Sunday, October 3, 2010

week 5 thoughts: the games only get bigger from here

Another week, another chance for the eyes of the nation to be focused on Tuscaloosa.

Another business-like, ho-hum win.

As a birthday present to my brothers — who turned 24 Saturday — we brought them to our seats in SS-7. Halfway through the second quarter, not long after Marquis Maze found Michael Williams for the touchdown that made the score 24-0, my brother Jack (not a huge football fan) looked at me with a puzzled face.
"What's wrong with Florida?"
I wasn't sure what he meant.
"I mean, aren't they supposed to be good? How are we killing them like this?"
It's a good question: Saturday's game was one that seemed so evenly matched, the opening line ('Bama by 9) seemed absurd. Both teams can run, throw, play good defense and are solid in special teams. And they're the defending national champs from the last two years, an added cherry on top.
So yeah. In no way did I expect to see Alabama holding a 24-0 lead in the second quarter, or winning 31-6. What exactly was going on?
I explained to Jack, and the replay on DVR has confirmed, the issue wasn't what was wrong with Florida, as much as what was right about Alabama. As it did last week, the Tide came out like a team that wanted to prove that it's the champs, and the road to any sort of title has to run through Tuscaloosa.
Consider the message sent.

Of course, as with last week, the games only get bigger. ESPN Gameday is already preparing for a trip to Columbia on Saturday, and Gamecock students and fans will undoubtedly be at a fever pitch by the time our guys arrive Saturday.
Such is the life of a defending champion.

Some other thoughts ...
— The dominant storyline coming into Saturday was whether this Saturday is a preview of the SEC Championship Game in December. If that winds up being the case, Florida can take solace in knowing that Alabama wasn't nearly as dominant for 60 minutes Saturday as a number of columnists and bloggers seem to believe it was. Yes, Alabama won by 25; yes, the game was basically over in the second quarter.
But it's also worth noting that Florida outgained 'Bama for the game, had four drives inside Alabama's 20 and held the Tide to five first downs in the second half (and the last three of those were attained by Eddie Lacey when 'Bama was killing the clock). Alabama drove the length of the field for a touchdown exactly once: on its second possession when it went 80 yards following Trey Burton's killer interception. In fact, Alabama's offensive linemen made it quite clear how unhappy they were with their performance in the second half.
— One other note on Florida: because we have season tickets (and are thus traveling a lot on the weekends) I hadn't had a chance to watch the Gators for any length of time before Saturday. For the life of me, I can't figure out what they're doing offensively. Gary Danielson (amazingly) articulated it as well as anyone Saturday night: John Brantley isn't Tim Tebow — no worse, just a different type of football player. Everyone on the field knows it. So why is Florida still running the same offense? Why not turn John Brantley loose (like they did the second half when they had the most success)? I realize Urban Meyer is (probably) smarter than I am, just pointing out that I'm perplexed by what he's doing.
— The best player on Alabama's defense may just be Courtney Upshaw.
— Alabama threw some different looks at Florida in the first quarter, much as they did in Atlanta last year, to put the Gators on their heels. A few things they did that we were able to recognize from up top:
• Putting Maze in the backfield, then throwing an out route to him.
• Putting Richardson and Ingram on the field at once, shifting them ... then throwing a screen to the other side of the field.
• Motioning McElroy out of the backfield, to put Ingram in the Wildcat.
• Giving Maze a chance to throw to a little-used receiver in Williams.
— The honorary captains for Saturday's game: Cornelius Griffin and Brodie Croyle. The public address referred to them as "TWO CRIMSON TIDE LEGENDS." I'm sorry? In what world is Brodie Croyle a legend in Alabama history? Really?
— I remain impressed with Alabama's offensive line, which mauled Florida's "heavy set" or whatever that was, even pushing the Gators two yards deep into the end zone on Ingram's second touchdown run. Greg McElroy was sacked a few times, yes, but they were all coverage sacks. We've come a long way since the days of Kyle Tatum and Chris Capps, is what I'm saying here.
— How many more minutes of fame does Scott Cochran have left? It's getting a little hard to explain to non-Alabama fans why our strength and conditioning coach is getting so much screen time.
— You can see our defensive backs growing up with each quarter. Dre Kirkpatrick is playing with twice as much confidence right now as he did in the first quarter at Arkansas.
— As well as the defense played Saturday, we missed at least three sack opportunities. Brantley's no Tebow, but he managed to keep several plays alive just by ducking.
— Greg McElroy could stand to slide or go out of bounds every so often.
— The similarities between this coming week and the game two weeks ago at Arkansas are frightening.
But that's part of being a champion: when the champ comes to town, the world comes to watch.

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