Ole Miss Review 2010

 

Ole Miss Review 2010

As we walked up to the quad on another gorgeous fall day, I couldn’t help thinking about the last time we’d walked this path.  The last time we headed towards the Quad was, of course, for the Florida game – a sexy event made for prime time television.  The Florida game was the end all, be all coronation ceremony for the SEC.  I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more electric buzz as the Quad was overrun with overexcited tailgaters waiting in anticipation for the biggest game in college football…or so we thought anyway!

Two weeks later there was a totally different feel on the Quad.  A Florida loss to LSU and a Bama loss to the Ole Ball Coach changed the Quad to a very casual scene.  I know it was only Ole Miss but the Quad had changed from a frenzied Woodstock atmosphere to one more reminiscent of a James Taylor concert and you found yourself wondering if the team’s play would be reflective of the mood on campus.  In fact, a buddy of mine ended up at the Innisfree bar where people with tickets decided to just hang out there in lieu of trekking over to the stadium for the late night kickoff.  Meanwhile, over on the Quad, let’s just say that by the time many of the fans made it to the stadium, it was reminiscent to closing time at the local saloon – nobody was able to walk in a straight line and everyone was in need of a hotty, a toddy or, oh gosh, a potty.  Oddly enough, that’s exactly how I would describe the OM game – it was like closing time at the local bar.

Stay with me here.  It was late.  We’d all been drinking for hours.  It’d been a tough week, too.  Last Saturday afternoon some little trampy girl (Garcia did have purdy hair) broke our hearts and we’ve been forlorn ever since.  We’ve been so downtrodden that, honestly, we just needed to get lucky.  We just needed to find someone, anyone, who had a pulse and could give us back our self esteem.  She didn’t have to be Heidi Klum.  She didn’t even have to be a barely conscious Lindsey Lohan.  Nope, all she really needed to be was conscious and agreeable and this Saturday’s closing time would be a wild success compared to last Saturday’s heartache.  So, I give you an Ole Miss victory.  It wasn’t pretty.  Granted it was better than a Rosanne Barr or Kathy Bates tryst but probably not quite up to even a Sandra Bernhard or Courtney Love romp.  No, it was not exactly a “conquest” in any way, to be honest.  But, in the end, it goes down as a notch in the belt and a positive that we can take to another bar on another Saturday and, with our newfound confidence, maybe snag ourselves a little Minka Kelly – after all, Jeter and the Yankees aren’t exactly tearing it up these days.  Anyway, it was a win and, while it wasn’t pretty, at least defensively we can feel a little bit better going forward…on to the recap…

OFFENSE

Paging Homer Smith!  Paging…paging…hey, what’s Mike Shula doing these days?  Hey, he didn’t post many wins but he still scored some TampaBay hottie dancing queen – maybe he DID know what he was doing!  Let’s bring him back….

Ok, so it’s not quite bad enough to bring back Shula but at this point, most feel we only have two small issues – the passing game and the running game.  Outside of that, it’s all good!  I thought the whole “check with me” series at the beginning of the game was a nice wrinkle and, with the help of a roughing the kicker penalty, it resulted in a touchdown.  But, the absence of the Pistol and very little usage of the Wildcat made me think that Saturday was a back to basics deal where we tried to re-establish the running game fundamentals.  We also came out throwing deep but, after four bad misses, we tabled everything that was over 15 yards.  Now, if you are a safety and you aren’t being threatened deep, you can take some chances.  At times, both safeties were within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage and, oddly enough, we checked to a run.  ESPN even showed an interesting conversation where Greg was trying to explain himself to a Coach Saban who really didn’t seem interested in what Greg had to say.  Clearly something is not in sync on offense.

We did see one thing that was pretty brilliant.  A subtle shift of receivers from the left side to the right side coupled with T-Rich changing sides resulted in wide open spaces and an 85 yard romp for a TD.  Honestly, that was beautifully designed and executed.  However, the focus continues to be on our running game (or lack thereof) so I took it upon myself to examine the runs (ha, that’s what happened to my stomach after the USC game) and the downfield passing from the OM game.  Here’s what I found:

PARTING OFFENSIVE THOUGHTS

Listen, I’m just some dude with a keyboard so far be it for me to be Mr Wizard and go all Bill Walsh on you.  But, from watching the game closely (thank you God for giving us Tivo and HD television), I found two things that commonly happened Saturday night.  First, our interior line (C, Gs) whiffed on several assignments that left unoccupied defenders in our run lanes.  Why did they whiff?  Well, Joe Pendry can probably answer to that but my guess is that they make their initial line call on what they see in front of them.  Then, the safety(s) walk down and present another defender who is unaccounted for.  The blocking scheme takes on their assignments resulting in a double team on one guy and an unblocked defender – I’m not very good at math but 2 vs 1 and 0 vs 1 means perhaps that instead of double teaming we should be blocking the unblocked man.  Additionally, I hate to be “that guy” but from watching the game it’s evident to me that Greg needs to find himself a Courtney Love over at the Houndstooth.  Homeboy needs his mojo back b/c he doesn’t trust what he’s seeing on the field.  Even when he has loads of time, he gets nervous, panics and then checks the ball down to a running back with two LBs flanking him.  The fact that Greg missed some wide, wide open throws and should have had two balls picked off tells me he’s not confident in himself or his reads.  If it’s not a bubble screen or a check down then he, along with the rest of us, is holding his breath and hoping for good things to happen.  If you remember, he went thru the same things in the middle of the season last year but righted himself in the AU game and the SEC championship game.  So, if you are one of the ones clamoring for a change at the QB position, it isn’t likely to happen.  However, I will say Greg is a senior so I’d like for AJ to get some snaps just for experience sake alone.

DEFENSE

Some days you feel like a Nutt.  Some days you don’t.  Two Saturdays ago, Spurrier felt like the king of the world as everything he tried on offense worked.  This Saturday you almost had to feel for Nutt…hmm….bad choice of words.  But, that’s probably what Masoli was doing every time he got rocked – he had to check and make sure his boys were still along for the ride.  What a long, long night it was Masoli and for Houston, who definitely had his problems running the ball and throwing the ball.  I guess that’s what you get when you mix a PO’d group of defenders and a mandate to be aggressive and physical.  I know, I know, it’s only Ole Miss.  Yes.  But, did you know that coming into this game OM was #1 in the SEC in scoring offense and #2 in rushing offense?  About the only thing they don’t do well is passing, where they are ninth in the conference standings.  So, how did we defend them?  All night long you saw Milliner, Barron, Lowery, Lester, Menzie and Dre flying up in run support on the edges.  OM had to abandon their edge run game which forced them to run into the waiting arms of Marcel Dareus who dominated the line of scrimmage.  So, Saban took away what OM did best and forced them to throw the ball 40 times (they only ran it 26 times, some of which were Masoli scrambles).  Excellent game plan and a phenomenal job by the secondary of being physical in the run support game – something that’s been, at best, sporadic during the year.

PARTING DEFENSIVE THOUGHTS

I’m skipping the individual kudos this week due to the lengthy nature of the offensive recap…and also to acknowledge the total team (there’s no I in team!) defensive effort that was played against OM.  THAT is the style of defense we are accustomed to seeing – an upfield attacking unit that is hell bent on stuffing the run.  High fives go to Dareus, the entire secondary and to Donte Hightower.  Donte lined up at DE and wreaked havoc.  Personally, I’d be giddy about a pass rushing DL that featured Dareus & Gentry at DT and Upshaw & Hightower at DE but that’s just me being greedy for a pass rush.  I will say that the way we slammed the door shut on the edge running game gives me a lot of hope looking ahead to that team down the road but, for now, I’ll just be happy with a win over UT and an off week to heal up the D.

KICKING GAME

I’m trying to think of a reason to not say this but I’ve got nuthin.  That was the best special teams performance of the year, IMO.  Fine, you be the guy to point out an earlier game that was better but I sure can’t think of one!  Of course the punt returns were phenomenal – appropriately Maze reminded me of a former #4 (Prothro) who was the grand marshal of the homecoming parade hours earlier.  I like to say in marriage, I outkicked my coverage by marrying my lovely bride.  For me, outkicking my coverage is a very, very good thing.  For OM?  Not so good.  Props go to Fulton and Dre who handled the gunners with relative ease.  That, along with the long punts, created huge areas for Maze to run thru easily.  Also, I liked what I saw out of Cade Foster.  Sure, Cade’s 49 yarder wouldn’t have been good from 50 (or 49.5) but he KILLED the 44 yarder!  And, he got another touchback, so that’s solid.  Mandell, with fortuitous bounces, even averaged 38.2 yards but, more importantly, didn’t shank his driver.  Chris Underwood even got us a first down by blocking his man into Shelley, forcing a roughing the kicker call – now that’s clever!  But, honestly, you begin and end with Maze and his 125 punt return yards.

LOOKING AHEAD

I know this is Cheesy but God bless Wisconsin and Badgers everywhere!  JUMP AROUND!  What a great scene that was at Camp Randall Stadium where Wisky disposed of OhioState’s dreams of being an embarrassed loser of yet another national championship game!  Meanwhile, this may be Corny but the Huskers got shucked by a big corn fed Bevo, and what he left behind in big corn patties pretty much describes where Nebraska’s chances for a title went to. 

So, two down, three to go.  Oregon, Oklahoma and, to a much lesser degree, Michigan State continue to have undefeated seasons and, as long as they are undefeated, that will make it difficult for us to get into Glendale.  Here are their remaining schedules:

Oregon: UCLA, @USC, Washington, @Cal, Arizona, @ OregonState 

Oklahoma:  @Missouri, Colorado, @Texas A&M, Texas Tech, @Baylor, @OSU, Big 12 Championship

MichiganState:  @Northwestern, @Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, @PennState            

I still contend that the best thing for Alabama is for LSU and AU to win all of their remaining games.  Yes, I know they play each other this Saturday smarty, but, outside of that game, they both need to win them all.  The higher they are ranked, the better a victory over them looks because this year, there is no Florida waiting at the end of the SEC West rainbow.  Instead of a pot of gold, the East will give us a pot of (insert unpleasant foulness here) so our style points will have to be earned prior to the championship game.

But, honestly, it’s about us right now.  With UT on the horizon, I just don’t see St Nick embarrassing the mathematically challenged Dooley.  Dooley has his own list of issues and, with him being a Saban disciple, running up the score simply won’t happen Saturday night.  Basically, going back to the earlier analogy, we are hoping to hook up with maybe a six or a seven by the end of the night.  It might be a little prettier than Ole Miss but it won’t be gorgeous by any means.  But, we should all have a smile on our face as we look forward to the off week and a chance to re-energize for the home stretch.

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Florida Review 2010

Florida Review

I think it was the poetic trio of Three Dog Night who said, “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do.”  That pretty much sums up where the Tide stands after the complete and total emasculation of Urban Meyer and his Florida Gators – if Florida was the best challenger the nation has to offer, then the Tide stands alone in this collegiate world.  In fact, this week, I’m calling for a name change from Gators to Sopranos …(1) because now that their manhood has been removed, they can certainly hit the high notes and (2) because, just like the series, this ending left you wondering “this is it?”  With the scoreboard reading 24-0 with six minutes left in the second quarter, the nation had to be thinking, “this is it?”  The most ballyhooed game of the season…the one game circled on everyone’s calendar.  The best against the best.  This coronation ceremony for the SEC was over just shortly after it began and, once again, it was an emphatic Crimson Coronation for King Nick Saban.

So, today one is the loneliest number.  Fulmer is gone.  So, too, is everyone’s favorite neophyte Lane Kiffin.  Even Mr Six Fingers is gone – banished to the godforsaken area of Lubbock, Texas.  And, after Nick wiped away Urban’s know-it-all smirk (you wonder if he didn’t shake hands at midfield and ask him “Why So Serious”, in true joker style), it seems that Florida is no longer a threat.  After watching half a season’s worth of football, I simply can’t find a worthy opponent.  No team in any conference on any field looks as complete as this team – all are pretenders by comparison.  I wonder if DCH held a room for Urban Saturday night because the realization of his new place in college football had to nearly suck the breath right out of him.  This Alabama team is becoming as good on defense as they are on offense and, when you look around the country, there really is no other challenger (Oregon, maybe?).  Anyway, on to the game…

BTW – I’m going to bust out a change-up, in honor of the baseball playoffs (apparently they still do play that game, contrary to popular opinion).  I’ve been playing around with different formats so, as always, this is a work in progress…

OFFENSE

I think our basic plan was to attack UF thru the air.  Of couse, when you are up 24-0 with six minutes in the 2nd quarter, you are less inclined to chuck the pigskin around.  As Bear used to say, when you pass four things can happen to you and three of them are bad.  I think it was Bear that said that.  If it wasn’t, it’s definitely something he should have said…   J

  • Heavy D:  It’s ironic that the famed rapper extraordinaire Heavy D provided the secret to beating the UF “Heavy” D  in his song “Now That We Found Love.” “Why don’t you just stretch?  Stretch for a sec.”  Later he prophesized, “Stretch it, stretch it, flex it, flex it.”  That’s exactly how Bama went after the “Heavy D”.  In the first drive, Bama had 6 passes (including sacks and scrambles) and 4 runs.  In the second drive, six passes and 3 runs.  The third drive featured 2 passes (scrambles actually) and six runs (three inside the 10).  And the fourth drive, two passes (one a sack) and zero runs.  We scored the first four times we touched the ball and did so by forcing their extra DE to play in space and defend passes and screens.  It was like watching the asthma attack commercial for the millionth time – he looked like a fish with no water, just flailing around the secondary.
  • Screen 3:  The first series had to be a horror movie (Scream) for the DE for Florida who was lining up as a hybrid rusher/OLB.  We screened three times, forcing him to uncomfortably play in space.  Brilliant!
  • A-Maze-ing Grace:  Anyone else have a religious moment when Maze pulled up to throw to a wide, wide open Michael Williams.  We’ve been setting that up for two years.  Loved the poise and the on target delivery.  Best of all, he saw it and threw it and never allowed time for the safety to pick up his drawers and close ground on Williams.  Brilliant play and brilliant call.  And, that’s just one more thing to keep opposing DCs up at night!
  • A-Maze-ing Grace II:  Ok, so maybe not as big of a “moment” if you will but I noticed #4 lining up at RB.  Predictably, he was matched on a poor ole slow LB and roasted him for a first down.  Of course, we kept the same personnel in as the RB flexed out as a WR so there’s no real way to adjust to this defensively.  It’s a subtle thing but a genius thing to do. 
  •   Just Slide:  Greg needs to load the Goo Goo Dolls up on the ole IPod and take a listen at their song “Slide”.  Not once.  Not twice.  Not three times.  FOUR times he could have kept himself out of harms way by hook sliding.  Did the kid even play baseball growing up?  I love the moxie but leading with your shoulder and looking for contact isn’t exactly Rhodes Scholar material, you know?  As I think about it, he needs to add Kool and the Gang’s Jungle Boogie – “Get down!  Get down!”
  • Line Dancing:  Mega props go out to Vlachos and Warmack who consistently pulled on key running plays and got downfield on screens.  Great athleticism and hustle.  I probably don’t commend Vlachos nearly enough – he’s truly outstanding.
  • Shock and Awe:  Fast and Furious?  Seriously?  It’s better than Porterhouse (????), for sure.  How that made the top five, I don’t know.  Which one would be porter?  And house?  Uh?  Anyway, Meat and Potatoes is just dumb.  How about Peas and Carrots – at least former Bama player Forrest Gump came up with that one in his movie – they go together like peas and carrots!  Clearly the best to me is Shock and Awe.  Shock is Ingram’s ability to go from blocker to receiver in the blink of an eye to get a first down.  Awe is the speed in which T-Rich turned the corner on a 30 yard run.  Shock is getting trucked by Ingram just before he goes out of bounds.  Awe is the ease in which T-Rich trucked the All SEC safety Will Hill and then carried a 300 lb DT another four yards where, with the help of two more UF defenders, they brought him down.

PARTING OFFENSIVE THOUGHTS

For those of you who are disappointed with the numbers the O put up, I was with you until the third time I watched the game.  Once we got out to 24-0 lead, I think we threw the ball 3 or 4 times after that.  We were also inside of our 10 yard line the majority of the second half.  But, more importantly, if you doubt the ability of the O to score on UF, remember we scored on the first four possessions.  Remember it was 24-0 with SIX MINUTES TO GO IN THE 2ND QTR!  Good night nurse.  I just about expected CBS to flip to Heidi or 60 Minutes or something because Florida had been Kevorkianed.

DEFENSE

Where to begin.  Florida stared four seniors on their offensive line but I think the only stunt they have seen was in a James Bond film.  I guess the 007 flick they saw was “Live and Let Die” because while they stood there blocking air, their QB was getting clobbered.  Upside – they lived.  Downside – Brantley didn’t.  It was so bad that on his pick to Dre and his pick to Mosely, Brantley actually had time.  However, Brantley was panic-stricken and decided to throw the ball to the wrong team.  Give the kid some credit for standing in there even after he nearly had his head separated from his torso but his OL nearly got him killed.  Thank God Sentimore whiffed on that play or else they would still be trying to reassemble Brantley somewhere around the 30 yard line.

This is amazing though.  Our D is still learning the system and getting better.  Just think that after replacing 9 starters and, in previous games, seeing obvious chinks in the armor of the Alabama defense, this is what they have to show for it (and after playing against Arkansas and Florida, no less):

#1 – Scoring Defense

#3 – Rushing Defense

#3 – Total Defense

#1 – Pass Defense Efficiency

#2 – Interceptions

#2 – Opponent 1st Downs (Per G Avg)

#1 – Opponent Third Down Conversions

#1 – Turnover Margin

#1 – Red Zone Defense

All of this while being 10th in sacks and 12th in tackles for loss.  Wow.  And, again, they are still learning to play this defense.

Chump PassLeave it to Urban Meyer, the self proclaimed God of offense, to go to the well once too often.  As Kirby Smart (the last name is ironic, eh?) jumped up and down in a jump pass motion, the defense calmly waited for Urban’s “genius” to combust his chances to score.  Great plays by Square and Williams to knock the receivers off their routes and then either Nico or Barron could have picked off the pass.  In a matchup of Xs and Os, take Nick Saban every time.  This play determined the outcome of the game and is basically a microcosm of the matchup between the coaches.  It’s like Bobby Fischer vs my dog Bandit in chess.  Well, maybe my neighbor’s dog.  Bandit’s pretty smart…

Upside:  Can you think of a more complete game from one player?  Derrick Thomas comes to mind – I forget the game where he had a bazillion sacks but I remember thinking someone might want to block him if their QB wanted to survive.   Courtney Upshaw recovered a fumble, deflected two passes and had four tackles for losses.  And, he’s not quite 100% on that ankle. 

Bad Moon Risin:  Note to QBs.  Don’t go out tonight.  It’s bound to take your life.  On one play, Upshaw was crashing the edge on the left side while Dareus was collapsing the right side.  It’s what we’d hoped for at the beginning of the season but hadn’t seen until Sat night.  Future OL that we face will need to start practicing their “LOOK OUT” blocks…

Elevate Good Times:  Weird title, yes.  It’s a take on Kool and the Gang’s Celebrate Good Times.  Once you see the video, you’ll understand.  If you have the game on Tivo then go to the 4:49 mark in the second quarter.  It’s a third down pass from UF that Menzie knocks away harmlessly.  Now, watch #30.  He’s on a blitz.  You’ll have to run this back in slow-mo b/c the CBS replay didn’t catch it.  The UF RT is protecting the edge against Alex Watkins.  As he sets his feet, Donte comes blitzing thru past the guard.  What happens next defies the laws of gravity.  A grown 300 lb man gets lifted in the air at the 18 and falls on his can at the 14, jettisoned there by the strong arms of Donte Hightower.  Hightower never breaks stride and bears down on the QB.  He also frees Watkins to whack Brantley as well.  YOU MUST WATCH THIS!  Good times!

Puttin on the Hitz:  This title could go with several things but it’s what I thought of when I saw our corners come up and protect the edge on the sweeps.  The first offensive play tested our wide side and Dre was there being blocked.  If you watched the Duke game, you knew this was coming and this appeared to be our weakness.  I pictured Demps’ speed turning the corner time after time.  This time, though, Dre came up and made the tackle for a loss and Urban rarely went back to it.  Later, when they tried again, Milliner made an outstanding tackle on the same type of play.  The element that we were missing (toughness from our corners in run support) seems to be getting better which is bad, bad news for opponents. 

Man in the Middle:  Just a quick hitter but I thought Kerry Murphy dominated Saturday night.  This kid is really coming along.

Delay of Game:  Don’t you love Brantley running the option.  Hmm.  Should I take the pitch man who happens to be the fastest player in all of college football or should I take this slow footed dude.  We overplayed the pitch man all night long and, on the play where Upshaw tracked him down from behind, Brantley was soooooooo slow.  You looked around for a delay of game penalty or something cuz he was sloooow.  And, they ran it to the short side of the field so even if he pitches, Demps had nowhere to go.  Yet another tool from Urban’s box of genius.

PARTING DEFENSIVE THOUGHTS

It’s so hard not to write an epic novel just on the defensive players in this game.  I have notes regarding the play of the obvious guys like Upshaw, Dareus, Nico, Mosely and Dre.  But, I have other notes on the play of Murphy, Lester, Milliner (yes, he was flagged twice on the same series but bounced back to make some plays) and Square.  What this tells me is that it was a total team effort.  The kids are figuring out how to play with one another and now are taking care of their responsibilities within the scheme.  It’s kinda like me taking on a “some assembly required” task.  Basically, the team has muddled thru three games having some minor successes and set backs.  But, now it appears they’ve read the instructions (or, in my case, received them from my wife who retrieved them from the trash).  It’s like the Extreme Makeover, Bama Edition.  Replacing 9 starters doesn’t just happen.  Athletes are athletes and we have a great group of them but they are so much better when they are working together as a unit…or after they’ve read the instructions.

KICKING GAME

Florida brings a top notch return game year in and year out.  It’s noteworthy that they did not get anything out of their return game whatsoever.  Remember last year when we watched KO returns zip into the end zone?  That’s not been a problem this year and I haven’t seen that mentioned anywhere.  Of course, I think it helps to have our kicker kick the ball, enter a phone booth, and then fly down and make a tackle.  Even our kicker is a ripped dude for goodness sakes.

Mandell got an earful on a shank that set up the first Florida FG but redeemed himself another time when he was punting out of the end zone.  Not his best performance but I thought it was a nice bounce back from having your @ss chewed out on national TV.  He also had a ball downed at the one which was sweet.

And, lastly, what a great return by Julio.  The outside gunners have been killing us all year in the punt return game as no matter who’s back there, they have no opportunity to catch the football and head up field.  Credit Dre and John Fulton on rubbing out the two gunners and that allowed Julio to get an excellent return for the first time this year.

That’s it for this week.  I tried a different couple of different formats but ended up coming back to something similar to the others.  I’ll continue tweaking as we go along….