Vanderbilt Review 2011

 

Vandy Review 2011

I apologize that I am so late in sending this out – we visited Dallas, TX to see the Red River Shootout, er, Rivalry and then we learned of the passing of my wife’s grandmother, so this has been a very busy week.  With that in mind, I’ll probably keep this week’s version shorter (I hear you clapping) than usual. 

There’s an old saying that children and parents alike use whenever they are quizzed about a decision they may have made:  “Because I can.”  What I think you saw Saturday night against Vandy was “Because I can’t.”  I think at this point in the season we’ve all come to the same obvious conclusions – Alabama has a tremendous defense, solid kicking game and a sledgehammer for a running game.  The only possible chink in the armor is the lack of a passing game and, when we reach November 5th, I think we all know that we’ll have to throw the ball effectively to beat LSU.  Yes.  It’s so obvious, a caveman would know it.

And, with that in mind, I think Nick saw an opportunity to get AJ some confidence and experience with the downfield passing game because Vandy had just mustered 75 TOTAL yards against South Carolina the game prior to ours.  Clearly if there was ever a time to take some risks and open up the passing game without fearing points coming off of turnovers, it was this game against Vandy.  As a result, you saw McCarron set career highs in completions, yardage and TDs as he went 23 of 30 for 237 and 4 TDs.  Four.  Touchdowns.  Passing.  What do you figure the over/under would have been on TD passes for the Vandy game?  One?  Two?  AJ thew four – all four were on third down, too, did you know that?  Now, granted, he should have run for one of those but, still, pretty impressive.  Hopefully, this performance will be something to build on going forward b/c ground and pound will likely work against the likes of Vandy, Ole Miss and Tennessee but it certainly won’t be enough to knock of LSU or, dare I say, Oklahoma.   

So, to close, what should we make of the Vandy game?  Cue up Allen Iverson’s “Practice?” rant because that’s all Vandy was – practice.  It was an opportunity to pop AJ’s cherry and let him chuck and duck.  Even on defense Alabama was experimenting with more 4-3 looks than I’ve seen in Saban’s entire time at Alabama.  Remember, he and the Hoodie in New England have a special bromance and the Hoodie scrapped his 3-4 for a 4-3 look this season.  Is this the future for Alabama?  I doubt it.  It was just a new toy for Saban to play with in the sandbox.  After all, it was just practice.  PRACTICE?  We talkin’ bout PRACTICE?  On to the notes…………………………………………………

OFFENSE

Not much more to say other than the intro but I’ll add a couple more comments (settle down, it still won’t be as long as usual…that’s what she said, er, not).  It was VERY interesting to me to see how we opened the third quarter.  Clearly Nick was tired of dicking around and wanted to go all Dirty Harry on Vandy’s ass.  Enter the running game.  Wow.  Typically you can’t turn it on and off like that but when Nick challenged the troops to kick some booty, they came out kicking and swinging.  11 of the 12 plays on the key 94 yard drive were runs and the one pass was a bubble screen.  You could almost hear Saban channel is inner Minnie Pearl (a strange visual, to be sure) as he exclaimed “Y’all, we’re thru playin’ now!”  After that, it was all over but the passing.

The Rifleman:  Regular readers, or for our IBS friends – irregular readers, know that I’ve been a Doubting Thomas when it comes to AJ McCarron.  He’s clearly better than Phillip Sims, so don’t misunderstand my doubts.  It’s just, to this point, he’s been up and down and a relative non-factor in the games.  Of course, quite honestly, he hasn’t been asked to do much so I think it’s been fair to withhold judgment to this point.  I’m sure that many of you disagree with this paragraph thus far – especially you irregular ones.  Well, suffice it to say that Saturday night was impressive.  I’m not talking stats, either.  Consider these “little” things that show an advanced pocket acumen.  With under 5 minutes to go in the third quarter, AJ was flushed from the pocket.  Nine out of nine times this season he would have tucked the ball and scampered for whatever he could get.  This time, he rolled right, continued looking downfield and rifled a pass to Brandon Gibson for a first down.  Later in that same drive, he stepped up into the pocket, didn’t panic (which has been a criticism) and delivered a TD to Andrew White.  I love that his composure and pocket awareness is improving.  Additionally, his first TD pass to Smelley was just gorgeous.  He had to elevate the ball above the LB and away from the safety and he did so beautifully.  Also, he’s missed that open pass to Hanks a few times (once earlier in the first half) so it was nice to see him hit that so easily.  Honestly, his best throws of the season (sans the Williams TD against PSU and perhaps the Maze pass against UF along the sideline) occurred during this game.  I was impressed during his two minute drill that he hit his back foot and confidently delivered strike after strike.  He was also 5 for 7 against the blitz and, more importantly, stood strong in the face of the blitz.  In this one game he came a long, long way.  Maybe he’s earned the trust of the coaching staff to make more downfield throws.  Time will tell.

The White Shadow:  Appropriate to use a basketball TV series to talk about DeAndrew White.  Did you see that catch?  Sure, AJ could have run it but when you throw the ball 10 feet in the air and White comes down with it, well, screw it that’s a fun decision to make!  My man #2 has got some ups!  He also got a bubble screen (first one since N Texas) and, of course, he made a stellar catch between two defenders for the 39 yard TD.  If you watched closely, White was behind the secondary but the ball was slightly underthrown.  White, a track star, played the ball, went up strong and made a great “hands” catch between two defenders.  To quote Dumb and Dumber, “So you’re telling me there’s a chance?”  There’s a chance White is the next WR star and we’ve been raving about him since spring practice.

The Hulk:  Ok, ok, ok.  Who’s with me now???  How about my boy Jalston Fowler???  Is he fun to watch or what?  Ain’t no wiggle.  Ain’t no jiggle.  He just brings the pain down after down after down.  Love to watch that kid run.  Seriously.  He trucked All-SEC LB Chris Marve.  TRUCKED HIM!

The Mentalist:  William Vlachos had a tremendous game.  He pulled, he got out on screens and he controlled the line of scrimmage.  He’s had like 30+ starts at center and is the anchor on what’s becoming a very good line.  If you are loving the line, you are loving the center of it!  Shout out to #73!

Party of Five:  I love that Darius Hanks is making a contribution again.  He showed some slick moves on a curl that he caught and his post route for the TD was Vandy-pants-on-the-ground good.  We’ve discussed his blocking in previous passages but his 5 catches for 60 yards were good to see.

Three’s Company:  Bama on third down was simply amazing in this game.  Behind McCarron, Alabama converted 10 of 13 first downs with, of course, four TD passes.  That’s astounding.  Bama is now second in the SEC in third down conversion % at 49.4 – this with a QB they’ve been handling with kid gloves.

Castle:  I had to work in my favorite TV show.  Honestly, if you aren’t watching Castle then you are missing out.  Anyway, Cyrus Kouandjio had his best game of the season.  He came in on the third play of the 94 yard drive and was at LT the majority of the time.  He absolutely mauled people and, on one play, he found two guys to pancake.  No blown assignments this week, either.  Baby steps big fella, baby steps.  (Why “Castle” – it’s a defensive fortification designed to……protect.  Hey – I just wanted to work in my favorite show and there’s really no way to work in “Dancing with the Stars,” ok?)

DEFENSE

How much time should I spend on a unit that was facing a Vandy team that gained only 75 yards in their last contest.  Answer?  Not a bunch.  Once again, Bama got off to a slow start and I’ll credit Vandy with some excellent play designs and formations that isolated their RB and FB against a Bama LB who’s unaccustomed to playing coverage.  This is our defensive Achilles heel as we typically blow a coverage or two against RBs who slip into the backfield.  That being said, we knocked another QB out of a game and we completely shut down the running game (41 yards) once again.  This unit is everything it’s cracked up to be.  The only shot I think teams have to score is like UF did and like Vandy almost did.  Max protect, pray Bama is in man to man and try to get deep.  Long controlled drives simply ain’t happening against this group.  They are too sound, too disciplined and, simply too dang good to mount a long drive against.

Law and Order:  My God, Barron nearly hospitalized Rodgers on one play and then, later, on two consecutive screen plays Barron played a little “Mama Said Knock You Out” on two  poor Vandy players.  That was the hardest hitting game I’ve seen from him in a list of very hard hitting games from him.  He also snuffed out a reverse and was constantly in good coverage.  First rounder anyone?

Fringe:  Nico Johnson has been a favorite of mine for a very long time and, with the absence of Mosley, Nico is getting his chance to shine.  Have you noticed there’s been no drop off whatsoever?  Nico is a very, very solid LB who won’t blow you away with speed, size or coverage skills but he’s just about the perfect combination of all three.  Nico has been a godsend for this defense and is more than just a fringe player.

The Walking Dead:  This is what they call the opposing QB who is lining up against Alabama.  We hurt Bolden (granted it was the last play of the game but he was crushed), Wilson, Brantley and now Smith.  North Texas and KentState tried multiple QBs to no avail.  The next time some whiney Longhorn cries about Dolt McCoy getting knocked out, point out to them that surviving a game against Alabama is the exception, not the rule.

Burn Notice:  Once again backs were wide open and were uncovered.  Dre got beat and should have given up a TD on a double move.  These are the two possibilities of Alabama giving up a score.  Look for LSU to max protect and take some shots on long crossing patterns with their fleet footed WRs.  We’ll either have to get a sack or have good coverage.  Interesting that I saw a TON of man against Vandy after it had seemed we played mostly zone against UF and Arky.

Game of Thrones:  This one is a stretch but I saw a couple of “games” going on this week.  For one of the first times I can recall this season, Will Lowery showed a blitz and, when he showed, Vandy checked into an audible.  At the same time, Donte began audibling Bama out of the blitz and the result was a 2 yard loss for Vandy.  Also, Nick seemed to be experimenting with a 4-3 look as I saw him using that about 40 to 50 % of the time as the base package.  Of course, a couple of open throws were against this look so…

MASH:  So many uses for this one but I have to give it to Nick Gentry once again.  Honestly, this guy shows up every single week.  This week he had a sack and two other tackles for loss.  Amazing – and he’s only out there for, what, 10-15 plays a game?  Mongo like QBs!

Cheap Trick:  Ok, so I’m straying away from the TV show theme but this is what I thought of when Courtney Upshaw was shown kicking a Vandy OL.  I didn’t want to see a Bama player doing that kind of thing.  I started not to mention it but then you remember hearing all those garbled Bear Bryant quotes and the one word you can ALWAYS make out is class.  Y’all know I love me some CU but I wish I hadn’t seen that play from him.  (This was on the play before Vandy missed their first FG).

SPECIAL TEAMS

Not much to comment on here.  Another crappy day by Mandell with a 50 yarder mixed in that, of course, went into the end zone.  We didn’t get much from the return game this time but we also didn’t give much up, either.  All in all probably a down game with the extra point miss.  I’ll never understand how they bring kids down from the stands who can hit extra points and yet D1 kickers and pro kickers can miss one from time to time.

EXTRA POINTS

Not much to cover here as I’ve given you most of the statistical goodies from the game.  Here are a couple of notes, though:

  • Vandy 1st Half Offense 142;  Bama gained 189 yards
  • Vandy Time of Possession in First half 13:30 to Bama’s 16:30
  • Alabama has outscored opponents 45 to 8 in 3rd qtr
  • Alabama has outgained opponents in the third quarter 639 to 74 (that’s CRAZY good)
  • On third down, AJ was 9-for-10 for 134 yards with two passes completed short of a first down

It’s time now to begin scoreboard watching with as many as six schools heading towards undefeated records.  Keep an eye on these teams going forward:

  • Wisconsin
  • Oklahoma/Oklahoma State
  • Stanford
  • Clemson
  • Alabama/LSU
  • BoiseState

Happy Football Friday!

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