Welcome back to the "Crimson & White Roundtable," hosted as always by the outstanding folks at RBR. Feel free to play along at home, or just log in to tell me how stupid I am in the comments (you can also find me on Twitter).
1) Alabama returned to the win column against Ole Miss, but did the Crimson Tide's performance show the needed signs of improvement we were hoping to see?
Yes and no. It was good to see the defensive improvements, particularly intangible things like "better tackling" and "more hats to the football." And yes, Ole Miss helped us by dropping a few balls in big situations (does that phrase make anyone else uncomfortable? I'm going to keep doing it, though) but overall, we looked as good Saturday night defensively as we have all season.
Offensively ... yeesh. Everything looks like a mess right now: we can't block anybody, our backs are making the wrong cuts, receivers are dropping balls (see? See what I did there?) and the quarterback is making the wrong decision at almost every turn. In fact, as OTS ably pointed out Saturday, without one great effort by a great player (Trent Richardson) the game's 16-10 in the fourth quarter.
I'm also concerned about the playcalling, which appears to have regressed since the Florida game: fewer creative formations, fewer innovations off the Wildcat, fewer shallow crosses (our calling card over the past couple years when we need a few yards). Not sure what's going on there.
(Note: It's probably worth noting here that we went through this exact same scenario last season at roughly the exact same time, only our defense was so dominant, it kept us afloat. Hasn't worked out so far.)
2) Tennessee has clearly taken a step back this season with nary a win against a conference foe but are the Volunteers still a legitimate threat in any phase of the game?
Based on what I saw from the Vols during the debacle three weeks ago vs. LSU, they absolutely won't back up from anybody. To beat them you have to punch them out. It's that simple.
There's a fantastic post up at 3rd Saturday about the culture in Knoxville right now, how the constant shuffling and negativity off the field has created an atmosphere of losing on the hill. If it sounds familiar to 'Bama fans, it's because it's exactly what was going on here in 2007: a solid decade of mediocrity (and worse) had made it OK to accept underachieving football. Nick Saban changed it all. Whether Derek Dooley can do the same up there, I guess we'll have to see.
3) What does Alabama have to achieve in this game to set the tone going into the bye week and prepare for the final month of the season?
This will make me seem like a broken record of cheap football cliches, I realize, but Alabama must re-establish itself at the line of scrimmage. For the past two seasons, this is a team that has made its living cramming the football down other people's throats. To survive the last month of the season, our boys must return to that mentality.
4) When you need to get your hate on for the Volunteers, what tried and true method do you rely on?
This won't take much.
Oh yeah. Think I'm ready.