I wonder what it must be like to pour your little heart and soul into a game plan, spending countless hours of preparation for an opponent, only to see it all get flushed down the toilet in a matter of minutes. It’s got to be like the dream we’ve all had (you guys have had this dream, right – it’s not just me, right….right?) – you know the one. You are frantically running down the high school hallway, wearing nothing but your underwear, and you are trying to get to the classroom where your exam is taking place. You overslept and, while you did study, you are just not prepared for this. Not today. Not while you are just wearing your grippies and a smile. What exam?? Today? But I’m in my underwear! Oh, why thank you ma’am – no, it’s real and you’re far too kind, but still, I’M NOT PREPARED FOR MY EXAM! WHAT DO I DO?
Such is the case for Bobby Petrino. Rumor has it that Saban is currently paying taxes to the IRS on Petrino because Saban damn sure owns his ass. For the second time in the last three years, Petrino’s high flying passing circus was supposed to be a tremendous challenge for Alabama’s defense. And, each time, it’s been a tremendous opportunity (please tell me you are catching the Dubosian reference) for Alabama to whoop dat soohey ass in such a way that you almost feel sorry for the poor sucker slinging the pigskin. No, sorry, I don’t mean Nick Gentry (more on that later). No, I mean Owen Wilson…or Brian Wilson…or Tyler Wilson – whoever #8 was. And don’t ask Wilson what his first name is because he won’t exactly know the answer. You see, #8 is a little loopy today since his brain most certainly shifted around during his flights over the Bryant Denny turf. It’s not often you get to see a de-cleater on a QB but ole #8 probably caught more air than Tom Hank’s volleyball (named Wilson, of course) ever did! By the end of the day Wilson (the QB, not the volleyball – though he was certainly spiked like a volleyball a few times) was Petrino’s own little Castaway on the sidelines because Petrino removed #8 from the game. Removed. From the game. With 10 minutes to go. In the fourth quarter. No, seriously. You’ve heard of a team not having any quit in them? Well, that team is unlikely to be coached by Bobby Petrino. First he quit on the Falcons and Saturday he quit on his piggies by yanking their uninjured, though clearly shaken and stirred, starting QB. Weird. Paging Roberto Duran! NO MAS! NO MAS!
But, hey, you didn’t tune in to hear about Arkansas, did ya? “Can I get a Wha Wha?” Well, that’s what Nick told Petrino on the opening possession with one of the best fake field goals Gary Danielson will never see. (Writer’s note: After years of singing Jay Z’s “Can I Get a Wha Wha” aloud, it turns out a “Wha Wha” means something else entirely. You can google “Wha Wha” but your hint is that C-Lo Green just had a #1 song about it – even though Gwyneth Paltrow sings the song better than C-Lo does). Hey Bobby – during your summer of preparing for this single game, did you prepare for the best fake FG ever? No? Well can I get a “Wha Wha”???? Saban had a checklist of Wha Whas and he got to check every single one of them off during this game. Special teams TD –fake FG and punt return (more on that later), check! Defensive TD – Menzie pick six, check. Running TD – check. Passing TD – check. Sacks – check. Making Petrino cry Uncle – CHECK! Yep – “party rockin’ in the Bryant Denny house tonight!” But enough musical fun – ON TO THE NOTES……………………and “Shake That”!
Ladies and gents, I present to you a first in my review history as we’ll begin the Notes with our very special teams play!!! Where do I start? The fake FG? The punt return(s)? Kickoff coverage? Heck, even Cody “Barbara” Mandell punted the ball over 40 yards a couple of times! It was a complete performance by the special teams units and it shouldn’t be a surprise to you that these units are so good. Did you see Dre Kirkpatrick as a gunner? Yeah, ya did. Next time you get a chance, look at the punt coverage team – many, many regular defenders are in this role, as this aspect of the game can win or lose a game just as easily as defense or offense. Heck, Sunseri almost blocked another punt – his second near miss this season. Kudos to Bobby Williams and anyone else who is helping this unit! Now, let’s break it on down and see why we were so good Saturday. We’ll look at the anatomy of the fake FG and the punt return for a TD – you do like anatomy, don’t you? Time to play a little doctor…
WHERE’D WHOOOOO GO?: Probably my favorite movie line ever was in Top Gun (and no, my favorite scene is NOT the volleyball scene in Top Gun). As a fighter plane raced past, Mav says “Where’d he go?” The plane had whooshed by so fast, Goose’s response was, “Where’d WHO go?” Well, that pretty much describes the fake FG to Michael Williams, as no one, not even Gary Danielson, knew where he came from out of the FG formation. It was 4th and 4 from the Arky 36 and I turned to my buddy and said we needed to just go for it and that I’d be pissed if we ran some goofy fake – just line up and get 4 yards. As Cade Foster raced up to the line of scrimmage, the crowd stood in stunned silence. Oh, no, I don’t mean the crowd in the stands, I mean those with the pigs on their helmets and on their shirts. You could almost hear the collective “DUH” from the Arky bench as the FG formation became a shotgun formation. Foster & Billingsley raced from left to right downfield waving their hands. Underwood slipped out from the right side and went into the flat as AJ gave a slight roll to the right looking right all the way. Meanwhile, Michael Williams slyly moved from right to left behind the line’s fine blocking and he found himself out to practice early down the left sideline. Credit AJ with a perfect throw because when he released it, I just knew he’d overthrown it. Also, credit Williams for being that divine vertical threat he always wanted to be!!!! Great design. Great execution. Great Googly Moogly!
MAZE’S ANATOMY: Down ladies. This is about his punt return, not his, er, anatomy. One of the best returns you’ll ever see happened on Saturday and, while Maze did Ah-Maze, in breaking it down he had a ton of helpers. If you still have the game on tape, Tivo, DVR or digitial remix, look around the 12 minute mark of the 3rd quarter and watch the return again. When he caught the ball, Sunseri, Gibson and Hanks held perfect blocks allowing a wide crease for Maze to begin his 83 yard jaunt (which really was like 183 yards – he had more weaves than Queen Latifah). Maze accelerated quickly but was able to allow Will Lowery to throw one more key block at the 35 yard line which allowed him to bounce to the outside. At the 45, Maze then brushed off the punter like a large piece of dandruff and raced down the sidelines. Funny thing about punt returns that you see on TV – usually the punt returner is alone while running down the sidelines. This time, a flock of Crimson jerseys flanked Maze and provided an escort to the Arky 30. There, Maze showed incredible patience to allow DePriest to block one more would be defender and Maze cut back inside on his way to glory. There, the blocking wasn’t finished as John Fulton took out the last defender who had a chance to make a play. I think the entire return took around 12 or 13 seconds and it was an exhibition of blocking perfection. Of course, along the way Maze de-pantsed 5 Arky defenders and corkscrewed the last Arky defender with one last vicious cutback just because he could. The final tally was 4 cutbacks, 5 defenders removed of their jock straps, 6 key blocks and six key points on the scoreboard!
THE EXTRA POINT: Listen, if you think these neato returns are happening just because they are happening, then you are sorely mistaken. While Maze is clearly a very gifted returner who exhibits acceleration, speed and patience, it’s just as important or even more important to get those blocks that allow him to get free. On the TD, the blocking was phenomenal at the beginning and then you had a host of guys busting their cans downfield to clean up the remaining defenders. But, if you still have the game somewhere, watch the next punt return. At around the 11 minute mark of the third quarter, Maze caught another punt and raced up the middle again. As Verne shouted “not again” (presumably he meant another Maze return though he could have just peed on himself again – going problem?), Maze was brought down after a 20 yard gain. If you go back and watch, look for #10, John Fulton. His initial block allows Maze to get upfield but because Fulton couldn’t hold his block his guy makes the tackle on Maze. Did Fulton celebrate the 20 yard return? NO! Fulton was pissed! That’s the kind of effort these kids are making on special teams and it’s impressive. As Les Miles might say, “The want to want to want to block is so strong, they just block the want to do bad. So good!”
Since the prelude and the special teams are taking up so much space, I’ll cut this down as much as I can. Thanks to two special teams TDs and one defensive TD, not much else was required from the offense. However, Trent Richardson had one of his finest days as a Tider as he caught a screen for a 61 yard TD and amassed more all purpose yards (235) than Arkansas’ offense gained (226). He also trucked a little piggy on his way to the one yardline which made the Arky defender cry “wee wee wee” all the way home. Alabama gained 397 yards of offense against Petrino’s “best defense he’s ever had at Arkansas” so we clearly moved the ball Saturday. But, it’s this side of the ball that left me feeling like a Tyler Wilson pass – incomplete.
C’MON RIDE THE TRAIN: The worst place to be on a Saturday afternoon is in a one on one matchup with Trent Richardson. There is no wiggle in #3. As the truck stops say, Trent is one bad mother trucker and on Saturday he nearly hospitalized some poor Razorback. After an alert play by AJ to flick the ball to TR on a third and 10 from the Arky 13, Trent found himself one on one around the 7 yardline. As he lowered his head for impact, I’d swear a little lady to our right passed out or had herself a moment as she watched the impact. BOOM! Trent barely lost his balance and fell down one yard short of the goal line.
DON’T WANT NO SHORT SHORT MAN: So, there we were at the one, first and goal. Our first play was to have our 190 lb QB “push” the pile. Granted, he scored (no seriously – watch the tape), but still. Trent. Richardson. He’s right behind the QB and brings a little more pushin’ to the cushion at 220 lbs. Next, we try the BEAST on a counter and he’s stuffed by an unblocked defender. On third and goal from the one, Trent barely gets the handoff as two unblocked defenders crash the party. Anyone remember the Penn State series from the one? This is a power running team, right? Sigh. This should be an automatic score with TR and Lacy in the backfield.
LIES, DAMN LIES AND STATISTICS: AJ passed for an efficient 15 of 20 for 200 yards. Three incompletions were near misses on deep balls. Only two incompletions were bad decisions where he forced the ball into coverage, so that’s good – very good. But. Did you know 118 of the 200 were on screens and dumps? He rarely looked downfield and, to these eyes, only two balls were completed over 15 yards downfield – one nice throw to Smelley and then the TD to Williams off the fake FG. Meanwhile, it appeared that AJ bailed on the pocket several times before it was necessary. Look, I’m not bagging on the kid – I’m just talking straight. If he hits one of those three near misses downfield, we probably aren’t having this discussion but in the last two weeks he’s thrown three deep balls short and three long. Florida will force us to complete passes downfield and they’ll certainly collapse the pocket so we’ll need a better effort this week against Florida. I’m just sayin…
LINE DANCING: Kudos to the big uns up front! The musical chairs finally stopped and what you saw was a VERY solid performance by the OL. All day long they created an excellent push and probably had their best game to date. While missed assignments ruined our goal line opportunity, everything else was well done. Shout outs, props and, if we were Miami, hookers for those guys!
Goodness. Where to start? Let’s jump in on the sacks, or lack thereof, and tackle that up front. Did you see the pretty piñata dressed up in the #8 jersey back there? Ask Wilson if was beaten like the red headed step child Arkansas is. At one point, I thought he was “lying in bed, just like Brian Wilson did (Writer’s Note: A Barenaked Ladies concert isn’t what you think it is).” I can’t recall seeing so many vicious hits being doled out by an Alabama defense as they rocked the Petrino casbah all night long. Whether it was Hubbard, Dial, Hightower, Upshaw or Harris, they all arrived in the Arkansas backfield in a nasty ill tempered mood. Honestly, it was so bad Petrino felt compelled to pull his QB even though he wasn’t truly injured physically. Mentally? I think he was fried.
Meanwhile, what can you say about the secondary? Yeah, they got us on a couple of wheel routes to the backs just like we said they would but, by and large, the Arky receivers were dropped where they caught the ball time and time again. At halftime, Petrino said the receivers needed to make some plays after the catch. Well, we’ve been talking about this all season – our secondary is in outstanding coverage all the time and, even when they are beaten for a catch, they bring down the receiver immediately. IMMEDIATELY! Watch other games on Saturdays and Sundays and compare. It’s truly astounding!
DRE-OH…DREEEEE OH: Football come and me wanna go home. I’m thinking about going out to Bryant Denny later with a metal detector. With gold being such a valued commodity, I’m thinking of looking for the gold fillings that Dre popped out of a few Arky skulls. Holy mother of pearl. Dre has gone from being a skinny “all cover, no hit” kind of corner to some kind of ridiculous enforcer. Heck, did you see who was right in the middle of two pushing and shoving scrums? Dre! Did you see who took on Courtney Upshaw and got him back in line???? DRE! I can’t remember a more complete and a more surprising transformation in a football player than Dre Kirkpatrick. I used to say, “How many I’s are in Kirkpatrick” because it was clear he was a me first player. Well, that’s a thing of the past. When you talk about leadership missing from last year and being there this year, look no further than #21. Oh, but please don’t catch a football around him – he gets kinda pissed about that.
KILLING THEM SOFTLY: Anyone notice that we didn’t blitz a whole bunch Saturday? We probably dialed up two or three 6 man rushes and the rest of the time we went with 3, 4 or 5 man rushes. We played a ton of zone to protect the middle from the crossing routes and some of the most vicious hits were from DBs coming up from their zones to play whack-a-pig. The much maligned front four hurried Wilson 10 times and knocked him down nine times and, in essence, forced his removal from the game. I’d say that was the best game our defensive front has played and it’s nice that we could do so much damage without having to blitz. Again, this will be key this week against Florida & Brantley.
PICKING AND GRINNING: How many near misses have we had for picks this year? 20? Lester and Milliner dropped two more Saturday but Milliner got his back later on a nice defensive play down the sideline. And, of course there’s Mr Menzie. If at first you don’t succeed, look in the air for the football, run towards it, grab it and walk into the end zone. His pick six was a game changer.
ANOTHER BRICK IN THE WALL: I’m willing to bet you all that you don’t even remember this play but, to me, it was the extinguishing of the Arky candle. You’ll likely read this and think “oh yeah, that did happen.” In a day filled with big plays in every facet of the game, the Bama D rose to the occasion in a big way late in the 3rd quarter with a quiet stop on 4th and 1. After taking a weak personal foul penalty against Donte, Arkansas was at midfield facing a 3rd and one. As Verne screamed “what a fake”, the entire Bama secondary surrounded the lone Arky receiver and Barron & Kirkpatrick combined to knock the ball out of each other’s hands. Gutsy call on 3rd and 1 but Petrino saw this as an opportunity to take a shot. Then, on 4th and 1, the team that couldn’t run the ball all day long decided they could get a yard. They could get one yard but it was in the wrong direction as Donte cleaned the clock of Dennis Johnson for a loss of one and a turnover on downs. Think it wasn’t a big play? Check out Kirby Smart’s reaction afterwards. HUGE play and largely unnoticed…
ANYTHING YOU CAN DO, FOUR CAN DO BETTER: When CJ Mosley left the game early in the 1st quarter, DePriest, Hubbard, Johnson and Jerrell Harris all spent time at the position. This is a critical position with Florida coming up. All four guys played well with Hubbard really surprising me by doing well in coverage. Hubbard also had a decrapitator on Wilson’s touchdown pass – very active day for #42.
PIG TOSSING: Sorry but I just had to laugh with Nick Gentry flug the Arky QB for a couple of yards. Talk about throwing the pigskin! And, the winner of today’s pig tossing contest is…..NICK GENTRY!
EXTRA POINTS: Yeah, I know, you think I used this up above in the Offense section. Well, that was extra point (singular) and it was the follow up to the Maze TD. Extra points follow TDs – you get it, right? Sigh. Anyway, here are just a few additional thoughts and graphics (graphics are just neat things I saw on the telecast or from other sites so I can’t take credit).
- Arkansas was averaging 517 yards of offense coming into this game. They gained 226 Saturday. Advantage Saban.
- Alabama used the “hurry up” and “check with me” offense for the first time this season. In the last three years, this is Saban’s preferred look when going up against a tougher defense. You’ll likely see this again against Florida.
- Lacy and Richardson appeared together twice in the Bama backfield for the first time this season. Each time they flanked AJ in shotgun formation – once Lacy led for Trent on a run and once AJ hit Lacy with a pass out of the backfield. Interesting look.
- My man Jesse Williams had two solo tackles for loss. STUD! Not getting the attention he deserves (hence my “Down Under the Radar” segment last week).
- Cade Foster has been told by the coaches to kick high and short but he got a touchback Saturday
- Our D has flattened just about every screen thrown this year. Tremendous discipline.
- After Barrett Jones’ facemask received some extra curricular attention from an Arkansas cheap shot artist, Saban absolutely lost his ever loving mind on the sidelines. Good to see he has his players’ backs – and you know they know he has their backs, too.
Statistical comparison: That McCarron has had 72 attempts without an interception reminds many of his predecessor, Greg McElroy. Here’s how they fared in their first four starts (McElroy’s numbers from 2009).
Greg McElroy C-A-I, Pct., Yards, TDs, Efficiency
Virginia Tech 15-30-1, 50.0 Pct., 230 yards, 1 TD, 118.73
Fla. International 18-24-0, 75 Pct., 241 yards, 1 TD, 173.10
North Texas 13-15-0, 86.7 Pct., 176 yards, 2 TDs, 229.23
Arkansas 17-24-0, 70.8 Pct., 291, 3 TDs, 213.93
Totals 63-93-1, 67.7 Pct., 938 yards, 7 TDs, 175.15
AJ McCarron C-A-I, Pct., Yards, TDs, Efficiency
Kent State 14-32-2, 60.9 Pct., 226 yards, 1 TD, 140.37
Penn State 19-31-0, 61.3 Pct., 163 yards, 1 TD, 116.10
North Texas 15-21-0, 71.4 Pct., 190 yards, 0 TD, 147.43
Arkansas 15-20-0, 75.0 Pct., 200 yards, 2 TDs, 192.00
Total: 63-95-2, 66.3 Pct., 779 yards, 4 TDs, 144.88
A comparison between the Arky game from 2010 to this past Arky game:
Category 2010, 2011
First down 20, 14
Rushing yards 64, 17
Passing yards 357, 209
Total yards 421, 226
Avg. per play 7.3, 3.8
Statistic of the game: Of the 15 times Arkansas had third down, the average gain it needed for the first down was 10.7 yards. It had third-and-10 or longer 11 times compared to only twice enjoying third-and short (3 yards or less).
We ran a little long this week (insert joke here) but there was a lot to cover. I’ll try to send out a W2W4 for Florida just to whet your appetites for Saturday’s main course!