Posted: 11:00 a.m. Monday, Sept. 30, 2013
That was more like it. To be sure, there are still offensive issues with run-blocking and an over-abundance of caution in the passing game, and the game was only a shut out by virtue of Huge Freeze's obvious disdain for field goals. Nevertheless, Alabama's defense held a team that came in averaging 490 yards and 38.7 points to 205 and 0 of those commodities, respectively, and the offense did what was necessary and even eventually got the running game working.
This could have been an entirely different ballgame if Alabama had not fended off near-disaster three times in the first quarter. On the very first play, Vinnie Sunseri barely got his fingers on a deep ball to Laquon Treadwell, and if he hadn't it would surely have been a touchdown. Cody Mandell made a great play to field a high snap near the Bama goal line and then get off a low punt that took a good bounce. Later, Eddie Jackson was just able to bring Donte Moncrief down with a diving body block when he was the last Tide defender in the picture. Any one of those plays goes south, and possibly the whole psychological set of this game is different.
None of them did, and as things turned out, Ole Miss was a beaten team after Yeldon's long run early in the 3rd quarter. But watch out for the RBBs the next two years, especially if they keep the recruiting anywhere near the level it was this year. Treadwell, Robert Nkemdiche, and Tony Connor are definitely the real deal and they all showed it Saturday. Did you notice Connor dropping Yeldon like a rock on that short passing pattern?
In the alternate universe where AJ was injured and out for the season before game 1, Alabama is not undefeated now and would have no cause at all for optimism about getting back into the SEC and national title hunts later. When you look at things that way, any criticisms of Alabama's talented 5th-year senior quarterback are seen as what they are, mere quibbles.
But I do have some quibbles over our passing game. A lot of it goes to the gameplan, which called for an absurd number of short passes. In my view, a significant part of the first-half running game frustration can be attributed to the way the RBB safeties could cheat with impunity because they knew they wouldn't be tested deep. A few deep passes here and there can open holes.
I'm not sure it was all gameplan, though, as AJ seemed oddly uninterested in aggressive passing. The two deep throws in the first half were both clear throw-aways where AJ just got rid of the ball when he was under no pressure at all. And last week's bugaboo, the too-short pass on 3rd down, ended our first drive when, on 3rd and 11 inside the Ole Miss 20, and again under no pressure at all, AJ settled for a 6-yard completion to a guy with no running room. Quick drops and quick throws are in vogue these days as a way to defeat the pass rush, and playing fast is one of McCarron's strengths, but sometimes he seems a little too keen to go with the quick release even when there is no rush coming.
Later, AJ underthrew his only real effort at a deep ball, when Amari Cooper was open for a TD, but an ineligible receiver downfield would've scotched the play, anyway.
Generally, though, #10's passing was dead accurate, as it has been all season. The pick was not his fault at all, as it bounced off Vogler's chest after a good throw in a tight window. AJ maneuvers in the pocket while looking for receivers better than any Bama quarterback in probably decades, and considering how absolutely dead-center crucial his continued health is to this team's continued winning ways, it is very gratifying to see him make consistently smart decisions about when to slide.
None of the TV replays showed whether AJ held the ball all the way into Yeldon's gut on the fumbled exchange.
Clearly, though, the ball did get to the right part of Yeldon's anatomy, and while it's possible AJ shares the fault for the fumble, Yeldon at least has some of it, and possibly all.
But there has been nothing wrong with Yeldon's running at any time this season. He is running hard, exploding through holes, and making decisive cuts. He just hasn't had a lot of opportunities, and in fact, he looked a little puzzled at first on the 68-yard TD run when he realized there was nobody else to fight off. It took him a couple of seconds to really get going, but he was so far past everybody that it was still an easy TD.
Drake doesn't have Yeldon's power and drive, but he has a burst that we haven't seen in the Tide backfield in recent years, and it wasn't at all surprising to see him take one deep against a winded Ole Miss defense. But he needs to lock up the ball with both hands when he is fighting for the extra yard. Guys like Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson might have the strength to lock it with one hand; Drake doesn't.
Ole Miss didn't seem to realize we have had trouble with blitz pickups, and didn't blitz much, but the one time I saw Fowler in position to pick up a blitz he whiffed entirely, leading to a throw-away and a hit on McCarron. However, #45 contributed a nice pinch-in block on a 3rd-down run by Drake to pick up the first when the game was still in play early in the 4th quarter.
We seem to throw all our screens to receivers, and not to backs. The Bama bubble screen has had a couple of big plays, but it has been inconsistent.
No receiver had a break-out game, but Christion Jones was again our possession receiver, with 5 catches for 61 yards, and caught everything that was thrown to him. Jones missed a blitz pick-up when Connor knifed into the backfield for a run stop, but in fairness he wasn't lined up in a good position to make that play.
Amari Cooper is clearly not fully healthy, but at least this time we mostly used him as a decoy. Bad wheels and all, he was able to sneak open deep once late in the game, after Ole Miss had undoubtedly noticed we weren't featuring him. Keying on the hobbled Cooper in the first couple of games was one of the biggest problems with our offense, as we have had consistent success going to other guys. Expect him to sit against Georgia State.
Surprisingly, we didn't throw to O.J. Howard at all and I didn't notice him in the game all that often (not that I was always checking for offensive participation). Healthy?
Vogler missed a catchable ball that turned into a pick and also fumbled trying to get extra yardage. He made a nice sealing block on Drake's long TD run, but he also whiffed on a run blitz and Yeldon was trapped 5 yards behind the line.
Before I started watching the replay, I set aside a little area on my notepad to record bad blocks. The area was full by the end of the 1st quarter, and when I made another area, it was almost full by the end of the 2nd quarter. Fortunately, things got better in the second half, so there was no need to run down to Walmart for a new notebook.
Cyrus Kouandjio had a very active day, but not all of the activity was good. Along with Vogler, he made a key block on Drake's long TD run, and another nice one-on-one block in space got Drake open for 10 more in the third quarter. His keenness to get into his pass-blocking stance quickly is NFL-like, but he still doesn't quite have the timing down, as he had one false start and flirted with a couple more. He also lost his footing twice early in pass blocking; it's hard to block your man when you're flat on your rumpus, but AJ managed to get rid of the ball or spin away each time. His man beat him inside to nail Yeldon for a 1-yard loss on another occasion. Generally, my pre-season certainty that CK would not be in crimson in 2014 is pretty much gone.
His brother played his best game yet, twice actually opening holes on the right side, once with a pull block that led a first-down run and another time by pushing his man all the way across the line and the right-side hole. He also immobilized his man on the long Yeldon run and made a nifty screen-pass block. On the down side, he was beaten inside on a first-half running play where Yeldon was blown up in the backfield.
Kelly was pushed into the backfield once, giving up another run loss, and was limping after the play: possibly that is when he was injured, as he only stayed in a couple more plays after that. There was not a noticeable drop-off when Lindsay came in, but there was also not a noticeable improvement. Lindsay made a nice turn-back block on a linebacker to spring Yeldon's long run and had another good block, along with Steen and Shepard, on a 10-yard bounce-out by Drake, but he got pushed deep into the backfield to blow up another run, and the game's only sack came when Lindsay's man ran right by him and straight up the middle.
Steen made a very nifty maneuver on Yeldon's big first-half run, first helping Kelly with his man and then peeling right to wall off a linebacker before #4 hit the hole. But #61, who has avoided bad plays all year, didn't on Saturday. On an early run to the left, he lost awareness looking (unsuccessfully) for a left-side block, and let a blitzer come through his hole untouched to blow up the play. Later, he lost Nkemdiche to an inside pass rush, leading to a hurried throw on the play that eventually turned into the Drake fumble.
Shepard also made more mistakes than I have been accustomed to seeing. He was called for holding in the second half after being beat inside by a pass rusher, and let his man through on another occasion to stone Yeldon near the line. He did get his man on Yeldon's long first-half run.
On 3rd and a long 1 in the 3rd quarter, Bama lined up an unbalanced line with Steen left of the center. Steen and the Kouandjios got a very nice push, creating a moving wall for an easy first-down run.
A-Shawn Robinson may be our best defensive lineman already - at any rate, he seems to make the most plays. He was visible playing off a lineman's solid block early to stuff Jeff Scott at the line, and later broke through the middle and chased Bo Wallace into throwing a hurried incompletion. Another true freshman, Jonathan Allen, showed his wheels by running down Wallace from behind for a short gain.
I had hoped for slightly more of a pass rush presence from Jeff Pagan and Ed Stinson than what has actually been the case, but both guys are solid against the run and at least get a little bit of a push against the pass. While Mosley was the guy everybody was talking about on the safety, it was Pagan who played off his blocks and got Wallace's legs. I doubt C.J. could have held him in the end zone without that.
Under the old intentional grounding rules, by the way, we would've had another safety, when Brandon Ivory, Xzavier Dickson and Landon Collins hemmed Wallace in the end zone, forcing a hurried and feeble throw-away.
Denzell Devall caused a fumble and also teamed up with Adrian Hubbard to force Wallace into a grounding call.
Out of the 8 times I noticed Ole Miss running what was clearly that read option play, Wallace kept 5 times for 15 yards and handed off 3 times for 11 yards. It went once for 10 yards, once for 7, and the other 6 times were for 3 or less.
C.J. Mosley was positively C.J. Mosley-esque against the Oxfordians - but isn't he always? 7 tackles, mostly at or near the line, including one for a safety, and a big 4th-down pass breakup on the RBBs' deepest penetration - although Jarrick Williams had great position and may have made the play on the ball if C.J. hadn't.
DePriest had a nice game too, recording a tackle for a loss on a flat pass and stoning a run play on a big 2nd and 2 inside the Tide 10.
Adrian Hubbard did not have his most disruptive game, but he was solid against the run.
As I noted above, our DBs almost got burned for long home runs twice in the first quarter - but they didn't. And didn't come close again.
You had to be worried about how long he would be out, or slowed, when you heard Belue had a turf toe, but Ole Miss threw at him exactly twice and didn't come close to a completion either time. He also deflected a 4th-down 4th-quarter pass thrown to Clinton-Dix's receiver. You gotta figure he will sit out next week against the awful Georgia State Whatever-They-Ares. (Have I mentioned that I hate matchups like that?)
Belue's deflection was a little unlucky, but never fear: Ha Ha was there to deflect it again to make sure it didn't get caught. Clinton-Dix led the team in tackles with 8 and Mississippi's first possession ended when he made a sensational 4th-down diving stop on Laquon Treadwell, who looked like he had the first down in the bag. (Bama got a bit of a break on that play when Treadwell tucked the ball, allowing it to hit the ground behind the first-down marker, instead of reaching out with it for an easy first down.)
Eddie Jackson started across from Belue, and clearly was picked on by Ole Miss for most of the game. They got to him a few times, including the deep pass to Moncrief alluded to above and a couple of out patterns for first downs. Jackson managed to knock the ball out of Moncrief's hands on a late downfield pass over the middle, but was beat on the play and was lucky that #12 didn't hang on. On the other hand, he stayed home on a trick wide receiver pass and made a very nifty pick, deflected a ball into the air that could easily have been another pick, blew up a screen pass behind the line, and generally played an aggressive, physical game. For a true freshman getting repeatedly picked on by a team with an explosive passing game, he turned in a solid performance and the smart money has to be on him keeping that job.
I guess the jury is still out on whether Cade Foster is a dependable field goal kicker, but he was sure the star of the first half of this game. If he continues to deliver like this, 2013 could turn out to be the best Bama overall special teams unit of recent years.
I already mentioned the wonderful play Cody Mandell made to avert a first-quarter disaster, but may I mention the punting? #29 hasn't had a bad game yet, and this sure wasn't one, as he averaged 46.2, with 3 of his punts either downed, fair caught or the returner tackled inside the 20. One was downed at the 1 when Landon Collins made a sensational play to bat the ball into the field even after it took a bad bounce, and Dillon Lee alertly following up to trap the ball on the one. DeAndrew White also deserves plenty of credit for an excellent punt coverage tackle inside the 10.
Kickoff coverage continues to be excellent. Once the RBBs got it out to the 29 after Foster short-legged it a bit and it was taken in at the 10, but the other three kickoffs were one touchback and tackles at the 22 and the 13 (Lee, doing a nifty imitation of Collins' standard guided-missile routine).
The Tide didn't get anything done with the return game, but with two return TDs already in the books for the season, that ain't my biggest concern.