For those of you who may be new to the site or new to the W2W4, I’d first like to say welcome! You are about to read the first installment of the never acclaimed and non award-winning W2W4 series where I basically try to highlight the matchups, tendencies, plays and players that should have an impact during each Alabama game. These are my thoughts and predictions on the game – what are yours? Feel free to post a comment on the site and let your thoughts be heard….or seen!
W2W4 – Michigan
Let’s face it – everything is bigger in Texas. The state is bigger. The cities are bigger. The hats. The boots. The Jerry Dome. Did you know Jerry World is the largest domed stadium in the world and has the largest capacity in the NFL? Yep. It was originally expected to cost a mere $650 mil but it actually ended up costing Jerry a cool $1.15 billion. Inside the dome, Jerry’s massive high-definition screen that hangs from the ceiling is the second largest in the world. It’s huge! Oh, and Alabama’s opponent is only the NCAA’s all time biggest winner – Michigan. Did I mention everything is bigger in Texas?
From the Bama perspective, it gets no bigger because, as usual, the expectations for Alabama are as big as they can be. As usual, it’s BCS championship or bust once again at the Capstone. So, by playing in the Kickoff Classic sponsored by Jerry Jones’ Ego, Alabama is walking in the tallest cotton as they kick off the season with a marquee matchup against Meeeeee-chigan. The game, complete with the huge presence of ESPN Gameday, simply cannot get much bigger. So, hide the women, hide the children and strap a bullet proof vest on J.R. Ewing because Alabama is more than ready for this gunfight in the OK Corral!
So, now we’ll take a look at the game itself. W2W4 stands for “what to watch for”, so, what should you watch for? My prediction is that Alabama is going to make Michigan look like they were inside the outhouse when the lightning struck! BOOM! It’s time to beat Mee-chigan and the Big Ten yet again with a big ole ugly stick. Chant it with me: SEC! SEC! SEC! Let’s get it on…
W2W4 – Alabama on Offense
So I just finished watching MichiganState’s 28-14 victory over Michigan from last season. You may recall that MSU coach Mark Dantonio is a Nick Saban protégé and the fact that he has beaten Michigan four straight years is certainly of significance here. Last year, MichiganState absolutely dominated Michigan with their power running game, so that bodes well for the big elephants along Bama’s offensive line.
When it’s a big game, Nick likes to open things up early, a la the national championship game against LSU, so expect to see Alabama go to the air early and often. If Alabama takes to the air, you can expect someone’s band to be playing (meaning a big play is going to happen for somebody) because Michigan loves to bring the house and blitz in passing situations – probably because they can’t get any pressure on the QB by using just their front four. After observing Michigan’s D against Dantonio’s offense (which bears an uncanny resemblance to Alabama’s offense), here are some other fearless predictions of W2W4 when Alabama is on offense.
Hammer Time: If MichiganState could dominate Michigan’s d-line, think of what Alabama will do to it. And remember, Michigan lost their top two defensive tackles, so I expect Alabama to be able to work over the soft underbelly of the Michigan D. I also expect us to be able to get to the edge repeatedly because, honestly, the slow pursuit of the Michigan LB’s could get them called for delay of game…
Honey I Shrunk the Defensive End: One of Michigan’s DE’s weighs 229. Typically, this Smurf-erine lines up against the right tackle. Alabama’s right tackle is none other than DJ Fluker, who weighs 335. MEDIC!
Kris Kross Will Make You JUMP: Michigan loves to blitz up the middle which vacates the middle of the field. As it happens, Alabama loves to throw short crossing patterns over the middle to beat the blitz and the man-to-man that goes with it. Since Michigan tips off their blitzes every time, look for AJ to hit a few crossers over the middle that turn into big yardage.
Split Screen: Alabama also loves to screen and this can be awfully effective against a blitz. On third down, I’d love to see Yeldon or Hart catch a screen in the open field with blockers out in front and I think we will…
Let’s Get Physical: I should have placed this higher in the listing, as I think this may be the most important offensive W2W4. If, as we stated above, Yeldon and Hart are in on third downs for some swings and screens, it will also be of paramount importance that, when called upon, they be able to pick up the Wolf blitzers (CNN shout out to my man Wolf). Yeldon and Hart are Bama’s least experienced backs, so it stands to reason that AJ will be at risk if either is forced to pick up a blitzing backer. Remember this and say it with me: AJ can’t get hurt. AJ can’t get hurt. If either of the young backs blows an assignment, look for Lacy and Fowler to become your third down backs in order to make sure AJ is standing upright. Michigan LOVES to blitz so “we must protect this house!”
Overkill: MichiganState had tremendous success in moving their TE from one side to the other just before the snap of the ball. Look for Alabama to move their H back or TE over from the strong side to the weak side and have them snuggle up next to big DJ Fluker. This way, they can all take turns planting the tiny Wolverine ends into the artificial turf.
Big Time: New OC Doug Nussmeier will call a bomb early in the game. Mark it down. AJ has a big time arm and Coach Nuss is at a big time program. Let. It. Rip.
Swami Sez: Four Alabama backs will get carries. Yeldon will get the most carries and have the most yards. Hart will show a burst that makes you slap yo mamma a high-five. Christion Jones will lead the WRs in receptions. DeAndrew White or Kevin Norwood will haul in a pass of over 30 yards. Oh, and Jalston “The Beast” Fowler will pancake somebody and make ESPN’s Top Plays. Did I mention I have a man crush on The Beast???? Yessir – I’m a Beastie boy!
W2W4 – Alabama on Defense
This is where the fun begins. This is where we separate the men from the boys (at Auburn, they separate their boys from the synthetic marijuana parties, the bars and handcuffs). For all of the accolades that Denard “Shoelace” Robinson has garnered over the years, here are some stats to salivate over if you are a Bama fan. Last season, Shoestring completed a mere 55% of his passes. For those of you who are, like me, mathematically challenged, that’s about the same completion percentage of a blind squirrel throwing acorns at a large bucket. Shoelace did lead the Big Ten in…..interceptions! Yes, he had 15 picks. When pressured, Slip On has the worst mechanics I’ve ever seen and he even compounds the bad mechanics by making ill-advised throws. In the MichiganState game alone, he could have easily added three more picks to his illustrious resume. Now, don’t get me wrong, he is awfully exciting when he gets out of the pocket, but MSU had a little sumpin’ sumpin’ that evidently tied his shoelaces together when he tried to run. I’m guessing that MSU coach Mark Dantonio has swapped a few Shoelace stories with his good friend Nick Saban and a plan to stop Robinson was devised shortly after this game was scheduled. W2W4 on defense? A loooong day for Robinson & Co.
Won’t Be Fooled Again: Michigan works out of the shotgun spread look most of the time and Denard loves to play action to the back and then roll out to one side or the other. Bama’s outside contain men MUST stay home or else they’ll be looking at the butthole and elbows of Denard as he rushes past them. No one kept their containment better than Courtney Upshaw so it will be interesting to see how well Hubbard and Dickson keep containment on the edges. We. Must. Contain.
Double Up – UH UH: Double QBs can be trouble and Michigan sometimes likes to utilize Robinson and fellow QB Devin Gardner together in their offensive sets. This alignment could catch Alabama’s young pups on defense out of position as I could see Michigan working in a double pass out of this set. Be on the look out D!
Blitzkrieg: Denard Robinson reads the blitz like Helen Keller reads War & Peace, but not quite as quickly. Look for Alabama to overload blitzers on Robinson’s right side, as he rolls to his right roughly 100% of the time. BTW, he never sees blitzes coming, he always reacts late and he usually puts the ball up for grabs if he can get the ball out of his hands. Against MichiganState it was almost like he realized it wasn’t really him the defense was after – it’s this ball! Argh – get it away! No wonder he threw 15 picks. Can you tell I’m not high on him as a QB? A friend of mine said, “You know what they call a quarterback that can run but can’t throw? A running back.” That still makes me laugh!
Option No Option: For all of Robinson’s prowess running the ball, he is not all that effective running the option. Robinson excels in broken plays out of the pocket, sprint outs and boots but he really doesn’t run the option well whatsoever. Weird.
Dream On: When Michigan could not run the football, they struggled last season. Michigan’s four worst rushing days last year were against Va Tech (56 yards in a near loss), Notre Dame (114 yards in a near loss), Iowa (127 yards in a loss) and MichiganState (82 yards in a loss). In the other nine games they ran for at least 179 yards and won by double digits. If you think Michigan is going to run for 179 yards, well, dream on.
Vinnie B. Goode: Chuck Berry sang about Johnny B. Goode but, if he saw our defense, he’d likely sing about Vinnie. No one will be on the field more or have more responsibilities than Vinnie Sunseri will have on Saturday night. Personally, I can’t wait to see how he’s used on Saturday as he slides from pure safety to the star position on D. I’m gonna guess he’ll be used as a blitzer more than once. I hope the Michigan medical staff is aware this may happen…
Swami Sez: I predict that Adrian Hubbard makes you say HOLY SH!T at least three times on Saturday. Vinnie Sunseri will make you rewind the DVR to re-watch a slow motion replay of a vicious hit. Alabama’s young secondary will get torched at least once because they’ll botch a coverage. However, Alabama will record at least 5 sacks, at least two picks and more or less will dominate the Michigan running game. Nick loves to take away what you do best and with Michigan, it’s their running game.
W2W4 – Alabama on Special Teams
You know, I’m just not feeling much of an opinion on the special teams in this game. Shelley and Mandell should have their usual solid performances so, really, the only question will be how Cade Foster will perform at home in front of his family and friends. When he hit the 48 yarder during the A-Day game, Foster was mobbed by his teammates. Everyone knows what this kid has been thru and, personally, I’m hoping Foster will be Australian for “it’s good!” Meanwhile, I have a sneaky suspicion Griffith won’t kick on Saturday and, honestly, I am hoping he redshirts. Michigan’s kicking and punting game seemed to be shaky at best last year so I’d give Alabama an advantage here.
Christion Jones will be your return man and while he doesn’t exactly conjure up images of Duece, Javy or Marquis Maze, he’s very good in his own right. He’s a straight line returner so we probably won’t see the wiggles we are accustomed to. I did read an article today that said he was a fabulous open field runner so perhaps he’ll show me up on Saturday. I am a little sad, though, that Deion Belue won’t be returning kicks or punts so we won’t get to see his electrifying return skills. Instead, Jones, Milliner and Dee Hart will be returning kick offs this season. I will say that Hart was awesome in the Army All American game a couple of years ago so watching him should be fun if he gets a chance.
After watching MichiganState’s mirror image offense absolutely skin the Wolverines, I can’t help but think that Alabama’s offensive line will dominate the Michigan line. The Bama passing game will likely be hit or miss as is typical of the first game of the season, and this will likely be compounded by the fact that Michigan’s defensive strength is their secondary. But, since Michigan has to blitz in order to get to the QB, this will open up some opportunities for the screen game and the crossers. I suspect that while it won’t always be a thing of beauty, Alabama will be able to move the ball when they need to and should be able to open numerous holes for their array of talented backs.
Defensively, while the national pundits want to question Alabama’s D, Alabama enters the game with the deepest set of defensive linemen and linebackers in the country. The youth and inexperience in the secondary will be victimized at least once via a long play but, by and large, Alabama’s quality and quantity of their front seven should win the day.
After reading this, many will say that I’m overconfident and will bring up the fact that Michigan has some fancy stats from last year. Well, they do have some pretty stats but they were all accumulated against their usual array of deadbeat Big Ten foes. At the end of Saturday, we’ll learn that this is the same Michigan team that was outgained by Virginia Tech in the Sugar Bowl 377 to 184. Wolverine fans want to hang their hat on that big win but that’s the problem – as they say in Texas, Michigan is all hat but no cattle….
Final score: Alabama 27 Michigan 10