Wednesday, September 4, 2013

week 1 thoughts: something to say

Editor's note: So, remember when I said I was probably going to post here only with sporadic frequency? Yeah, about that. Turns out there's a lot going on these days, that's going to keep me from my slavish devotion to the blog (not shutting down ... just saying). I still am frequent on Twitter, as most of you already know, and a good bit of what I used to do here I can now do there. We'll just keep our relationship here week to week, OK? OK.

So, in my unofficial return to blogging, I mentioned that one of the reasons I took a step back from this particular gig is that I sort of ran out of things to say. Anyone who has ever attempted to write for a living knows that fear living inside him: A blank page with nothing to fill it.
There were a number of reasons for that, but one of the biggest was Alabama football itself, and the Saban machine. Alabama football, as most of you know, is one of the first loves I ever had in my life, and as such I tend to approach everything related to the program with a sense of dread and trepidation. It's just that this recent run — 61-5 after last Saturday's comfortable slugfest vs. Va. Tech — has taken away a lot of room for skepticism.
There are any number of ways to quantify this, but here's one: Since the 2008 whipping of Clemson in Atlanta, Alabama has entered a game as an underdog ... I don't know, 3 times? Four? When was the last time — the BCS MNCG vs. LSU? And we all remember how that turned out.
This status as the king of college football — "where we belong," in the parlance of the Bama Nation — is at once thrilling and problematic. It's more fun to play the scrappy underdog, right? It's why we always complain we're not getting enough respect, even though we've been ranked in the top 5 of every major college football poll for 34 consecutive weeks.

Saturday afternoon in the Georgia Dome, then, was a recipe in which Alabama could only disappoint. Admittedly, it was a difficult watch, even for the most ardent fan (my dad texted me during the third quarter to declare it "boring"). Alabama was limited to a paltry 3.3 yards per play, and barely over 200 yards total. T.J. Yeldon finished with 75 yards rushing, and A.J. McCarron took four sacks (and was moving his feet all night, even when he managed to throw the ball away). For most of the night the team looked like less the big bad behemoths of the sport, and more like a flawed team struggling to find its identity.
And yet, the final score was 35-10. In our favor.
Look, nobody's happy with Saturday's effort. It's not good enough to win a division championship, let alone a conference or a national title (and really, at this point anything less would be disappointing). Still, let us assume the following, for the sake of being positive (a rarity for me):
• Alabama will improve, and has the talent to play much better. Saturday night was a C-, but Bama's C- is still better than most teams in the country.
• Va. Tech maybe is better than we thought (note: Trevor Matich apparently told the Finebaum audience that VT's defense is the best we will see all season, including LSU ... probably not true, but there it is). And they'd been preparing to shock the universe since January.
• Alabama was playing left-handed — that is, without its full game plan — and will install its full game plan before next Saturday in Texas.
(Note: Does anyone feel better yet?)

Some other thoughts ...
• Lost in the furor over the offense's putrid performance was the defense, which was gashed for exactly one big play, and crippled Va. Tech after halftime. VT's offensive output in the second half: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt. They crossed the 50-yard line exactly once, after a punt return in the fourth quarter, then immediately went backwards three yards ... and punted. It's a pretty workmanlike performance from a defense that defines itself by workmanlike performances.
• For all the hype about Alabama's backfield, right now we have exactly one tailback that looks competent. God help us if something happens to T.J. Yeldon.

• This may have been the year when the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic finally went over the edge.  Aside from the constant name-dropping and the endless promotions, Chick-fil-A also decided this was the year that the winner of the game would receive a trophy for its efforts: The Old Leather Helmet*. This was probably a better idea in production meetings; unfortunately, not only had most of the fans left by the time the trophy was presented, but Alabama's players and coaches were so disgusted by their own effort, they were in kind of a hurry to get to the locker room so they could go home.
Instead, everyone lingered on the field, to celebrate ... what, exactly? Winning the opener in lackluster fashion? Do we even have room for that trophy?
(On the bright side, it led to a hilarious moment in which offensive guard Anthony Steen was holding the trophy, prompting one fan near me to suggest they told him to hold "cause he hasn't s--- else all night").
* According to its website, Chick-fil-A has presented this trophy to the winner of its annual game every year since 2008. I have no memory of them doing this in 2009, but I am also old and losing my marbles at a remarkably rapid pace.

• So what was the problem with the offensive line Saturday? I confess it was difficult to tell from my seat in Section 331 — a few times, it seemed Va. Tech simply stacked the line of scrimmage, to the point that the defenders outnumbered our blockers. At other times it seemed like we were just whipped, man for man. Interestingly, our best success seemed to come on counter actions and sweeps; with the defense flowing so hard to the ball, breaking the line of scrimmage meant big plays.
• I am tempted to say, "Without those kick returns, we're not nearly as comfortable at the end." Then again, kicking is 1/3 of the game, right? No reason to apologize there.

In any case, the season is still very young, and hopefully there will be much more to say.

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