowed any big plays (the way it did vs. LSU and Arkansas). After Chris Todd found Darvin Adams for a go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter — the first time in 2009 this defense has surrendered three offensive touchdowns, by the way — the challenge was clear: we're not giving you anything; you're going to have to come and get it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why Alabama fans have every right to be proud of what their team did Friday at Auburn. In what is probably the most hostile environment in the SEC (and among the most hostile in the nation), with a national title on the line and against a ton of adversity, this team came through. Any attempts by anyone to sell it short by pointing out that Auburn is "just a 7-5 football team" some such is missing the point. Alabama took Auburn's best shot, briefly went to the canvas, shook it off, absorbed a few more body blows ... and came right back with its best. That was good enough to win.
That, folks, is what champions are made of.

If you do like historical symmetry — and you know I do — what about 1979? That year, Alabama came into the Auburn game 10-0, to face 8-2 Auburn. Auburn gave its best shot, and led 18-17, late. Alabama drove the length of the field late, with Steadman Shealy scoring to win the game, 25-17. That team eventually won the consensus national championship, something almost nobody did back in those days.
This isn't a championship team yet (unless you count division championships, and I don't). But should it become one, we can look back to that 15-play, 79-yard drive and say, "That's when they went from just another good team to being champions."

Some other thoughts ...
— I'm still not convinced that Gene Chizik is the long-term answer for Auburn as a head coach — it will be interesting to see what happens once he loses Gus Malzahn (and he will, if not this offseason then the next) to someone in need of a head coach. But his staff put together a great plan Friday, with at least one Auburn blogger willing to go the extra mile and say his team "outprepared and outcoached–vastly outprepared and outcoached, in my opinion" the Alabama staff. Arguably the best call was the deep ball to Darvin Adams, if only because they caught 'Bama in a corner blitz and instead of throwing the hot read — which Mark Barron had anticipated and would've intercepted — threw an out-and-up for a touchdown.
— While we're praising the Auburn offense, let us also praise Alabama's defense, which shook off those big plays and left its offense in a position to win late. Just as a parallel, let's recall the 2005 Alabama team, also highly ranked, also with a highly regarded defense, also playing a well-prepared Auburn team (to be fair, that Auburn was vastly more talented than this one). That Alabama team surrendered a handful of big plays early and then basically quit in a 28-18 loss.
And this one had chances where it could've quit. At 14-0 in the first after the offense sputtered for the second time, at 21-14 after the offense failed to gain a yard in two plays (that one made me furious), and especially at 21-20, when Auburn took possession in plus territory early in the fourth, with a chance to potentially put the game away with a first down or two. Instead, 'Bama made them go backwards.
— Mark Ingram's day, obviously, has been dissected enough already. The Heisman thing can probably go away now. It is worth noting, though, that the touchdown pass to Colin Peek doesn't happen without him — he blew up a blitzing linebacker at the line of scrimmage, allowing Greg McElroy time to step up and find his tight end. A huge play, particularly since it came on third-and-11.
— RBR has a fantastic post up today about Roy Upchurch, who came in the game three times, two of them pass plays. Worth noting: I was about to start swearing at someone — a popular pastime in this game, apparently — when it appeared coach Saban wanted to play for a field goal. I wanted to score. Apparently, so did the coaching staff.
— Julio Jones is a sophomore. So is Mark Ingram, And Trent Richardson is a freshman. I just thought that was worth mentioning.
— This will go by the boards, of course, but it warrants mentioning: on Friday, Auburn hosted Alabama at 1:30 p.m., and Auburn High hosted Prattville (the fourth round of the AHSAA playoffs) at 8 p.m. Other reasons you're probably glad you don't cover sports for a living.
— As always, my favorite aspect of any Auburn-'Bama game is the family feel it has to it. Our section was a mixture, just like most sections all across the stadium. And for the most part, everyone got along. Once it was over, all anybody could say was, "What a great game," over and over. I even declined participation in "Rammer Jammer," though I'm not certain it was out of respect as much as it was out of an inability to speak or stand up.
— That reminds me: on replay, it appears Chris Todd's final heave into the end zone hung up there for about 5 seconds. At the time, it felt like about 2 hours. Not a good feeling.
— Now, I suppose, is the time to start thinking about Florida, since, as the guys from AG said this 12-0 football team has yet to actually win anything. Auburn folks can worry about their bowl destination — in a very weird quirk, the SEC finished with 10 bowl-eligible teams, 6 of them with 7-5 records (one other funny note: both ACC championship-game participants lost to 7-5 SEC opponents).
But, just once more, I'll cede the stage to one of the state's leading columnists.
No one said the Iron Bowl was dead, but after Auburn dominated for six years and Alabama took a chokehold for 60 minutes, this game needed a new beginning, and got it with a classic ending.
This was the first Iron Bowl that wasn’t decided until the final play since 1997. From the looks of things, it won’t be a dozen years until the next one.

Friday, November 27, 2009

thoughts in the immediate aftermath ...

• First off, Auburn fans should be damn proud. The Tigers' coaching staff had a great plan — Gus Malzahn lived up to the hype — and their players played with a ton of heart. Particularly on defense, Auburn played way, way over its head.

• That said, credit must also go to the Alabama offense, and Greg McElroy. To drive 80 yards, with the season on the line, convert multiple third downs and do it in a hostile environment ... that team earned every bit of praise today.

• Credit must also go to the Tide defense: Auburn had a real chance with 9 minutes to play to close out the game, with the ball at midfield, leading 21-20. Instead, they went backwards. The key sequence of the game, really.

• According to the official wire recap of the game, Upchurch called the play that turned into the game-winning touchdown. Great work, Upchurch!

• That's Virginia Tech, Tennessee, LSU and now Auburn that Alabama has beaten by being better in the fourth quarter. Makes me proud to be a 'Bama fan.

• I need to drink more.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thursday lines: rivalries and apprehension

Currently, I'm watching the Texas-Texas A&M game and trying not to be nauseous. So let's post this week's lines in an effort to think about something else.
As always, lines for this week are courtesy of

Rutgers (-3) at Louisville
Alabama (-10) at Auburn
(Note: I'd take 10 in a heartbeat. Seriously.)
Nebraska (-11) at Colorado
(Note: Sign of the economic times — the Dan Hawkins situation at Colorado, in which his prodigious buyout will prevent any attempt to fire him until sometime next year. Kind of strange, isn't it? If you're Hawkins, do you really want to stay at Colorado and steal money like that? It makes me think of George Costanza's job at Play Now.)
Pittsburgh (-1) at West Virginia
Nevada (+14) at Boise State
North Carolina (-6) at North Carolina State
Clemson (-3) at South Carolina
Syracuse (+14) at Connecticut
Wake Forest (-4.5) at Duke
Mississippi (-8) at Mississippi State
UCF (-3) at UAB
Southern Mississippi (+6) at East Carolina
Boston College (-6) at Maryland
Missouri (-3) at Kansas
(Note: Over/under for "number of Josey Wales jokes made during this game": 14. Take the over.)
Miami (-7) at South Florida
Florida State (+24.5) at Florida
Utah (+7.5) at BYU
Washington State (+24.5) at Washington
(Note: A rematch of what may have been the Worst College Football Game of All-Time, as winless UW took on 1-win Wazzu ... and the game came down to a missed FG in overtime. Horrendous. It's a little different this year, and thank God.)
Tennessee (-3) at Kentucky
Arkansas (+3.5) at LSU
Georgia (+7.5) at Georgia Tech
(Note: An unranked team playing on the road against its archrival is only giving 7.5? Curious.)
Notre Dame (+10) at Stanford
UCLA (+13) at USC
Navy (-10) at Hawai'i

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

a "Lost" Wednesday: catching up

A break from "Big-Game" blogging for a "Lost" video, courtesy of

(Warning: It's long.)

Back with more tomorrow. Roll Tide.

family conversations: Aub week

Editor's Note: In the spirit of rivalry week, I'm following the lead of every other friggin blog on the planet and staging a "conversation" with someone from the other side. Instead of tracking down a rival beat writer or blogger, however, I traded emails with my cousin's husband (cousin-in-law?) Jamie, a henpecked father of two (you can view his family photo album here). You may remember Jamie from earlier conversations — like me, he's (mostly) a realist about his favorite team. As always, feel free to leave your own thoughts in the commentary section.

will: Thoughts going into this week? I have a few:
• Holy crap, is Les Miles stupid.

• I actually had my first encounter with Charles Barkley Friday night. Which was, obviously, kind of unusual.

• The battle between Gus Malzahn and Nick Saban/Kirby Smart ought to be fun to watch. Particularly with Auburn coming off the bye, and with no reason to hold anything back, there's no reason to believe Malzahn won't pull out every frigging stop he has and really cause Alabama's defense fits.

• There's also no question in my mind that Auburn can win the game: they have one of the only home crowds that really can affect a game, the obvious talent at coordinator and absolutely nothing to lose. A break here and there, and it's a nailbiter, and it's Auburn's to win.

• That said, I'm not sure I see it happening. I thought about this last year after the game: with a handful of exceptions, the Auburn-'Bama game typically is a microcosm of the two teams' seasons up to that point. Was it a huge surprise, for example, that Auburn committed two terrible turnovers at the worst possible times last year? Not really they'd been doing that all season against a 'Bama team that spent most of the season forcing turnovers. Was it a huge surprise, then, that Auburn pounded Brodie Croyle like a piece of veal in 2005? Absolutely not: Auburn had a fantastic pass rush; Alabama was playing with a patchwork offensive line. You get the idea.
This season, the biggest difference between the two teams is the fourth quarter. Alabama has spent all season winning it (they're outscoring opponents by some ridiculous margin for the season). Auburn has spent all season not winning it (they're actually being outscored right now).
Obviously, Auburn will have the off week and the rest that comes with that, so it's not as though they're going in shorthanded. Still, if it comes down to a fourth-quarter battle, it looks like 'Bama's game to win.

A few questions:
— Grade Gene Chizik's first season. What you expected? Ahead? Behind?

— I mean ... Les Miles is really stupid, isn't he?

— As we look into the 2010 crystal ball, what are Auburn's biggest needs?

Jamie: On Les Miles, did we need this past weekend to tell us how big of a nimrod he is?

In my opinion whoever is calling plays against Nick Saban should do one thing. Get the ball out of the QB's hand quickly. To me attacking a blitzing team is simple, let them take themselves out of the play. Screens, quick hooks, underneath stuff. (See Utah). It is my concern however that we will take our sweet time in waiting for slow developing routes to open up and allow the pass rush to get to us. Our offense on Friday will, as it has all year, depend on Onterrio McCalebb or anyone else who can fill that outside running role. No matter if McCalebb was getting yards early in the year or not, he had to be accounted for which opened up everything else. See our O before and after his injury.

When people speak of Physical teams what comes to mind is a power running game. The most physical part of Alabama however is the way they tackle. They play like the bully on the playground, the ones that the teacher had to tell to stop playing so rough. That takes a toll on an offense. By the 4th quarter the other team is ready to get on the bus. I hate watching Alabama win but I love watching them play. Against a team like Alabama you have to frustrate them. You do not have to run up and down the field — just don't let them dominate you. They are used to dominating people physically. Playing with such an attitude lends itself to frustration if they are not able to do so.

Instead of throwing out the record books, people should probably just go look at them. 2002, 2001, 1984 are just 3 that I can think of that were true upsets. We do not match up well. As bad and thin as our defense is, we must be able to score. It would be a lot easier to do that if we were not facing one of the top defenses in the nation. this is why I say 31-14 Alabama. I have watched enough football to know anything can happen ... but what will happen is another story.

Overall Gene's first year is a B all things considered. Auburn is an all time top 15 team and even better in the last 25 years. For such a program to be where we are depth and talent wise especially on defense is inexcusable. For that, to win 7 and go bowling was a pretty good job. However, we had 2 other games that I felt we could have won and didn't. We are also recruiting at an SEC level again.

in 2010 Auburn needs a QB to step up and some freshman to give some depth. If we have that I could see 9 wins next year which would be an obvious improvement.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Tuesday 'tube: and the state of Alabama ... is crimson

A few youtubes from back when the game used to really BE the Iron Bowl, and not just called that.

And, of course, since this year's game is at Auburn, here are two videos: the last time we won down there; and the last time Alabama & Auburn met. Enjoy.

Roll Tide.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Monday morning links: Auburn Week edition

Before we get into this week's links, I couldn't get away without mentioning the incredibly bizarre ending to Saturday's LSU-Ole Miss game, part of which is encapsulated here.

Most people who read anything I write on a regular basis know that I'm usually loathe to criticize coaching, and that I do the best I can to look at things in a fresh way (instead of just regurgitating what you read everywhere else). But in this case, the majority is right — LSU bungled that end-of-game situation about as badly as one team can.
Just for fun, let's count all the bad coaching that took place in that end-of-game situation:
• First, Ole Miss failed to put the game away on what turned out to be its final possession up 22-17, despite having first-and-goal at the LSU 4. We'll give them a slight pass on this since LSU's defense is tough, but it's worth noting that Dexter McCluster didn't touch the ball once on three straight plays. Instead, they settled for a field goal to make their margin eight points, which isn't a terrible thing since LSU's offense had barely moved the entire second half.
• Well, LSU finally put a few plays together, culminating in Jordan Jefferson finding Ruben Randle in the end zone all by himself because the CB on his side STOPPED PAYING ATTENTION TO HIM COMPLETELY. 25-23, Ole Miss.
• Needing a two-point conversion to tie the game, LSU throws a low-percentage fade pattern to Terrance Toliver, then gets bailed out by a pass interference call that moves the ball to just outside the 1-yard line. For most decent-to-good college football teams, the chances of scoring from the 1-yard line are pretty solid — your best run play should be just as effective as any pass play. Instead, LSU has Jordan Jefferson throw THE EXACT SAME EFFING LOW-PERCENTAGE FADE PATTERN, which comes down in the general vicinity of the end zone and falls incomplete. Houston Nutt, wisely, has his players refrain from celebrating because he knows the onsides kick is coming.
• Here's where LSU deserves a little credit: the onsides kick by Josh Jasper was sneaky-good, and only because Ole Miss' players were all waiting on it to take a big hop ... only it never did. Instead, Brandon Lafell caught it in stride and missed running it for a touchdown by two guys. Then, knowing Ole Miss was planning to blitz the house, Gary Crowton called a savvy "zip" screen to Lafell, who broke two tackles and ran to the Ole Miss 32-yard line.
• Miles & Crowton aren't to blame, of course, for Jordan Jefferson failing to understand the situation on second down and taking that horrendous sack, though it's worth noting that well-coached teams never make that mistake there.
• Crowton is to blame for the no-chance screen pass on third down that lost yardage, and Miles is to blame for not owning the situation by taking his timeout in that situation. However, that was a mere warm-up.
• OK, so let's just forget everything else we've talked about up until now. Forget about the failed fade, the poor execution on third down, forget all that. Instead, concentrate for a moment on the situation at hand. It's fourth-and-26 for LSU, with 9 seconds to play, at the Ole Miss 48. And you don't have a timeout. Not ideal. Your only real option, obviously, is to heave the ball and hope for a miracle catch or a pass interference foul. Both are longshots, obviously.
However, when I played baseball in Little League, my coach used to always tell us the same thing: before every pitch, say to yourself, "If the ball is hit to me, what am I going to do?" If you're the head coach, you have to think that way: "If we, by some miracle here, make a catch for a first down, and we're inbounds, what are we going to do?" You have to know you can't spike the ball — really, you have to either a) have the field goal team ready to sprint on the field at a moment's notice (note: It's almost impossible to run a completely different team on the field, line them all up, get the kicker set and snap the ball in the amount of time allotted) or b) have a play called and take your chances heaving the ball in the end zone.
The main thing, though: you can't spike it. You won't have time. Period.
I know it's wrong to say this, but I'm going to anyway: Nick Saban would've been prepared for that contingency in a similar situation. Miles, on the other hand, seemed as perplexed as the rest of his team when Tolliver came down with the ball ... and so the game ended there.

I sent this in a text and in a tweet last night, but I can't imagine what I would've done had Alabama lost a game this way. I might be in prison right now. Seriously.

Anyway, you're owed some links and Monday is going to be busy, so here you go.
— I do have a hard time with an Alabama player being even mentioned for the Heisman Trophy. But it was inevitable with Mark Ingram's season to date: he even looked good against UTC, and he barely saw the field. And he remains the consensus frontrunner in many circles.
(Note: I can't remember the last time either Auburn or Alabama had a legitimate Heisman hopeful playing in the state's biggest game. Shaun Alexander wasn't in consideration by the time the Auburn game rolled around because of injuries; Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown were never considered because of ... well, one another. So I guess it's ... Jay Barker? Really?)
— I mentioned two weeks ago about the disparity in fourth-quarter scoring between Alabama and Auburn but had no data to back it up. Chris Low obliges with this post. Chris also has the SEC bowl projections — currently, he has Georgia coming to Birmingham next month (if that happens, Peter von Herrmann and I may buy tickets, just to go pick a fight with somebody).
(Note: My dream of UAB being the opponent for that game probably died Saturday in the loss to ECU. The Blazers can still get to 6 wins by beating Central Florida Saturday, but it's hard to believe a 6-win team from Conference USA is getting an at-large invitation from anybody, even if "anybody" means the Pizza Bowl on Greymont.)
— A few defensive notes: apparently Alabama's defense had to adjust on the fly last Saturday vs. UTC, something they'll almost definitely have to do this week (since Gus Malzahn is likely to empty the bag, particularly with two weeks to prepare). Also, Terrence Cody and Eltoro Freeman are apparently engaging in a little trash-talking.
— For the Mutual Admiration Society, coach Cheez-It had some nice things to say today about our football team. And, since we're all being civil, let me say that he's done a fantastic job at Auburn this season.
— Of course, we'd be remiss not to mention Javier Arenas' punt-return record, a tribute for a guy who's been one of the most consistently brilliant players at Alabama during a tumultuous four years there. Just for that, here's his highlight video ... going into this season.

— For those who weren't sure, the seniors on this team are a special bunch. Since the deflating November collapse in 2007 (culminating in the loss at Auburn), Alabama has lost exactly twice: to eventual national champ Florida and undefeated Utah. Moreover, they've carried themselves with class and shown a good bit of heart. I'm proud to say, this is my team. It wasn't so long ago, that wasn't necessarily the case.
One other quick story and then we're done: Saturday we snuck back into the stadium after most everybody else had left, so we could snap pictures of those seniors, who were out on the field snapping pictures of one another. It was a goofy moment — here are a towering group of young men, whose mere presence would make most people cower ... and they're posing for pictures like 12-year-olds at a rec hall dance. But theirs is a special experience, and it's why most of us love college football so much.

Back with some 'tube later on. Roll Tide.

random Sunday vid: of Starkville, and Nick Saban swearing

Just found this one today and couldn't get away without posting it: this is the highlight video from Mississippi State. It's notable for Nick Saban's use of profanity in the opening, as well as the use of Ludacris.

I'll remind you: Auburn is a mere 5 days away. Roll Tide.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

week 12 thoughts: playing out the string

Like most people today, I didn't really give much thought to this week's game vs. Tennessee- Chattanooga. I didn't even think about the trip — waking up early, dressing, fighting traffic and so forth — until sometime Friday after Leeds' win over Madison Academy (which included my first-ever encounter with Charles Barkley). Predictably, most Alabama fans showed up late and groggy (many thanks to the university's many benevolent Greek students, by the way, who chose not to show up at all), the team looked sluggish on the first series, then put things together and took a 35-0 lead into halftime. It was as easy a win as one would expect in such a situation.

As the Million Dollar Band introduced its 2009-2010 senior class (all of them receiving handshakes from ... someone) I sent a text to my cousin Rob — like me, a long-suffering 'Bama fan who grew up in Opelika, in our (very pro-Auburn) family — with the following two ideas:
• Someone should ask coach Saban if he wouldn't mind coming out at halftime on Senior Day to do this handshake thing with the band, just to see what he'd say.
• Auburn Week can start right now.

His response: "It's already started."

Much of the dominant storyline in the national media, of course — as has been documented endlessly in multiple outlets — has revolved around Alabama-Florida, almost since the season began. Once it became obvious that both teams were cruising to division titles, that storyline kicked into a fever pitch — I saw at least three different "Alabama-Florida" spots today on television, and neither team was playing a game of any consequence (the Gators, for what it's worth, dismantled Florida International in their ongoing quest to win the Florida state championship). Obviously, the game will be a huge affair between two great programs and two great coaches.
Honestly, though, Florida couldn't matter less to me right now. Thoughts of Pasadena and a return to national prominence, frankly, can wait until next week. The only thing that matters this week — and it's a short week, mind you — is beating Auburn and securing control of the state. In short, avoiding a fate like the one pictured above.

Surprisingly absent in this week's discussion (at least for now — I'm sure it will come up at some point) is that this game will mark the 20th anniversary of Alabama's first-ever trip to Jordan-Hare (or, as I like to call it, The Death of the Iron Bowl). Just like will happen Friday, Alabama came into Jordan-Hare undefeated and ranked second in the nation; Alabama had, at that point, lost three straight to Auburn and five of seven (the worst such losing streak until ... well, you know).
If you don't know how that one turned out, any Auburn fan can tell you with some authority: the Tigers (who, by the way, missed being undefeated by only a handful of plays that season and ultimately shared the SEC Championship with 'Bama & Tennessee) outplayed, outcoached and simply outdid Alabama that day. Auburn won 30-20, Bill Curry left the state pretty much the next week and all the good feelings from that season were erased quickly (the team ultimately sleepwalked through a Sugar Bowl game against Miami and finished 10-2).
(Note: The game at Auburn also marked the last time my parents — an Auburn/'Bama duo — sat together at an Auburn-'Bama game. The breaking point: early in the second half, a Kevin Turner fumble killed a Tide drive. Dad, assassin-like, paid his respects to everyone and fled the premises like someone leaving a crime scene. It was for the best.)

Anyway, if you want good omens, this is also the anniversary of another big Auburn-'Bama game: the '99 version, when eventual SEC champ Alabama came to town to face an undermanned Auburn team (Tommy Tuberville's first). That Alabama team had a) a coaching problem; b) a quarterbacking problem, both of which saw it fall into an early 14-6 hole (and really, it could've been worse than that). And it looked like Auburn might carry the day after standing up Shaun Alexander to kill a big 'Bama drive in the third quarter. But, the Tide got a safety on the ensuing snap (Dad joked afterward that Kindal Moorehead should contribute some money and try to get Auburn to rename the South end zone after him), then took over and pounded Auburn in the fourth quarter, winning 28-17 and giving Alabama fans the chance to sing "Rammer Jammer" for the first time ever on The Plains.

We'll get to actual game analysis later in the week. Just know that this week is special for me, and I'm doing everything I can to relish the moment. When I'm not feeling I'm going to throw up, I mean.

Some thoughts from Saturday:
— The UTC game was, of course, everything you expect in a middling game against a lower-division opponent: some big plays early, an easy score and a lot of face time for the reserves. Star Jackson may have difficulty sitting down, however, after the lashes he received midway through the third (he stupidly took a 10-yard sack on third down to knock the offense out of field goal range).
— One big problem with games like Saturday: more people bring their small children, which means it's less tasteful to swear and question the other team's manhood (not that I'd do that or anything). There was, however, a 10-year-old sitting next to me who reminded me very much of myself — he told me some tidbits he'd heard on the radio, reminded me that the third-string quarterback is Thomas Darrah and knows who Marcel Dareus is. It was a treat.
— Alabama was penalized today for an obscure penalty very few people even knew about: roughing the snapper, a personal foul. Rest assured, folks, it absolutely is a penalty (albeit a rarely enforced one). Thought that was interesting.
— It was good to see Javier Arenas finally score on a punt return in 2009. Fitting, too, since Arenas has been the most consistently good weapon for Alabama in the last four years. And his interception in the third quarter was textbook for Nick Saban-coached defenses — he simply read the route and beat the receiver to the football.
— It was also good to see Roy Upchurch get in the end zone. He's had a difficult year.
— Here's hoping the people in charge of the Bryant-Denny Stadium gameday experience think of some different things before 2010. For example, how 'bout we lose the Black-Eyed Peas? And maybe the goofy graphics that appear to be a combination of "Lord of the Rings" and "The Shining?" Just a couple ideas.
Here's another one: if we really find it necessary to play a freaking elephant noise, why don't we spend some money and steal Colonel Hathi's march from "The Jungle Book?"

Oh, and one more thing: you can't play a random clip from "Kingdom of Heaven" to energize the crowd when nobody in the crowd saw that movie or has any idea what the hell is going on. If you need to play a ridiculous movie clip to fire people up, try the 40 motivational speeches in 2 minutes thing from youtube.

We've got until next August to work on it. For now, though, what matters is Friday. And Auburn.

Roll Tide.

your standard Saturday way-too-sappy video of a solider and his dog

Sorry ... couldn't resist. Big hat-tip to Neal Boortz's Web site for posting this one for us.

I apologize for the moisture in your eyes. We'll be back with some (hopefully) extraordinarily positive thoughts late tonight.

Friday, November 20, 2009

basketball-blogging, whit-heath style (with apologies to my wife)

Editor's Note: Because basketball season has officially started, and our beloved Crimson Tide is set to host a big game tonight vs. Providence, here's a basketball-related q-and-a with my brother Whit, aspiring basketball coach and currently the live-in interim youth minister at Trinity UMC in Tuscaloosa. You may remember him from such earlier blogs as Mark Gottfried Makes Me Angry and Wow, Does Mark Gottfried Make Me Angry. Hopefully if this works, we can arrange a similar running feature throughout basketball season (by the end of the season, my wife may have her own running feature entitled, "This Week's Version of Why Basketball Pisses Me Off"). Also, once the season begins in earnest, bear in mind that the definitive 'Bama bball blog is the aptly named Bama Hoops.

Before we go on, here's some Anthony Grant love, via commercial:

Q: In your opinion, what was Mark Gottfried's biggest undoing as 'Bama head coach? What would you do to correct that undoing if you were new head coach Anthony Grant?

A: I think that Mark Gottfried's biggest undoing while at 'Bama was his personality. I thought that he was a great recruiter and an average motivator (remember his really awkward fist pumps?), but I got the feeling that he was far too nice to be a successful coach. From what I understand, the players basically treated him like one of the guys and walked all over him. Do I think that Coach Gottfried could have won at Alabama? Sure. Unfortunately, for Mark G, he had a team of players that didn't seem to respect his decisions or play calls. We both know that a situation like that can do nothing but get worse with time. It was clear, at the end of last season, that something was wrong. It took me until this past summer to fully understand how serious the problem was. Good friend of mine has been working with the basketball team since the summer practices started. I'm pretty confident that Coach Grant will not have the same problem that Mark G had. The team went through some pretty serious workouts this summer, and I was able to watch the team practice at the rec center a few times. Their workouts were pretty intense from what I could tell, and each player had to hit a certain number of shots at different spots on the floor before they could leave. I will say that I don't expect too much from 'Bama Basketball this season, but I doubt there are many teams that could run with Coach Grant's boys if they find the right rotation of players.

Q: Who's the most important player on this 2010 squad, if we have any chance of being successful?

A: I think the most important player for this year's squad is Mikhail Torrance. He is the senior point guard who will be running the show for Coach Grant this year. He handles the ball well and makes some pretty good decisions, but he has been known to get tunnel vision when he drives (the majority of the time to a left-handed, fall away, banked layup). Another aspect of the game that 'Bama has got to improve - rebounding and outlet passes. They're not overly intimidating in the front court, but if Bama can learn how to get position and box out - and from there get the ball up the court to the guards who should be breaking towards half court as the rebound comes off the glass....I think they can do well. I know I'm asking a lot by saying that a group of college basketball players should revert to the fundamentals that they learned in high-school, but a guy named Vince Lombardi once said, "Excellence is achieved by the mastery of fundamentals," and that guy ended up being reasonably successful sticking to the fundamentals.

Q: In your opinion, what would make this season successful (and don't say: "Receiving the ODK trophy at halftime of the AU game in February")?

A: I think that 'Bama will beat some teams that they shouldn't beat this season. I'd love to see the guys win a game or two in the SEC tourney, but with the way the SEC West is stacking up...that might be a little too much to ask. This year is considered a success if Bama can win about 70 percent of their games, and keep people healthy.

Q: Realistically, what can we expect from 'Bama basketball this winter?

A: Realistically, I think you can expect Alabama to continue the trend of playing people close in the first half like they did for the majority of their games last year. I think Coach Grant's conditioning and workout programs could make it possible for our guys to play teams tough throughout the entire game. That would be nice.

a busy Friday: you'll get Webb & you'll like it

Don't have time to post links today (probably) because of the approaching holidays and the accompanying accelerated deadlines. In their place, I hope you'll enjoy one of my favorite Derek Webb songs — "Crooked Deep Down."

Might try to post a late-night version of links later. Roll Tide.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Thursday lines: light week

Since the Ohio State-Michigan "rivalry" is the big game of the weekend ... well, I guess that means it's a lousy weekend. I feel the need to call upon my hero, Lewis Grizzard, for the occasion:
"I was sports editor of the Chicago Sun-Times at one time and I had the opportunity to go to any game I wanted. So I decided one year I'd go to the big Ohio State-Michigan game, big rivalry. And I went to it ... and I was not impressed. It was kinda like two mules fightin' over a turnip — I mean, who cares?"

Still, there are games going on this weekend, and only a handful of weekends remain where we can truly say that. Here then, are your lines for the weekend, courtesy of For the sake of everyone's sanity, Alabama's Senior Day scrimmage with UTC has come off the board. And thank God.
(One other note: As a self-professed football junkie, I normally would've turned on last night's Central Michigan-Ball State game, at least for a few plays. Unfortunately, I couldn't watch more than one series because of the atmosphere — the stadium was almost completely empty, like a mid-week NBA game in Memphis or something. When a 3A football game can outdraw you on a weeknight, you might want to seriously consider the direction of your program.)
Anyway, the lines.
Colorado (+19) at Oklahoma State
(Note: This looks easy, until you consider what happened to Zac Robinson last Saturday. No telling what the OSU offense looks like without him, particularly on a short week.)

Boise State (-23.5) at Utah State

Duke (+20) at Miami
Maryland (+19) at Florida State
North Carolina (+3.5) at Boston College
Louisville (+11.5) at South Florida
Minnesota (+10) at Iowa
Ohio State (-12.5) at Michigan
(Note: Is Michigan really going to run off Rich Rodriguez after two seasons? Weren't we ready to canonize him as recently as September?)
Mississippi State (+11) at Arkansas
Oklahoma (-6.5) at Texas Tech
Memphis (+24) at Houston
(Note: If I had a top-5 for the Heisman, I'd probably put — in some order — Case Keenum, Mark Ingram, Toby Gerhart, C.J. Spiller and ... I guess, Colt McCoy. Did I leave anybody out? ... No, not Tebow.)
TCU (-31.5) at Wyoming
Connecticut (+6) at Notre Dame
(Note: Is it too late for ND to give George O' Leary a try? I mean, his resume's pretty solid at this point, right?)
Baylor (+7.5) at Texas A&M
UAB (+13) at East Carolina
(Note: The Blazers can go bowling, right? You realized that? What if they played Kentucky in the Pizza Bowl? That would be the worst bowl game of all-time, right?)
(Additional note: If that game happened, I would absolutely buy tickets. Seriously.)
Purdue (-3) at Indiana
Air Force (+10) at BYU
LSU (+4) at Mississippi
Wisconsin (-7) at Northwestern
North Carolina State (+21) at Virginia Tech
Virginia (+21) at Clemson
Penn State (-3) at Michigan State
Arizona State (+4.5) at UCLA
Vanderbilt (+17) at Tennessee
California (+8.5) at Stanford
Kansas State (+17) at Nebraska
Kentucky (+8.5) at Georgia
Kansas (+27.5) at Texas
Oregon (-6) at Arizona

Monday, November 16, 2009

Tuesday 'tube: we just beat the hell outta you

With no substantive video to speak of related to this week's clash with UTC — and really, the whole point of this weekend is a) Senior Day, b) one more excuse to tailgate in Tuscaloosa and c) the pre-Auburn tune-up — the blog has decided to take a quick look back at how we got here, with a "Rammer Jammer" compilation.
Please to enjoy.

See you Wednesday. Roll Tide Roll.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Week 11 thoughts: push you around

I watched Saturday night's game in Starkville on a 3-inch screen at a birthday party in Opelika (guess who was on the big screen — and no, I don't mind, because that's kind of emblematic of the life of an 'Bama fan living in that part of the world). So everything I'm about to write is based on impressions from that party and the subsequent CSS replay, which wrapped up about 30 minutes ago. Here goes, anyhow.

— It wasn't hard to tell the difference between Alabama & Auburn Saturday, for anyone toggling back & forth or watching the two games simultaneously. The difference: the fourth quarter. Alabama got stronger as Saturday's game went on; Auburn wilted. That's been the story all season.
Now, I'm not here to cast aspersions on Gene Chizik or Auburn's program — it's in its infancy, and we should have a clearer picture as to how good a program he's building a season or two from now.
Nevertheless, it is very clear what kind of program Nick Saban's building at Alabama (OK, has built). This is a mean, physical, nasty football team, one that thrives on physicality, brutality ... and one that will absolutely wear you down and push you over in the fourth quarter ("dominate the guy in front of you and MAKE HIS ASS QUIT!").
Nowhere has this mentality been more evident than on the road in SEC play. Kentucky, Ole Miss and Mississippi State — Alabama walked into a hostile environment (OK, so the Kentucky fans didn't care all that much) and simply dispatched the home crowd. They did it coolly, professionally, brutally ... and the other guys simply couldn't match them. It's beautiful to watch if you like well-played football (and kind of boring if you're a casual fan who wants to see an exciting game).
Saturday night was emblematic of those games: State, a well-coached team with a solid game plan, moved the ball early with some success. Alabama adjusted, leading to a dominant second quarter. After halftime, when State experienced more success after some adjustments of its own, Alabama simply weathered the storm, then scored 14 more points to put a stamp on the game.
Consider, for example, the number of tackles Mark Ingram broke on his 70-yard run to ice the game. Answer: 0. Ingram was barely touched on his way to the end zone. The Tide, simply wore State out, then took away its heart. That's what good teams do.

— A big game by Marquis Johnson, as noted by BSR:
Forget about Utah and Florida last season, and think about where he was two years ago. That speaks volumes about how good Nick Saban and Kirby Smart are at coaching defensive back technique.

— I think, if I were Auburn, I'd stay away from any kind of jersey gimmick for next Friday's game in Jordan-Hare. For whatever reason, that seems to aggravate this football team.
(Speaking of which, does anybody actually consider what black-on-maroon will look like before greenlighting a decision like that? I'm no fashion expert, but isn't that a little ... harsh?)
— Underrated big game from Trent Richardson and Marquis Maze, both of whom turned in big efforts that netted first downs on eventual scoring drives. Richardson even made up for his own poor decision in the same play — on a 3rd-and-1, he attempted to bounce the play instead of just burrowing his head and making 2 yards, nearly lost yardage, then mustered up all his strength and stretched for the first down anyway. Alabama scored one play later. Well done, freshman.
— In the notes from BSR & RBR, they noted that the TD passes to Hanks and to Julio Jones came essentially on the same play (the first time the safety ran with Quintorris, the second time he jumped the short route to Hanks — both times we wound up with a receiver wide open).
— The refs who were conspiring in our favor failed us miserably Saturday, though it may have been the right call all along.
— Finally, as Scarbinsky noted today, Alabama still has yet to its best game, which is discouraging for ... well, everybody left on the schedule.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

weekend post: people jumping rope

It's a long day ahead, folks. And I've got much to do and less time to do it.

And so, apropos of nothing, here's an extended video of young girls jumping rope at a basketball game between Army & Navy (note how the crowd kind of ignores them at first, then stands & cheers like crazy people by the end).

Catch y'all on the flipside. Roll Tide.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Thursday lines are late, but effective

Sorry for the lag today in getting out the weekend lines — real life, frankly, rudely intrudes us.

In any case, here are the lines, as always, courtesy of

South Florida (+2.5) at Rutgers
West Virginia (+10) at Cincinnati
Indiana (+25) at Penn St.
Tennessee (+5) at Mississippi
(Note: I can't think of a proper way to flame Tennessee for the events of last night. It's kind of like playing with someone else's crutches — if you don't stop, you'll be the next one who gets hurt.)
Syracuse (+8) at Louisville
Michigan (+9) at Wisconsin
Clemson (=8) at North Carolina St.
Georgia Tech (-13) at Duke
Texas (-24) at Baylor
Michigan St. (-3) at Purdue
Florida St. (+5) at Wake Forest
Northwestern (+5) at Illinois
Kentucky (-3.5) at Vanderbilt
Missouri (-1) at Kansas St.
Virginia Tech (-18.5) at Maryland
UAB (-1.5) at Memphis
(Note: Speaking of wildly entertaining, did you see Tommy West's presser after he got fired last week? You saw that, right?)
Colorado (+5.5) at Iowa St.
Nebraska (-4.5) at Kansas
Iowa (+17) at Ohio St.
Idaho (+31.5) at Boise St.
Stanford (+10.5) at USC
Boston College (-5) at Virginia
Florida (-17.5) at South Carolina
Washington (+13.5) at Oregon St.
Miami (-3.5) at North Carolina
UCLA (-17.5) at Washington St.
Auburn (+4.5) at Georgia
Texas A&M (+20) at Oklahoma
La. Tech (+24) at LSU
Alabama (-12.5) at Mississippi St.
Utah (+19.5) at TCU
Notre Dame (+7) at Pittsburgh
Texas Tech (+4.5) at Oklahoma St.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

a "Lost" Wednesday: Locke, the Smoke Monster & The Man in Black

Like most people obsessed with this show, I've been trying to figure out this scene ever since I first saw it.

Like nearly everybody else, I've been trying to figure the whole thing out. Who is the man in black who says he wants to kill Jacob? What's preventing him from killing Jacob as he says? What's so special about Locke?

This fan-made speculation video advances at least one theory: the man in the dark suit is the "real face" of the Smoke Monster.

This is a theory I can absolutely buy. The Monster, for the most part, goes after people who "aren't supposed to be there" -- witness its first victim, the pilot of Oceanic 815, who was flying in place of Frank Lapidus.
Another interesting issue: why the Monster chose Locke for his "loophole" mission. Recall that Locke has an interesting history with the Monster -- he was the first of the survivors to see it while out tracking boars, and then it attacked him in the season finale: he refused to run from it, choosing instead to stare it dead in the eyes, and it floated away.
"I believe I was being tested."

Later, he described what he saw to be "a bright light" to Mr. Eko, who said, "That is not what I saw." Later, Locke goes to rescue Eko from a polar bear, only to eventually lose him to the Monster (Eko's dying words: "You're next").
The next time he mentions it is at the beginning of Season 4, while holding Ben at gunpoint -- Ben offered him information, and strangely, the first question of Locke's mouth was, "What is the Monster?"

One other theory I enjoyed, courtesy this video on youtube: the conflict between Jacob & his nemesis is a more cosmic version of the conflict between Jack & Locke (which, as we've argued before, is a microcosm of the conflict between science vs. faith, and predestination vs. freewill). Tell me if there's any parallel between what's going on in this video, and the one we viewed at the beginning of the post.

As always, post your own theories and thoughts in the commentary section. And remember, the finale is right around the corner.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Tuesday 'tube: many happy returns

Editor's Note: To whichever youtube overlord took away all the awesome youtubery that was providing most of the content for this blog ... well, I hope you're proud of yourself. God forbid some of us enjoyed something without paying ESPN and the University $25 every time we turn around.

It's hard to believe, honestly, that this program has come as far as it has in a little over two years. It was, after all, only two years ago at this time, Alabama lost for the second consecutive time to Mississippi State, a loss that was no more or less frustrating than about a dozen other losses this decade (and certainly not nearly as infuriating as the one that came the following week).

It was in that frame of mind that Alabama entered last year's game against Mississippi State. Just like this time, 'Bama was coming off a hard-fought, draining contest against LSU, and just like this time, the SEC West was already firmly in hand.

Listen to Antoine Caldwell early on, and you'll hear exactly what Alabama's motivation was that cold Saturday night.

The game was actually more of a hard-fought affair than either that video or the final score might lead you to believe — State punished Alabama with its run game and actually led at one point by the very unusual score of 7-5.
But, of course, as often happens when a team is losing, State made a critical mistake: in this case, it was kicking to Javier Arenas. The first time, he fielded the ball on a hop and set up a short field for a touchdown. The second time, this happened.

Notice how many tackles 28 broke on that particular return (answer: zero). It's a lot of fun to run around when no one has a chance of actually tackling you.

One more note before I go & let you enjoy your Tuesday: Mississippi State is apparently expecting the largest crowd in school history Saturday, even planning to bring in extra bleachers to accommodate the crowds (yes, just like your high school used to for playoff games). So the atmosphere Saturday should be a great one.
Pardon me while I go try to fight off this queasiness.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

week 10 thoughts: back on top

Ten years actually goes by pretty quick.
I found myself thinking about that while sitting out on Bryant Drive Saturday, watching the procession of crimson & white & purple & gold heading towards Bryant-Denny Stadium, taking the sights, sounds and smells of game day in Tuscaloosa (an experience I can't quantify in words, and words are my profession). Ten years actually went by in a real hurry.

Did you know it's been 10 years since Alabama beat LSU in Tuscaloosa? I did, I guess — LSU's been one of the best programs this decade (arguably THE best) while Alabama has been mired in ... well, whatever the better part of this decade has been. It's not a huge surprise that Alabama hasn't been able to compete with the conference's best.
Still ... 10 years is a long time. I was a freshman in college 10 years ago. I hadn't even met the woman who eventually became my wife. I was living in a dormitory with a dude named Jeremy from Mississippi, spending most of my free time at the Wesley Foundation (across the street from my dorm) with a group of people I'd barely known two months (who would eventually become like my extended family).
In football terms, here's how long ago 10 years is: the coaches the last time Alabama beat LSU in Tuscaloosa were ... Gerry DiNardo & Mike DuBose. Seriously. A few of us had a vague idea of who Nick Saban was, but not well enough to have any strong opinions of him. And certainly none of us had ever heard of Les Miles.
That day in Tuscaloosa was pretty incredible: Alabama, playing without Andrew Zow or Shaun Alexander, took an early lead against a fading LSU team (Saban came the following season) and appeared to be winning comfortably, but the Tigers hit a few plays in the fourth quarter, then suddenly somehow had the ball with a chance to win on their final possession.
Somehow, this happened:

Still one of the more incredible moments in recent Alabama history, considering that a) Josh Booty didn't throw the ball for whatever reason (and he had a man open); b) Marvin Constant ended his career keeping him out of the end zone (he ruptured most of his right leg on the play); c) our friend Koroknay went crazy and doused poor Peter, who's never really forgiven him for it.
And that was 10 years ago.

LSU (the 2009 version) is better than I was willing to admit. In the lead-up to the game, I stubbornly refused to capitulate to them being any good: they hadn't shown me anything terribly impressive, had suspect quarterback play and even more suspect coaching. Moreover, we were playing at home (for whatever that's worth), had two weeks to heal and prepare and had advantages at just about every position. Frankly, I believed, with a break or two early, we might just blow LSU out Saturday.
It became clear from the opening bell that a blowout wasn't happening. Whatever Les Miles' teams lack in discipline and precision, they make up for it in tenacity and a scary amount of skill. Every time one of those long, lanky receivers (who LSU apparently builds on an assembly line) touches the ball, it seems like he's a threat to take it the distance. From any spot on the field.
There's no other way to say it: LSU dominated the first half. It might not have shown up in the final statistics, but everything about the first half of play leaned in the visitors' favor. They were driving the ball, had our defense confused, had our offense looking a step slow. Make no mistake: the game was there to be lost.
But, just like what happened in Week 1 vs. Virginia Tech, this team found ways to hang around, kept things close until the fourth ... and then it happened.

There's a fantastic little nugget buried at the end of Dennis Dodd's piece about Julio Jones that ran late last week on CBS Sports. In it, Julio recounts the recruiting pitch Nick Saban used that brought him to Tuscaloosa in the first place. Think hard enough, and you can almost hear Saban saying the words:
"We're going to win," the coach said, "with or without you."

Clearly, Saban wasn't interested in catering to the dude's ego — he wanted him to know he could either be a part of something special, or he could watch it from somewhere else. It's been clear all season that the offense won't cater to Julio's ego, either: even Greg McElroy made it clear during the season that he wouldn't force the ball to his star wideout just to make him happy (even though he still does, occasionally — more on that in a second).
Early on in the fourth quarter, an inexcusable error by (you guessed it) Julio cost Alabama a real shot at 7 points — faced with 3rd-and-goal at the 2-yard line, down 15-10 with a running game that was dominating at the time, the Tide brought in its jumbo package to pound out two more yards and re-take the lead.
Only Julio didn't get off the field — instead, Alabama broke the huddle with 12 players, took a 5-yard flag and wound up settling for 3 points. On the television replay, you could see Saban — the same guy who challenged Jones two years ago — spike his headset furiously, asking how someone who should know better could commit such an egregious mistake.
Let's just say, it appears our boy got the message.

Just like with that victory 10 years ago, there remains work to be done, this team is going back to the SEC Championship Game. To face Florida again. Also, there's still work to be done, just as there was 10 years ago (and last year, for that matter). This trip to Starkville could end the party prematurely, no doubt.
Even so, we should all drink in the moment. If we've learned nothing else from the last 10 years, it's that you never know when you'll get back to the top.

Some other thoughts ...
— Of course, the talk this week will once again be about officiating, after Patrick Peterson's (apparent) interception inexplicably didn't hold up on replay. I have no explanation and no defense — it was a poor call in the midst of a season that's been (unfortunately) marked by poor calls.
I will cede the following point to ATVS, however:
But when you just watch the fourth quarter, it's impossible to blame this on one call. LSU went into the tank when the game mattered most. No first downs in the fourth quarter. The officials didn't do that, LSU's offense did. Julio Jones getting a long TD catch off a screen pass untouched, that wasn't the officials doing, that was the LSU defense.

— I'm enjoying the Greg McElroy love as much as everyone else this week, obviously, but can we tone it down just a little? Maybe 12 played better this week than he did in October, but he wasn't exactly Tom Brady out there, either.
In order, McElroy missed at least three passes that should've been touchdowns (to Marquis Maze, Julio & Brad Smelley); threw a terrible interception right before halftime (Maze, once again, was wide open at the goal line) and didn't get the ball out of his hands in time to avoid a killer safety. Oh, and let's not forget that the "should've been iNT incompletion," in which McElroy stupidly tried to force a sideline pass in between three defenders.
I'll give the kid credit, obviously: the touchdown pass to Hanks was fantastic, and he did make several big throws down the stretch. He's not a bad quarterback. I'm just not ready to kiss him on the mouth because he played "average" on the big stage. Also, he runs like a girl. That's disconcerting. Brodie Croyle is embarrassed by McElroy's scrambling ability.
— Better than average: Leigh Tiffin. All comparisons to Ryan Pflugner are officially shelved. For good.
(Note: I don't know what it looked like in other parts of the stadium, but from Section N-6, that kick appeared to hang in the air for an hour. I took three swigs off the bottle of Crown from the LSU fan sitting next to me in the time it took that kick to clear the cross bar. And I'm partially kidding.)
— Speaking of LSU fans, the vibe from those guys was totally different this time around from 2007. I think they're finally starting to come down off the Nick Saban thing. Kinda.
— Les Miles' famed "injury timeout" tactic is starting to get a little transparent. Just saying.
— Here's how good Marcel Dareus is: on LSU's last meaningful possession, I saw him lining up over the guard on third down and thought to myself, "He'll kill that guard." And he did. He really did.
— Still not sure what happened to Jordan Jefferson. On the replay, he looks fine. Also, can anyone figure out why Gary Crowton won't feed his running backs more? Do Crowton, Jim McElwain and Al Borges all attend the same offensive philosophy classes? "Over-thinking, 101?"
— Special teams play yesterday was fantastic on both sides. LSU's punting unit killed two kicks inside Alabama's 5-yard line, and eliminated Javier Arenas as a threat on all but one kickoff return. As for Alabama, in addition to Tiffin, the kickoff coverage unit finally rounded into form — I don't think LSU started a possession beyond its own 30 off a 'Bama kickoff. Well done, guys.
— On a critical fourth down last night, needing a half-yard ... Alabama ran Mark Ingram out of the Wildcat. Hey, I'm glad it worked. Just don't think for a minute that i thought that was a great idea.
(My brother Whit's take: "I mean ... I didn't really have words ... for how I felt about that.")
— It was quite an experience for my wife's uncle Larry, who brought a date with him all the way down from Illinois for the weekend. It's not everyday you get to see 95,000 screaming people shoved into the same space for four-plus hours. I like to think they enjoyed themselves.
I hope so, anyway. You never know when you'll be back.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday newspaper selections

Editor's Note: This is the selection column that runs every Saturday in The Daily Home. Since it doesn't make the front page — what with the high school running out front and all — I don't they'll mind much. Have fun at my expense.

An old sports axiom holds that most coaches would “rather be lucky than good.”

The truth is slightly more complicated — the best teams in sports, year in and year out, are lucky AND good. And those at the bottom rung, typically, are the opposite.
Take last Saturday’s Auburn-Ole Miss game, for example, a game I used to load up against the Tigers, who for the three weeks previous looked tired, beat-up and fading quickly.

It didn’t look good for Auburn, for all the reasons I listed in last week’s column: early start time, surging Ole Miss, fading Auburn. In fact, it looked like Auburn was set to enter its “Amen Corner” of Georgia and Alabama with four losses, easily.
So what happened? Well, the homestanding Tigers looked every bit the part of a fading group early on, failing to recover an early fumble and then quickly surrendering a touchdown drive.

But Auburn weathered the early storm, keeping Ole Miss off the board the rest of the half (and let the record show the Rebels missed two very makeable field goals to kill two promising drives). The Tigers also put together some offense of their own, and led 10-7 going to intermission.

Energized, they finally caught a few breaks. A tipped pass led to an pick-six; they hit some big plays on offense; suddenly, it was 31-7, Auburn. Even when Ole Miss climbed back into the game on a big play, the ensuing extra point went back for two points in favor of the Tigers, enough to discombobulate the Rebels (overrated, yes, but still dangerous).

Final score: Auburn 33, Ole Miss 20.

It’s only fair for Auburn to get a break or two, obviously. A season ago, they didn’t get a single bounce to go their way, suffering key injuries and infighting on their way to a 5-7 nightmare.

These things have a way of coming back around, obviously. The best teams are talented, of course, but they always have a way of figuring out how to get by when things don’t go their way — just ask Alabama, a team that did nearly everything wrong two weeks ago vs. Tennessee and still survived.

Auburn isn’t one of the best, but they might be headed that way in a season or two. Time will tell.

Less lucky: this picks column, which finished 3-2 last week, an inexcusable mark considering I picked Georgia to beat the line vs. Florida. I should be fined, just for that.

For the season, we’re at 18-28. As always, home teams are in caps.

AUBURN (-35.5) over Furman: Notable things about Furman:
• It’s the alma mater of Michael Corleone.
• Its nickname has something to do with a Knight.
• Its students chant “F-U!” at big I-AA games.
(Did that make this game interesting? No? Well, I tried.)

ARKANSAS (-7) over South Carolina: A toss-up, really — the Gamecocks looked genuinely terrible last week in Knoxville (though not as bad as those black unis, as if Tennessee wasn’t loathsome enough), and looks to be fading. So I’ll take the home team, which had a week off last week (technically they played a game, but come on) and is due for a rebound after bombing miserably in Oxford two weeks ago.

FLORIDA (-35) over Vanderbilt: OK, so there’s no excuse for Brandon Spikes pulling a Roddy Piper on Georgia’s Washaun Ealey last week in Jacksonville. But it’s worth noting that the Bulldogs were pushing, shoving, chirping and cheap-shotting, from pretty much the opening whistle. So it’s not implausible that someone could lose his head, even someone with a record as impeccable as Spikes.

Memphis (+26) over TENNESSEE: Because I can’t just pick all home favorites in this thing.

ALABAMA (-7.5) over LSU: You won’t find a weirder coaching dichotomy than the one between LSU’s Les Miles and Alabama’s Nick Saban: Saban coaches a robotic, well-disciplined football team that operates with ridiculous amounts of precision; Miles operates like a guy at a blackjack table with an 18 showing, defiantly sneering at the dealer, “Hit me again.”
Both these guys are good. Both these guys are lucky. When in doubt, I’ll take the team that’s playing at home.