W2W4 – Alabama vs Florida

Well, after a few good appetizers like some Burrowing Owl and Golden Eagle niblets, it’s now time for us to begin working on the main course.  So, how do y’all like your gator?  Blackened?  Sautéed with a little crimson vino?  Well, however you like it cooked you’d better bring a good sized bib because this one, to me, looks like it could get a little messy….

Most folks, Vegas included, seem to be a little deceived by the Kentucky game and they have installed Alabama as a 17 point favorite.  But, after watching the Kentucky v Florida game, I have to tell you that I think this game will stay within that point spread.

Before I sat down to watch the 36-30 triple overtime Gator victory, Twitter seemed divided as to whether the score was a result of Kentucky being good or just a product of Florida being bad.  So, I was very, very interested in seeing with my own eyes what the story was.  The answer?  Folks, honestly I thought Kentucky was just that good.

On offense, Kentucky struggled mightily in the first half, generating a measly three points against the fast and aggressive Florida defense.  Florida squashed the slippery KY running game and the Cats could seemingly do very little thru the air in the early going.  However, throughout the first half I noticed that the Wildcat slot receivers were getting free releases and running by the Florida safeties and I wondered why Kentucky didn’t attack the Gators here – naturally that’s exactly what Kentucky attacked in the second half.  Slot receiver Garrett Johnson hauled in a 60 yard TD and a 33 yard TD from the slot and suddenly it was a ball game.  The numerous crowd shots of the Gator fans with their puckered up sphincters were pretty spectacular…

Defensively, Kentucky seemed to bring more people at Jeff Driskel than the Scotsmen voters that hit the polls this week and more times than not they adversely affected the Gators’ quarterback.  However, new OC Kurt Roper has obviously put in a ton of time with Driskel and I’m here to tell you that the 2014 version does not resemble the dreadful 2013 or 2012 versions.  This year’s Driskel is completing short, quick throws on time and in rhythm.  He’s still a horrific downfield passer but Roper has found some short throws that Driskel can complete with regularity.  So, how will the game go?  Well, here’s what to watch for…

Alabama on Offense

If you can’t tell from the intro, I’m REALLY intrigued by this game.  This isn’t going to be one of your Saturday du jour games where it’s over at halftime.  No, this game should be tightly contested as two strong, physical teams do battle for four quarters.  Florida’s defense is fast and strong at the point of attack and they dried up the KY running game easily.  Florida’s defense is also aggressive, rolling up their corners and bringing blitzes more often than Lindsey Lohan gets blitzed.  In only two games the Gators have racked up five sacks and 20 (TWENTY!) quarterback hurries.  They love to move DE Dante Fowler (#6) around the line of scrimmage because this big 6’3, 260 lb beastie can run.  He will bring a heckuva edge rush at young Cam Robinson and Austin Shepherd so we’ll need to keep an eye out for him throughout the game.  He looks strong, too – really good player.

Florida’s linebackers are very, very fast and athletic and play in the 230 lb range so they are pretty physical, too.  They played disciplined football all night long and their only weakness appeared to be an occasional play where they over-pursued (look for some misdirections and boots in attempt to exploit their aggression).

It’s ironic that Kentucky made the bulk of their yardage through the air against the Gators’ secondary as they boast having the very best corner in the entire country in Vernon Hargreaves III (#1).  Honestly, he’s flat out awesome.  He’s been thrown at nine times this year and has given up only two catches for 16 yards.  Oh, and he’s broken up five of the passes and probably should have come down with at least two picks in the Kentucky game alone.  Kids, he’s awesome.  Now their other corner, Brian Poole (#24) is not very good and, in the second half, Kentucky beat him and the UF safeties like a rented mule.  Florida rolls their corners up tight and they keep their safeties back off of the slot receivers so Kentucky took advantage of this in the second half.  With a stout front seven and an aggressive secondary, Alabama will likely have to challenge Florida in the passing game…or will they?

Appetite for Destruction:  (Per a request, this week’s breakdown is going to feature 80s songs which seemingly is nearly the last time Florida was relevant, right?)  This week, in the early going I think you’ll actually see Alabama play a lot of two tight ends and/or use Jalston Fowler in an effort to bring Alabama’s physicality and nasty disposition to bear on the Gators.  In the off-season, Saban stated he wanted to get back to that famous physically dominant style of play that people feared, and since Florida’s defensive ends are around 260 lbs that’s a possible weak spot to explore.  And, given Florida’s team speed, lateral plays simply aren’t likely to succeed.  So, you run the ball right at them and make them recognize your authority.  As Scarface might say, “say hello two my two tight ends.”  (Incidentally, having the extra tight end helps against Fowler’s speed rush and blitzers, as well.)

Don’t You Forget About Me:  My pick to click (again) is OJ Howard.  If Alabama uses two tight ends, then OJ Howard should be a weapon on play action fakes when Alabama takes advantage of the UF linebackers’ speed and penchant to over-commit.  Also, at times I suspect Kiffin will move OJ out to the slot which was the area that Kentucky exploited against the Gators last week.

Cult of Personality:  The offensive line is going to be under pressure at the edges and from the interior from nose tackle Darious Cummings (#55), who was very active last week.  Ryan Kelly, Arie Koundjio and Leon Brown will have their hands full with him and with deciphering blitzers but, in the end, they will have to be the leaders in establishing Saban’s personality of physicality.

Could You Be Loved:  Amari Cooper leads the world in receptions but if he lines up opposite of Vernan Hargreaves (#1) then this will be a week that he is tested like no other.  Coop has 33 receptions (8 more than every other Tide WR combined) and Hargreaves has given up only two catches on the season so this will be a key matchup.  However, a bigger curiosity to me will be how Alabama approaches this matchup.  Will they continue to force the ball to Coop, even if the throws aren’t there?  Or will other receivers or tight ends (I’m looking at you, OJ Howard) be brought to Bear against the lesser Gator DBs?  Could they be loved?  Could they contribute?  They should because, I assure you, they’ll be open.

Money For Nothing:  Kentucky was downright stealing yardage against Florida’s other corner, Brian Poole (#24).  Much of the time Poole plays a “bail technique” which means he shows bump and run with him up tight against the wide receiver.  However, just before the snap he begins to “bail” by back peddling off the receiver.  Kentucky took advantage of this by hitting five yard curls over and over and over again as Poole’s transition from his backpedal to running forward appears sloooooow.  Look for hitches and slants to be the order of the day against Poole.  If he’s bailing, he’s failing…

Some Like it Hot:  Given Florida’s penchant for blitzing, look for Amari Cooper to be moved around in motion as Alabama identifies the coverage and the blitzers.  This also will allow him to get a free release and be available for any hot routes against the blitz and it should get him away from Hargreaves, as well.

Shout:  Blake Sims completely whiffed in identifying three slot blitzes against WVU, two of which he somehow avoided as he was in their clutches.  Florida has seen this and will use it to the Nth degree so someone needs to give Blake a holla if they see a corner or slot DB inching in for a blitz.  Honestly, this scares the piss out of me because if Florida’s blitzers come in freely, they likely will not miss, and what a calamity that could be.  Sack?  Fumble?  Crumble?  Coker in the game in relief?  Yeesh.

Heaven and Hell:  Crossing routes have been Blake Sims’ own personal little heaven thus far this season but against the Wildcats the Gators seemed to defend crossing routes fairly easily.  However, that should open up the flat routes to guys like Kenyan Drake, leaving him one on one with some poor sucker.  Look for Drake to give this one lone defender hell if it happens.

Start Me Up:  Blake Sims is your starter and I expect him to go wire to wire.  In watching the film, it appeared to me that when Kentucky went four wide with their receivers (balanced, with two on each side), the middle was pretty susceptible to QB draws or any kind of escape from the pocket.  Look for Sims to convert a couple of first downs with improvised or designed runs up the gut.

Tide Bits

In every single Alabama football game, establishing the running game has been of huge importance and perhaps at no time this season will it be more important than in this game.  Kentucky was able to exploit the pass coverage matchups that left their slot receives wide freaking open in the Florida secondary but they had a QB who could deftly deliver the ball.  At this time, I’m not sure we know that Sims can do that.  Therefore, running the ball and keeping the pressure off of Sims will be key.  That’s why I think you’ll see a lot of two tight end sets as we attempt to slowly fashion ourselves some gator shoes, a gator belt and a gator wallet.  It may take a while but I think Alabama’s plan will be to punch them in the mouth repeatedly.  Again, Kentucky went about this in a much, much different way but I can’t really see the staff unleashing Sims’ arm with confidence just yet, can you?  But, when we do pass, it’s going to be fun to see if it’s forced into Cooper or if Alabama spreads the ball around.  And will Coop be shadowed by Hargreaves throughout the game?  Love this chess match but it’s irrelevant if Alabama can run the ball.

Alabama on Defense

Over the past several years, Florida’s offense has been as impotent as the Eunuchs in “History of the World Part I,” but this year it looks like these Gators may have a little Gregory Hines in them.  Florida comes in ranked sixth in the country on offense, riding a bulldozing running game while mixing in a short, quick passing game.  Jeff Driskel finally looks the part of an actual quarterback and Demarcus Robinson (#11) seems to have given them an actual threat at wide receiver.  Against Kentucky, Robinson did his best Amari Cooper impersonation by posting 15 catches for 216 yards.  I think those stats would have been season high’s for the Gators last year so it’s interesting to me that they can now compile those stats in one single game!  But, when the going got tough the Gators turned to their power running game by using big Matt Jones and Kelvin Taylor who followed their H backs and some fantastic double team blocks by their O-line.  Man, they brought the downhill running game with authority.  Ok boys – let’s get physical!

Crazy Train:  Similar to Jay Prosch last year with Auburn, just follow the H back crazy train and you’ll find the ball about 95% of the time.  Against Kentucky, Florida dialed up the same play time and time again where the H back came in motion and then cross blocked back across the formation, leading the RB into the interior of the line.  If #88 is in motion, it’s 95% run.  If #87 is in motion, it’s very likely a pass to 87 as they try to leak him out against the grain for a pass.

Under Pressure:  The Wildcats absolutely blitzed the fool out of Florida all game long.  Driskel completed several short throws but any time he took more than a couple of seconds to deliver the ball he got absolutely jacked.  Kentucky went zero coverage (no safety help, straight man to man, bringing the house) several times with great effect.  I think they called this the Honey Badger defense because even though dialing up a multitude of zero coverages was very risky, “that crazy nasty Honey Badger don’t care.”

Sweet Child o’ Mine:  The Gators right tackle gave up several pressures even without resorting to a blitz.  Look for Nick Saban to work over the freshman and make him someone’s little beyotch (Ryan Anderson and Xzavier Dickson should have good games).

Should I Stay or Should I Go:  Florida hasn’t unveiled much of the read option this season but rest assured they have it in their playbook.  Driskel is a very good runner and can threaten the edges a la Nick Marshall.  The defensive ends are really going to have to play a disciplined game as you know Kurt Roper is going to dial up a QB run in short yardage situations for a critical first down.  The DEs will have to read it correctly and know if they need to stay home to defend Driskel or crash down in run support.

Road to Nowhere:  Driskel took a few deep shots down the field on first down and absolutely none of them were anywhere near catchable.  None.  They were throws to nowhere.  It’s no wonder KY dialed up zero pressures as Driskel didn’t show the ability to throw the vertical ball.

Land of Confusion:  Oh that poor Gator offensive line.  I saw probably six different blown assignments that led to Driskel getting clobbered.  The Cats would blitz the slot corner off the left side where the left tackle should slide out (or get the running back to help).  Instead, the tackle actually blocked down, leaving the slot blitzer AND the defensive end a free rush on the QB.  Ooopsy.  Probably not how they want that to work.  With Bama blitzing a lot last week, look for them to create some confusion for the Gator line Saturday.

Time After Time:  Florida is going to attack Alabama physically at the line of scrimmage time and time again.  Therefore, Alabama will rely on their bigger front defensive line to withstand the attacks.  Guys like Ivory, Tomlinson, Reed, Pettway and Robinson are all going to have to hold the point.  Meanwhile, Alabama will need Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland to actually stand up and make plays.  They’ve spent the first three games either out of position or occupying blocks so Saturday is going to be the ultimate test of physicality for these two.  Honestly, I would not be surprised at all to see Reuben Foster play numerous snaps in running situations as he’s the superior run defender, IMO.

Take On Me:  Tony Brown is finally going to play and evidently he’s going to play a lot.  For your average true freshman corner, this would be a scary, scary thing.  However, given Brown’s tremendous make up and athleticism, I think he’ll step forward and make a couple of big plays.  Love.  This.  Kid.  And I hope they attack him because I think he’ll win more times than he loses.

Tide Bits

So, if you can’t tell from the above, I think the battle between Alabama’s defense and Florida’s offense should tilt Bama’s way.  Between the offensive line breakdowns both as a unit (blown assignments) and individually (particularly the right tackle), Alabama should be able to thwart most of the Gator drives.  To me, Alabama’s D struggles against fleet footed wide outs and well-orchestrated passing games but thankfully the Gators are anything but that.  Florida is still a ground and pound attack that uses the short to intermediate passing game to keep defenses honest.  But, they cannot stretch the field and they cannot hang their hat on anything other than a power running game.  The Kentucky game turned to Florida’s favor only because the Cats simply didn’t have the DL depth to withstand all of the Gator body blows.  But, Alabama goes 10 deep on the DL so I think they’ll stand up much, much better.

Special Teams

I’m not putting in much time on the kicking game this week but, to me, it appears to be close to a draw.  I didn’t really see anything that stands out about Florida’s other than the punter had a 48.7 average against Kentucky – those are some bombs.  Oftentimes Saban is able to conjure up a big return in these classic defensive duals so perhaps this week the UF punter will outkick his coverage, leading to a big return.  Kentucky popped a 17 yard return against them so…….

Conclusion

I could be completely wrong here but I am expecting a heavyweight fight that will last for at least three quarters on Saturday.  Florida’s front seven is very good and it is very disciplined so I would expect the Bama running game to have some tough sledding.  However, the Gators secondary can be exposed.  I personally do not think Will Muschamp will alter his entire defensive belief system and match Hargreaves on Cooper throughout the game.  So, because of that, I think we’ll be able to cobble together enough throws and interior runs to punch in some points throughout the game.

Meanwhile, I believe Alabama excels at stopping the run so that should take away the majority of the playbook from Florida.  IF Alabama contains Driskel’s running abilities on the edges then Florida will have a very, very difficult time moving the ball.  I expect it to be like one of your daddy’s SEC games – low scoring and hard hitting.  In other words, just the type of game Nick Saban lives for.

Final Score:  Alabama 27    Florida 16

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SEC versus Big 10 Recruiting

Here’s another post from my good friend Phil.  Interesting breakdown of recruiting in the Big 10 vs the SEC.  He’s a longtime Boilermaker and has watched with interest as the SEC has risen to total dominance in college football while the Big 10 has virtually collapsed.  Most blame the recruiting disparity between the two conferences, as the majority of the “talent” lies in the southeast.  With that in mind, Mr PAB decided to do a little research.  Interesting to me that Urban Meyer isn’t getting the Florida talent like we originally thought he would……

A Few Good Men:

How Do SEC and Big 10 Teams Recruit from the Other’s Territory?

The question

While it hurts this particular blogger to acknowledge it, this is a down year for Big 10 football. This fact hurts, but does not surprise: the trend has been pointing down for some time. Over the last decade or so, if the Big 10 vs. SEC were a prize fight, it would have been stopped with the Big 10, gloves down, pretty much defenseless on the ropes.

If we accept the premise that recruiting is a cornerstone – some argue it’s THE most important single factor – of every strong football program, then a possible cause-and-effect suggests itself: relative lack of talent is hurting Big 10 teams. (I use the word “recruiting” broadly. Walk-ons count as well.)

What do current rosters tell is about where SEC and BIg 10 teams find their personnel? How many players from Big 10 states make SEC rosters, and vice versa?

The nitty-gritty

Identify the states that are home to Big 10 and SEC schools. Check the official Web site of every school in both conferences, count the number of players that come from the other’s territory.

Big-picture demographics

The fourteen Big 10 universities (does “oxymoron” come to mind?) are located in the following 11 states, shown here in order of population per the 2010 US census:

Illinois                   12,864,380

Pennslyvania       12,734,905

Ohio                       11,568,495

Michigan                 9,911,626

New Jersey             8,807,501

Indiana                   6,501,582

Maryland                 5,789,929

Wisconsin               5,698,230

Minnesota               5,314,879

Iowa                         3,053,787

Nebraska                 1,831,625

Total: 84,076,939

The SEC also has 14 member institutions spread over 11 states, and here are those population figures:

Texas                         25,268,418

Florida                      18,900,773

Georgia                     9,727,566

Tennessee               6,375,431

Missouri                   6,011,478

Alabama                   4,802,982

South Carolina         4,645,975

Louisiana                   4,533,962

Kentucky                   4,350,606

Arkansas                   2,926,299

Mississippi               2,978,240

Total: 81,741,730

These populations are really close. The SEC states’ total is 97.2% of that of the Big 10 states.

Players from Big 10 states in SEC programs

Although The University of Maryland and Rutgers: The State University of New Jersey only entered Big 10 competition this season (2014), I have included players from Maryland and New Jersey in the count.

Kentucky Wildcats: 26; most from one state – 20 / Ohio

Missouri Tigers: 11; most from one state – 5 / Illinois

Vanderbilt Commodores: 10; most from one state – 4 / Illinois

Alabama Crimson Tide: 9; most from one state – 5 / Ohio

Tennessee Volunteers: 8; most from one state – 4 / Ohio

Florida Gators: 6; most from a state: 2 / Pennsylvania, 2 / Michigan

South Carlina Gamecocks: 6

LSU Tigers: 5; most from a state – 2 / Illinois

Arkansas Razorbacks: 4

Texas A&M Aggies: 4

Auburn Tigers: 3

Georgia Bulldogs: 2

Mississipp State Bulldogs: 2

Ole Miss Rebels: 2; most from one state – 2/ Illinois

Total number of players: 99

Most players from one state: 32 from Ohio (32.3% of the total)

The NCAA allows a maximum of 105 players on a football team’s roster. So that’s a maximum of 1470 possible roster spots across the 14 SEC teams. 99 players from the Big 10 states is 6.7% of that number.

It can be noted that the two teams with the most players from Big 10 states border at the Big 10, with one of them a relative newcomer to the SEC: Kentucky (26) and Missouri (11). That’s 37.4% of the 99-player total. Perhaps, as in real estate, this is a “location, location, location” phenomenon.

Finally, be aware that there are three Australians, one Canadian and one player from Germany on SEC rosters. Five players from foreign nations. That’s three more than hail from Minnesota, The Land of a Thousand Lakes.

Players from SEC states on Big 10 teams

Purdue Boilermakers: 42; most from one state – Florida, 19

Minnesota Golden Gophers: 34; most from one state – Texas, 12

Indiana Hoosiers: 30; most from one state – Florida, 9

Nebraska Cornhuskers: 28; most from one state: Texas, 13

Illinois Fighting Illini: 24; most from one state: Florida, 15

Northwestern Wildcats: 22; most from one state: Texas, 11

Maryland Terrapins: 19; most from one state – Florida, 8

Ohio State Buckeyes: 18; most from one state – Georgia, 7

Rutgers Scarlet Knights: 17; most from one state – Florida, 16

Wisconsin Badgers: 14; most from one state – Florida, 11

Iowa Hawkeyes: 13; most from one state: Texas 6

Michigan State Spartans: 10; most from one state – Florida, 6

Penn State Nittany Lions: 9; most from one state – Florida, 4

Michigan Wolverines: 8; most from one state – Florida, 2, and Missouri, 2

Total number of players: 288

Most from one state: 128 from Florida ( 44.4% of the total)

Players from SEC states hold 288 out of a 1470 maximum possible roster spots; that’s 19.6%. (Recall that there are only 99 players from Big 10 states on SEC teams.)

Some observations

When Urban Meyer took over at Ohio State, one assumption was that he would recruit successfully from southern states, Florida in particular. But there are only 18 players from SEC states on the Buckeye roster at this time.   Ohio has the third-highest population among the Big 10 states, and recruits from Ohio make up a good portion of many Big 10 teams. With so much local talent, perhaps Coach Meyer is being highly selective in his out-of-state recruiting. Then again, a winter along the Olentangy River might not be all that appealing to players from warmer climes. (Navel oranges – yes! Buckeyes – no!)

Big 10 states with smaller populations rely pretty strongly on recruits from SEC states. Looking at population ranks and number of players, we see:

  • Indiana – 6th in population; 42 at Purdue, 30 at IU
  • Wisconsin: 8th in population; 14
  • Minnesota – 9th in population; 34
  • Iowa – 10th in population; 13
  • Nebraska – 11th in population; 34

There are only 10 players from Alabama playing in the Big 10. These players can be found in four programs: Purdue (2), Penn State (3), Minnesota (3) and Nebraska (2). So nine Big 10 teams have no players at all from the Heart of Dixie. That was a surprise.

If Florida were to somehow be cut off from the rest of the Unites States, people in Big 10 states would suffer terribly. Their primary source of out-of-conference football talent would disappear and massive traffic jams would ensue when Winnebagos, crammed with “snowbirds” get turned back just short of the Sunshine State.

By the way

The United State Marine Corps used “The Marines are looking for a few good men” as its primary recruiting slogan from 1971-1984. The play “A Few Good Men,” about a Marine’s death at the base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, debuted on Broadway in late 1989. Movie of the same title was released in 1992, starring Jack Nicholson, Tom Cruise and Demi Moore. It received two Academy Award nominations: Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor (Nicholson).

Southern Miss Game Review

*Editor’s note:  If you read nothing else, please scroll down to “Final Thoughts” and read that segment.  If you are a Bama fan, you absolutely need to read that section…

Welp, another day, another walk over. Alas, the final pieces of candy have been taken from this season’s babies and the real season is finally set to get underway. Sure, you can make a case that West Virginia wasn’t a total walk over after their impressive (511 yards passing and four TDs) victory over Maryland but at the end of the day….they beat Maryland…of the Big 10…and they’re turtles for goodness sakes. But you really can’t consider FAU or Southern Miss as anything more than a couple of speed bumps on the way to the SEC Highway.

As Alabama’s “Dallas or Bust” bus merges into the SEC Superhighway, I think we are all questioning whether this Crimson Ride has gathered enough speed to get out and get ahead of the pack. The Bama running backs have looked like the second coming of the four horsemen and Amari Cooper’s performances may force the NCAA to rename the Biletnikoff trophy (wouldn’t Cooper be so much easier to spell anyway?). But. But. You know there’s gotta be that big ole, big ole BUT. But Blake Sims hasn’t shown he can throw. But OJ Howard hasn’t caught a pass. But someone else needs to get involved other than Cooper in the passing game. But. But. But.

Then there’s the defense. You know, the side of the ball that I’ve been harping on for over a year now. Alabama’s defense set a high standard in 2009 and 2011 so that’s why I’m appalled when we, gasp, give up a first down! The pressure has been lacking (but getting significantly better). The coverage has been porous (and not getting better). And CJ Mosley isn’t around to play superman on that side of the ball. Sure the defense appeared to slow down WVU but are they good enough to stop the offenses in the SEC? So many questions…

As predicted in the W2W4 for Southern Miss, we’ve now watched three full games and I believe we still have questions going into the meat of the season. I think for me this is why I’m going to love watching this team so much this year – each Saturday is going to give us something to talk about. A little mystery to figure out. Speaking of talkin, let’s talk about that Southern Miss game, eh?

Alabama on Offense

By and large the Southern Miss game was one more piece of evidence that in Blake Sims we trust. This QB race is over. Jake Coker was warming up on the sidelines in front of me and appeared to be ready to go into the game when a funny thing bounced into Tyren Jones – a football! Suddenly Southern Miss scored a field goal and Blake Sims was summoned back out to widen the margin back out to a more comfortable level. That should tell you everything you need to know about this “battle”. Coker will continue to get “practice reps” as the games allow but the meaningful reps will be going to Sims. Period.

But…but….but….but Sims has earned it. Here are a few factoids to make you feel a little better about it, too:

  1. Sims has helped Alabama convert 17 of 25 third down opportunities. That’s astounding.
  2. Sims has converted 11 red zone trips into NINE touchdowns. Coker is 3 of 8.
  3. I read this somewhere else and haven’t verified it but Sims was 2 of 2 on third down against Southern Miss and is now 10 of 11 on the season. I’m not positive that’s correct but I do know he’s been fantastic on third down (see #1 above).
  4. For all the “all he can throw is a quick out” folks, Alabama didn’t throw a single one on Saturday.
  5. The ins and slants that Sims threw Saturday were exceptional. His decision making on the bootlegs is phenomenal, quick and decisive. And, on those boots he ALWAYS makes the correct read and correct decision. Always.

Here’s the last point on Sims and then we are moving on. After the game, I had a tremendous conversation with someone connected to the team and they simply could not say enough good things about Blake Sims. The entire team has rallied around him and, more than that, they BELIEVE in him. He is actually displaying more team leadership in the locker room than the previous QB did last season and the difference is palpable with his teammates. Folks, if you haven’t accepted that Sims is the guy, then you should. And based on what I heard Saturday night, he’s a really, really easy guy to cheer for.

Born to Run: With backs like these, baby we were born to run! It’s like something out of a Bizarro Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie. On Blake Sims, on Henry, on Kenyan and TJ! Atlee and Tyren and Coker, hooray! I really think Coach Saban wanted to emphasize some toughness and the running game Saturday night and, after a slow start, the ground and pound approach steamrolled the Eagles. Five backs averaged 6.2 yards per carry and totaled 333 yards rushing. Ouch.

Silent Night(s): Until the broadcast Saturday night, you really hadn’t heard Cam Robinson’s name called and that’s pretty amazing for a true freshman left tackle. He’s quietly been very sound in both the passing and the running game and he probably had his best game against Southern Miss. He fired off the ball and finished nearly every block with devastating effect. In fact, the offense looked his way on a couple of short yardage situations signifying their trust in the young fella.

These Boots Are Made for Throwin: Loved, loved, loved the boots and waggles that Kiffin called for Blake Sims. Sims has an uncanny ability to quickly decipher the right read in the passing game but he also quickly knows when to fold ‘em and take off running. On one particular boot, he had Fowler open short, Black open on an intermediate route and Cooper long. Instead of taking the easy shortie to Fowler, he made the correct read and hit Cooper 15 yards down the field. Sims also had a clear lane to run but made the right call in hitting Coop. Love Sims’ ability to do the right thing and not force this play.

Let the Bodies Hit the Floor: The offensive line played pretty well overall. Cam Robinson and Ryan Kelly stood out to me and Austin Shepherd had some shining knockdowns as well. But, if you want a really good time, turn on the tape when Coker comes in. What you’ll see is a second string line hell bent on complete and total domination of their opponent, just like Saban preaches. Alphonse Taylor was a beast but the meanest, cruelest, nastiest among them was big Dominick Jackson.   You can see why they lined him up at FB because he is mobile, agile, and hostile and when he hits it hurts. Mercy, he has a mean streak. Find the tape and watch 76 at right tackle on the last drive of the game. He just cripples and humiliates people.

Don’t Want No Short, Short Man: No teeny weeny passes from Sims this week. In all, I counted four or five vertical throws (fades, go routes, etc) and zero screens. Cooper’s catch on a deep fade was crazy good but credit the deep throw with some air underneath it that allowed the catch. You wanted to stretch the field vertically, right?

Convoy: It’s so much fun to watch Fowler operating as the lead back because it’s like an assault with a deadly weapon when he blocks. As little as OJ Howard is used, Jalston Fowler is like the swiss army knife for this group and is literally a huge reason the ground game has been so successful.

Danger Zone: In this case the highway to the danger zone is going man against Alabama. Southern Miss loaded up the box and brought pressure numerous times in an effort to affect Blake Sims just as you would any unproven passer. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Bama had the answer. With two wide receivers on the left along with Vogler, Amari was lined up by himself to the right. At the snap, Vogler and the slot receiver ran slants while the outside receiver ran a fly. This created a massive void in the secondary that allowed Cooper to run a short crossing pattern and then run to daylight. Probably don’t wanna man up on Coop but then that means you can’t blitz.   What to do, what to do?

Brown Out: Not Leon Brown’s best game. A couple of the early tackles for loss were due to Leon Brown getting blown up at the point of attack. If Dominick Jackson could play guard then it’s problem solved.

(Cue the Circus Music): Has there ever been a greater 13 yard gain on a reverse than Amari Cooper’s jaunt that covered 50 yards or more? How much fun was that – 4.3 speed on display at its best! Yeldon, Howard and Sims all provided key blocks that were the fries to Amari’s shake…

Some Nights: Some nights it’s just Fun to see what guys like Kenyan Drake and Tyren Jones are going to do when they get the ball. It’s well worth the price of admission to watch these kids run. Drake even lined up as a wide receiver and caught a slant pass!   See? Fun! I think Kiffin truly is the spoiled rich kid we all thought he was because, honestly, how can he possibly decide which one of these fabulous toys to play with?

Toy Story: Well, one toy Kiffin doesn’t want to play with is OJ Howard, apparently. I counted at least four designed plays for Howard but he was never open on these little against the gain flare patterns they ran for him. I truly thought this was the week – sorry for the poor W2W4 prediction there…

Prophet for Profit: However, I was feelin like Kool Mo Dee when the backs would “Go to Work” on the toss sweeps. I told you guys the edges would be the soft spot in the Eagle D and it was. I saw this stat – Bama averaged 9.27 yards outside of the tackles while gaining only 4.59 between them. As we said, the flanks of the Eagles were where they got winged.

Tide Bits:

  • No, seriously, Dominick Jackson is a big, strong, mean human being.
  • Chris Black continues to show he can make difficult catches in traffic. Very impressed by him.
  • Loved the hurry up sprint to the line of scrimmage and the quick snap at the goal line allowing Drake to score one of his three TDs. Sneaky Saban.
  • Sims recognized a screen wasn’t there and simply threw the ball away. Smart.
  • Coker once again failed to throw the ball away and took a bad sack. We saw this on tape last year and you were warned about this being an issue for Coker via this site.
  • I think Shannon Spake is kinda hot and very underrated…just sayin.
  • Kiffin continues to show that he’ll dial up the same play over and over until they stop it. This time it was a play action boot that Sims executed perfectly three plays in a row.
  • For the second week in a row, Sims dialed up a zone read. Most didn’t catch it last week b/c he handed it off. This week he kept it and fooled everyone, including a defender that was within reach of the ball. Nice to see it’s still in the old repertoire…
  • Really loved watching the second string offensive line work on every play they were in there to prove they should be starting. They dominated.

Alabama on Defense

We are a running little long here but there were just so many things on offense that caught my eye that I wanted to share with you guys. Defensively, some things caught my eye as well, though not all of them were good…

Pressure!: Honestly, the front four was very disruptive and forced a ton of early throws. Credit Spain Park’s Nick Mullen for hanging in there and delivering some tough throws under tough circumstances. In particular, my boy Ryan Anderson continues to be a beast off the edge and Xzavier Dickson continues to say, “remember me?” This is the best edge rush we’ve had in a long time – probably since Upshaw.

King of Rock: The king of rocking opponents and the bedrock for this entire defense is clearly Landon Collins. In reviewing my notes, he was in on four out of five consecutive plays. He made plays at every level of the defense, too. Collins is simply an amazing player and is THE most important player on this entire Alabama team. Saban moved him up to play next to the LB in the dime set and that move has paid off in spades. Now with Fulton out for a half and Williams out for the game, Collins’ presence is even that much more important. What a phenomenal player. He had 12 tackles and a hurry and was seemingly everywhere Saturday night.

Help: I need someone. And not just anyone. I need Tony Brown – in the starting lineup. At corner. Brown had four passes thrown at him and none (NONE) of them were completed. Cyrus Jones had some good moments but gave up big two passes (should have been three). And while Eddie Jackson was in position, he, too, gave up a long gainer – to be fair, it was a ridiculous catch. But, honestly, Brown is the best corner on the team and it’s not really close. Incidentally, I understand that Brown runs a 40 yard dash in the Chris Johnson territory (4.2s). Make up speed anyone? Wow!

Here Comes the Boom: I lost count of how many times Bama blitzed this week but it was a ton. Smart rolled his corners up much closer and brought pressure from a variety of different places. This was the most I’ve seen Saban blitz in a long time and was a departure from rushing four and playing coverage plan we’ve seen so many times against spread offenses. Again, credit Mullen for standing in the face of this rush and delivering some throws.

I Touch Myself: Ryan Anderson off the edge makes me moist. That is all.

Hey Diddle Diddle: Trey DePriest in the middle had a couple of good moments but seemed to spend an awful lot of his time chasing the play. All in all, it was probably the most active that he’s been this year as he laid the smack down a couple of really good times. But, you still see him getting exposed in coverage on backs and he looked completely lost on a shake route while he was playing zone. Later, DePriest gave up a really bad seam pass to the back he was supposed to have in coverage. He’s no CJ Mosley but then who is, right? Still, lots and lots of room for improvement here.

I Like to Move It Move It: The athleticism that DJ Pettway and Dalvin Tomlinson have shown is crazy good. Tomlinson actually chased the QB down from behind – at 300 bills, that’s movin’! I also saw more stunting this week with A’shawn Robinson and Jarren Reed showing up a couple times. Deshawn Hand also was freed up on a stunt, as well. Again, lots more activity and aggression on defense.

Tide Bits:

  • The corners really seemed intent on getting up closer and playing more bump and run coverage. All in all, this was a much more aggressive game plan than we’ve seen against one of these spread teams in a while. I am kind of wondering if this was a lab experiment of sorts.
  • I commented on it above but blitzing goes hand and hand with bump and run coverage with the idea that you only have to cover for a couple of seconds. The blitzing and the front four both were highly disruptive.
  • When you press up like that then you are exposing yourself to big plays. Credit Southern Miss for completing a couple of nice passes in the face of pressure.
  • I’m still seeing virtually nothing from the linebacking corps. DePriest showed up a few times for both good and bad reasons. I’m still looking for Ragland to appear.
  • Speaking of Ragland, to be fair the vast majority of the game was spent in a dime look with Ragland on the bench and an extra secondary member in the game. Landon Collins was a beast in this set whether he was blitzing, zoning or in man to man. He’s one exceptional football player.

Final Thoughts

As we said last week (and probably for the last time this year), we’ll again say there is no QB controversy at Alabama. Blake Sims is your winner and it wasn’t a close race. Blake Sims does not look anything like the kid we saw at A-Day. Credit his determination, his work ethic and the work he put in over the summer with a QB coach for determining his own fate and not caving to the voices of others. Sims believed in himself and continued to work hard on his own while the rest of the world salivated over Jake Coker. Kudos to Blake Sims.

As a result of Sims’ work, dedication and leadership, I’m told the locker room is the best it has been in a long while with everyone pulling in the same direction. Teammates are pulling for teammates and that develops a chemistry that is even more important than having a flashy quarterback. The vibe I got after the game is that this is a very special group and that they intend to do special things together. While some players last year were focused on their draft status, this group is being led by the example being set by Amari Cooper – likely the highest player that will be drafted from this team yet one of the hardest workers on the team. When I asked, “is Cooper the hardest working player on the team,” I was told that there is no one player working hard. Everyone is working hard and trying to out-work each other. In the weight room. In the meeting room. At practice. After practice. And working on their own on these really cool Ipads that they can use to conduct film study at their leisure. These kids have completely “bought in” are working hard to have each other’s backs. This Bama team may not have the best offense or the best defense we’ve seen but they certainly appear to have the best chemistry we’ve had around the Capstone in a while.

How will it shake out? We don’t really know. And, to me, that’s kind of the fun and the joy about this season…

W2W4 – Alabama vs Southern Miss

As Alabama prepares for their final walk thru before the Florida game, there are still a few questions that will need to be answered.  First, has Nick Saban settled on a quarterback?  Second, has the starting right guard been identified?  Third, has the defense figured out who their starting corners are going to be?  And last, has Nick Saban figured out a way to defend the hurry up offenses.  Believe it or not, the Southern Miss game should shed some light on many or all of these things!  Here’s what to watch for against the Southern Miss Golden Eagles…

Alabama on Offense

Our first film review of an opponent this season revealed that Southern Miss’ defense isn’t quite as bad as we initially thought.  Their front four is actually pretty decent and their short yardage play was pretty stellar against the bigger, badder Bulldogs from Mississippi State so this may not be the total walk over that most are predicting.  Where the Eagles got plucked was thru the air, as their 4-2-5 defense seemed to expose three or four defenders who are not adept at pass coverage.  In particular, the seams were wide open throughout the night so if you are a betting man then you might want to take the over on whatever the number of catches OJ Howard is supposed to have.  As the night wore on the Eagles’ defense wore down because the Southern Miss offense was atrocious and left their defense out to dry all night long.  But, when they were fresh, their line defended the middle well but the flanks and the secondary were exposed as they seem to lack the athleticism to cover that territory.

Oh Captain My Captain:  All you Mrs Doubtfire’s will need to come to grips quickly that Blake Sims is going to be the guy this season – he just is.  He’s clearly better than Coker is right now and unless something drastic changes in this game, you’ll see Sims go wire to wire against Florida.  So, if you are in the Coker camp, know that this will be his last opportunity to win the job.  I expect things to go exactly as they did last week with Sims looking far more polished than Coker and locking down the job after this game.

Whatchu Gonna Do With That Big Fat But:  But Sims can’t throw the ball!  If my film study time was accurate, Sims is going to have to throw the football Saturday night so we should be able to gather some more data on this against the Eagles.  Remember, quick throws like “Now” screens, hitches, curls and slants to the outside are in Sims’ wheelhouse.  Posts, crossers, deep corners and anything downfield with lateral movement are the routes that pose the most problems.

Shine Like a Diamond:  Think about what the scenario would have to look like that allows Coker to win the job.  At this point I think he’d have to go 13 out of 15 for 250 yards and four TDs or something nutty like that because the gap between him and Sims is pretty wide.

99 Problems But a Hitch Ain’t One:  I heard an interesting theory on the “Now” passes out wide to the receivers.  As teams stack the box against the Bama running game (putting 8 defenders in the box) then these little quick passes out wide to the receivers can be deadly.  Against the slow footed “Burrowing Owls”, one block allowed sprinters like Cooper and Drake to outrace the pursuit coming from inside the box.  The theory says that stretching the field laterally can be just as effective as vertically so look for these throws to continue to be a key part of the offense.

The Fore-Shadow Knows:  Coach Saban continues to mention juco offensive line transfer Dominick Jackson’s strength, power and agility as being the best on the team.  The charge of Saban has always been to get the best five offensive linemen on the field so pay attention this week and see if #76 creeps into the lineup with the first team.  I don’t think they are happy with Taylor and Brown has been a bust so something tells me that we may see a Jackson with this Five.

He’s a Real Nowhere Man:  This is the week we see OJ Howard.  Book it.

Other Thoughts

  • Look for the edges to be brutalized with Yeldon, Henry and Drake bouncing to the outside when the middle is stuffed.
  • Short yardage will likely be a bit of a struggle this week so I’m really looking forward to seeing us try to convert some 3rd and 1 and 4th and 1 opportunities to see how we stack up. Converting these chances will be huge over the next few games.
  • I love to watch Amari Cooper play.
  • I love to watch Derek Henry run.
  • I love to see how fast Kenyan Drake is compared to everyone else.
  • I only get 7 opportunities to see these guys play at home so I’m excited to see them tomorrow.
  • More Tyren Jones, please.

Alabama on Defense

This will be a short segment because Southern Miss is really anemic on offense.  Their QB is former Spain Park star Nick Mullens and, when given time, he can make the short to intermediate throw accurately.  The problem for Nick is that Southern Miss appears to have the worst offensive line I’ve ever seen on film.  Additionally, the Eagles have very little at the skill positions so they don’t really threaten you much as a defense.  However, they do run the HUNH offense so we’ll get to see a few more opportunities to see how Saban and Smart are defending this offense.

Line Dancing:  Look for massive substituting along the d-line whenever possible.  It seems the Bama staff has embraced the hockey line change as we’ve seen subs flying off the sidelines thus far.  This is awesome because 1) we go 10 deep at DL 2) they are all talented 3) they stay fresh 4) we get to see Rashaan Evans and Da’Shawn Hand more.  Oh, and continue to watch for Tim Williams (#56) in pass rush situations.  He continues to be a fave…

You Can’t Hide Your Ryan Eyes:  Ryan Anderson literally popped off the screen last week.  He, too, is a fave so I’m hoping to see him continue to earn opportunities to maul quarterbacks.

L-B Somebody:  After two games into the season, I don’t feel that we’ve gotten much production from the linebacking corps.  True, Trey DePriest was out against WVU and he’s coming off of a knee injury but I really haven’t seen much from him, Ragland or anyone else at the position.  To me, they’ve seemed slow to react, slow to disengage from blockers and are exposed in pass coverage.  Saturday, Southern Miss is going to dink and dunk and screen and draw all day long in an effort to attack the second level of the defense so I’m looking for someone at the linebacker position to step up and be somebody on Saturday.  I continue to hear that Dillon Lee will appear on nickel and dime sets and I continue to tell you he’s the most athletic LB Alabama has.  Will Saturday be the day he overtakes everyone at the LB postion?  Or, will the starters stake a claim to the position?

Love Lockdown:  Eddie Jackson will be starting for the second week in a row and we’ll see if he can continue to keep the wide receiver love locked down.  He’s less than six months removed from an ACL injury (seriously, how amazing is that) so we’ll see how he bounces back from his first serious contact against FAU.  At the other corner, we’ll have to keep an eye on Cyrus Jones to see how he bounces back, as well.  I look for Tony Brown and Maurice Smith to come into the game early and get an opportunity to show the coaches what they can do.

Pressure:  Southern Miss’ line is atrocious.  I look for Alabama’s front to absolutely dominate the game and make Nick Mullens wish he played another position.  Jonathan Allen and DJ Pettway have been particularly impressive thus far so I look for them to each get a sack.

Other Thoughts

  • This will be a great opportunity to see how the LBs do in coverage as they will be attacked throughout the game.
  • Last week Alabama blitzed more than I’d seen in a long time and I assume it will continue this week.
  • When I say blitz, I mean the safeties and corners were being used even more than the LBs.
  • I expect another shutout because of the porous offensive line

Conclusion

I think the running game won’t quite be the steamroller that it’s been so far and I do think Blake Sims will be called upon to loosen things up with the pass.  Thus far, he hasn’t given any indication that he will not be able to step up to this challenge and, if he does step up, then he will be your 2014 quarterback.  For Jake Coker to win the job, Sims will have to make some horrific decisions while Coker will have to look like some gorgeous combination of Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Gisele.  I do think OJ Howard will see some catches this week and I think the defense pitches another shutout (unless the offense gift wraps some points) and I think we’ll all still be wondering how all of this is going to come together when we take on Florida.

Final Score:  Alabama 34    Southern Miss 0

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FAU Game Review

First off, I apologize that the game write up is a day late (and a dollar short as everything we do is free) but we’ve been busy at the house overanalyzing the Alabama quarterback battle. After looking at every single throw, I think that we can all agree that the Tide’s QB battle simply comes down to race, right? I just think Saban just prefers African American players…(I mean seriously – do you guys listen to these Finebaum callers? Do you read the posters on message boards? My Lord – if Saban didn’t want a black quarterback then he would have move Sims to WR, RB or off the team! If he didn’t trust a black quarterback then he probably wouldn’t recruit them in the first place!!!! Ok, rant over….)

As for the game, FAU came, they saw, they got paid. Alabama steamrolled them every bit as easily as expected and now the Tide just has to go thru one more walk thru before their first real test against Florida can begin. Frankly, there’s not a ton out of the FAU game to break down outside of the QB battle but, as always, we found a few things that we want to all to your attention regarding the game.

Alabama on Defense (yes, you’ll just have to wait for the QB breakdown)

What can you take from a game that featured a ping pong ball (FAU) bouncing off of an Abrams tank (Alabama)? FAU offered virtually nothing in the passing game by choosing to start their backup QB (a 45% passer) and they offered very little in the running game, as well. So, we’ll be brief here and highlight a couple of individual performances that caught our eye.

Cornering the Market: Less than six months removed from an ACL surgery, Eddie Jackson decided to come out and make a statement against FAU, and that statement was “I got this!” Jackson twice flew up to the line of scrimmage to lay a lick on an unsuspecting Owl and then had the presence of mind to strip the football after narrowly being beaten for a pass. Impressive play by Jackson. And while he stayed in his man’s hip pocket on a stop and go route, I still worry about that knee b/c the normal healing process is closer to a year than it is to five months! Amazing recovery!

Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Worse: For anyone who was touting Cyrus Jones as the Alabama cornerback savior after week one, please see week 2. I continue to think that Jones is better as a slot guy in a nickel/dime look and I continue to question (even after week 1) his ability to play outside on an island. Saturday saw a pass interference penalty, a holding penalty, and he was beaten on slants and fades. Tough game. To the good, he, did come up and force a fumble in run support – something he needs to continue to improve.

Screen Recognition: A staple in the Nick Saban defense has always been their ability to quickly read screen plays from their opponents. It’s been uncanny to watch the defensive lineman uniformly stop their rush and scatter to the passing lanes. But, after the first two games this appears to be a problem for the 2014 Alabama defense as they are not deciphering what’s happening until it’s too late and they get blocked. Jabriel Washington, in particular, got engulfed in our dime set (he’s out there due to the loss of Jarrick Williams). Trey DePriest read a screen correctly but then he took a terrible angle and whiffed on the play. This showed up against WVU and now FAU so it’s just something to watch as the season unfolds…

Wolf Blitzer: Did you notice that A’Shawn Robinson came free on a blitz? Mercy! How do you let the largest player on the field get thru untouched? Robinson engulfed the tiny Owl running back who stepped up to take him on and A’Shawn quickly cast him away as you would do a gnat. Bama blitzed a ton on Saturday, more than I’ve seen in a long time, and it was fun to watch!

Rotation: As early as the second quarter, Alabama was substituting liberally on the D-line. Lots of good performances but my favorite was from former 5 star stud, Ryan Anderson. Anderson is a fave of mine and, if you have the tape, go back to the 11:05 mark in the 2nd quarter and watch #7. Anderson took on and shed a double team and then jettisoned himself into the fullback, blowing up the poor fullback and the play. It was a huge hit that allowed Robinson and Ragland to stuff a running play. Later, Anderson started outside and got the tackle leaning and then suddenly knifed inside to make a 15 yard sack! This is a patented move of Jadeveon Clowney and was extremely effective. The lightbulb is going off for this one, I believe.

Alignments: I noticed on Saturday that Alabama is still putting two defenders against three wide receivers and they continue to get screened effectively. Hmmmm. Is the plan to just leave them uncovered and hope for the best? Thankfully, I also noticed the corners were up much tighter in bump and run coverage, though.

Speed Kills: How about Rashaan Evans’ speed? He’s a one man pass rushing demon out there. And, whenever Tim Williams is out there, he makes plays off the edge. I like him a lot. Between these two (and Anderson), perhaps we have those edge rushers we’ve been looking for since Eryk Anders left!

Ouchy: Introducing the Nick Perry puzzle. I’m not sure how long it took the staff to assemble him back together but he got dump trucked by an Owl back. Mercy. He didn’t have a great day in the film room, I’d imagine.

Alabama on Offense

The offensive line dominated. The wide receivers dominated. Alabama’s team speed dominated. Alabama on offense looked exactly like what it should look like when one team has elite 5 star athletes while the other team has 2 star guys. Simple plays went for BIG yardage due to Alabama’s team speed. Anything and everything was open and available to the offense and the only thing that could shut it down was God, Mother Nature and poor decision making. They all three succeeded, keeping the score down to 41-0. Where to start?

Playmakers: For the second week in a row I have to point this out – Kiffin came in with a reputation for getting his playmakers the ball and everyone except for OJ Howard has to be pretty happy about the results thus far! Getting Cooper and Drake the ball out in space is almost cruel and unusual punishment but they are easy throws that net huge gains. Cooper has to be in heaven! Even Chris Black nearly housed one off of a WR screen. Now, if they could just find that Howard fella…

Beast Mode: Speaking of playmakers, we all figured Jalston Fowler would be utilized by Kiffin a good bit but I don’t think we realized it would be to this extent. Fowler is making himself some money whether it’s as a fullback blocking, a tight end blocking or catching the football. His emergence is one of the things that is limiting OJ Howard’s time on the field (though OJ was out there with Fowler quite a bit Saturday). Decisions, decisions, decisions…

The Drake: We heard that Kiffin would be featuring Drake out in space this season and boy did that happen on Saturday. Swings and screens were the order of the day and Drake took one to the house and nearly took another one, as well. Impressive day – he even got some dap from Coach Saban after he wasted an Owl on a kickoff return so it appears that dog house thing may be a thing of the past. Keep that wheel route he ran against WVU in the back of your mind as I think we’ll see that play again against Florida.

WR Screens: Another quick point on the WR screens (or “Now” routes, as they are known) – several times Alabama has positioned Brian Vogler and/or Jalston Fowler out wide, allowing them to provide significant lead blocks. Additionally, credit the Christion Joneses, Chris Blacks and others who have made crippling blocks on the defensive backs in coverage. When teams stack the box with defenders inside, the thought has always been to stretch them vertically with deep routes. I think we are finding that defenses can be stretched horizontally, as well. Will it work against better defenses? I dunno – ask WVU if their screen game was effective against Alabama in week one…

Touchdown: Go back and watch the “Now” pass to Amari Cooper for his first TD. Watch Christion Jones’ block. Now, slow it down in slow motion. Cooper hasn’t beaten the two defenders remaining yet but Jones gets up to his knees and puts up the touchdown sign! Pretty funny if you can catch it…

Bully For You: Against this type of opponent, you expect your offensive line to bully them all day long. They did.

My Little Pony: I told y’all Tyren Jones would flash big time in this game! Dude is goooooooood.

Coker Thoughts

The Good

  • As big and strong as advertised. Athletic enough to leave the pocket and do damage – either to the opponent or to himself.
  • Stretches field vertically. Coker had nine passes over 10 yards in distance. Five of them went over 30 yards, missing on the first three but hitting the last two.
  • Shows outstanding zip on his passes when he’s able to hit his back step and identify an open receiver on his first read. Also, he displayed great touch in completing a screen while backpedaling with a defender in his face.
  • Had a stretch where he hit 8 of 9 passes for 148 yards and a TD. He also showed the ability to stand in the pocket and deliver the football knowing he’s about to get smacked.

The Bad

  • Coker played exactly as I had seen on tape. Held the ball too long, tucked and ran too much and had tremendous difficulty if his first read wasn’t open.
  • Delivery does seem to be a tad slower on the WR screens or “Now” passes. Also airmailed one which is about as easy of a throw as he’ll get to make. Also, if you complain that Sims throws them too much, you should know that four of Coker’s first 8 throws were “Now” passes.
  • As Andre Ware highlighted, Coker DID misread the throw to Cooper in the end zone. Coker threw a back shoulder fade while the proper throw was to go over the top to the pylon (and Kiffin was livid on the sidelines – I saw this live but I don’t think it made TV). Later, again as correctly shown by Ware, Coker misread a play and threw into double coverage instead of hitting a wide open Cooper. Later, Sims ran the very same play and hit the wide open receiver. Want a fair comparison? There’s one.
  • For all the big arm talk, Coker under threw at least three deep balls. He also had trouble with audibles and getting the play calls out in time.

The Ugly

  • The play Coker made (or didn’t make) at the end of the half is inexcusable. That’s pee wee football 101. Know how much time is left on the clock and make sure you can attempt a field goal. Inexcusable.

Synopsis

Honestly, Coker is everything I expected except maybe a little less accurate than I thought he’d be. He likes to tuck and run, he often makes slow or poor decisions and he likes to let it fly deep. To the good, his throws on ins, digs and curl routes were outstanding and they really make you want him to harness all that ability.

The root of the issue, in my opinion, isn’t that he fears contact as Andre Ware suggested on the broadcast. It isn’t people diving at his knees or whatever else Ware stated. When Coker hits that back step, makes his read and delivers the football it’s honestly a thing of beauty. However, when his first read isn’t there, he struggles with his progressions and eventually says “to hell with it” and runs the ball. Until he fixes this issue, he’ll be the backup QB.

Blake Sims Thoughts

The Good

  • Gets the ball out quick on the “Now” passes out wide to the receivers.
  • Tremendous leader – was the first to congratulate Coker on his first touchdown pass!
  • Great ball fake on the play action passes. Also commands the offense and audibles well.
  • Makes the right reads consistently and doesn’t play outside of his abilities (nor is he asked to).
  • Shows very good mobility and is a weapon in the open field as a runner. He actually ran a zone read play but handed the ball off so remember, he can run the zone read, as well.

The Bad

  • He’s 6’0 tall so he can’t see the field as well as Coker. This also limits his ability to see receivers down the field on longer throws.
  • Can’t see the middle of the field very well so he has to throw outs, slants and “Now” passes.
  • Due to his inability to see down the field and deliver certain throws (posts, seams, corner routes, etc), much of the playbook isn’t available.
  • Has difficulty with his accuracy when throwing in routes and crossing routes.

The Ugly

  • For the “Sims knows the playbook better” crowd you should note that OJ Howard was running a pass pattern and Yeldon was expecting to pass block when they fumbled near the goal line. Yeldon clearly wasn’t expecting the ball…but OJ Howard sure was. I think Sims got the play wrong.

Synopsis

Blake Sims is the better quarterback right now and that’s just the truth of the matter. Honestly, it’s not even that close. Sims is the better leader of the team and the offensive rhythm is completely different when Sims is in the game. They get in and out of the huddle better, they get to their audibles better and Sims has even worked a few progressions inside the pocket. Somehow all of the work that he put in over the summer with his QB coach must have done wonders for him as he doesn’t really look much like the QB we saw at A-Day.

Conclusion

We’ll continue to see both QBs on Saturday but I think when it comes down to the nitty gritty then Sims will be in there leading the team. Saban and Co will continue to seek opportunities to get Coker in because, as we all know, he has the ability to stretch the field vertically and expand the playbook. And while vertical shots are sexier, Coker underthrew several of them and appeared to be less accurate on the shorter throws Saturday. While the Coker upside brings you deep bombs, the downside brings you burned timeouts, sacks and poor decision making. I honestly don’t think it’s a playbook issue, either, as these are the same things I saw on tape when he was playing at Florida State.

Right now, it’s an easy choice for Saban and Kiffin to make. Blake Sims is the better leader and makes fewer mistakes so he has the trust of his teammates and the staff. To me, the question isn’t Sims or Coker, as the answer is clearly Sims. The question you should be asking is whether or not Sims can lead Alabama to an SEC championship.

 

Follow me on Twitter @lneck25