What Does It Take to Beat Alabama and Who in the SEC Can Do It?
Earlier in the week, we at the Bama Lighthouse embarked on a mission to discover what it would take to beat this year’s Alabama team. While the entire world seems ready to anoint the Crimson Tide as the national champion once again, the crack staff at the Lighthouse decided to dig a little deeper. Is it time to make that lipo appointment so that you can look your best on South Beach?? As a Bama fan, is it time to bust out your best Miami Vice-wear???
First, we hypothesized that we could predict a future loss by looking at Alabama’s past losses – after all, to know where you are going, you have to know where you have been, right? Thankfully, in the past two years there are only four losses our staff had to research: three 2010 losses (South Carolina, LSU & Auburn) and one 2011 loss (LSU). As painful as it was to relive those inglorious Saturdays, the research did glean some knowledge about some common trends that seemed related to the losses. In the tables below, we broke out Alabama’s offensive and defensive statistics separately so that we could scrutinize both sides of the ball. Here are the critical defensive statistics from the four losses:
Alabama on Defense
|Team||Score||Rushing Yds||Passing Yds||Sacked||Turnovers|
|S Carolina (2010)||35-21||110||201||1||1|
In each of the four losses, the Tide defense gave up over 100 yards rushing and, in three of the four losses, the defense also gave up over 200 yards passing. South Carolina, LSU (’10) and Auburn each scored on bombs by going over the top of the Bama D. They seemingly were able to do this because they had success in running the football, forcing the Tide safeties to come down into the box. So, having some offensive balance is the key to beating Alabama’s defense and, in three of the four losses, it allowed teams to score over 24 points offensively. Additionally, it helped that these teams minimized their turnovers, protected their QB and never allowed the Tide D to gain any momentum.
So, we’ve discovered some keys to beating Bama’s D – what about the Bama offense? Offensively, what, if any, common factors are prevalent in the four losses?? Here’s a look at Alabama’s offensive statistics in the four losses:
Alabama On Offense
|S Carolina (2010)||35-21||36||315||7||1|
The first thing that jumps off the page is Alabama’s inability to run the football in these four games. Alabama is a team built to impose its will on their opponents, so stuffing the Bama running game is of paramount importance. You must stop the Alabama rushing attack if you want to beat this team. With one arm tied securely around their (running) back, Alabama’s play action passing game becomes extremely limited and more predictable. The result of this predictability is, well, predictable. The opposing defensive linemen can simply pin their ears back and sic’ em as evidenced by the alarming number of sacks Alabama gave up in their losses. From a turnover standpoint, Alabama was (-2) against LSU (’10) and (-1) against Auburn, so turnovers didn’t play as much of a role in the losses as one might think.
We’ve identified some commonalities on offense and defense in Bama’s losses, so now what? Well, the Bama Lighthouse wants to light your way to life, liberty and the pursuit of crystal balls so, using the knowledge above, we think we can look into our very own crystal ball and foretell of danger! Of course, the crystal ball we are using is a lovely perfumed one that we stole from the set of Charmed and we’re kind of hoping the girls come looking for it. We’ll be sure to leave the Lighthouse on for them! Anyway, according to our crystal balls, here’s the profile for the type of team that can upset Alabama this season:
- Run the Ball Between the Tackles: For a team to beat Alabama, they must be able to run the football. And, it can’t be that sissified running, either – running wide is suicide against this Tide. No, this has to be the Dave Rowe style of “big man on big man” type of running and it must occur between the tackles, as that the weakest spot on the Bama D. Note: I didn’t say weak. I said weakest. Running the football straight at Alabama is the only way to go.
- Throw the Deep Ball: The team that beats Alabama must also be able to threaten the Tide safeties by throwing the football over the top of the defense. Steven Garcia, Jordan Jefferson, and Cam Newton were each able to throw for over 200 yards in their wins and they used the deep ball to do most of the damage. Of course, when the running game is clicking (see #1 above), it’s much easier to get behind the Tide safeties.
- Stop the Bama Running Game: Alabama has averaged over 200 yards rushing since Nick Saban showed up at the Capstone but, in the three losses, the Tide rushing attack was stymied. When you stop the run you force Bama to throw the ball, as Bear Bryant once said, “Only four things can happen when you throw the ball and three of them are bad.”
With this in mind, the Lighthouse’s search lights found these two teams who could upset the Miami apple cart, er, Orange cart. Now, granted, the stats we used to spotlight these teams are only three games old, so consider this list as one of those living, breathing documents that is certainly subject to change. But, as of week three, we think these two teams would have a legitimate shot at beating Alabama, given the criteria above:
Georgia: Yeah, I hear you – stop laughing. Georgia has a proven QB in Aaron Murray and they are fourth in the conference in rushing the football, even without Isaiah Crowell. Georgia’s defense is very well thought of by the national pundits but somehow they only rank eighth in the SEC in stopping the run. If Alabama were to meet up with UGA in the SEC Championship game, we’d need to revisit the Dawgs’ ability to stuff the Bama running game to make a full and accurate assessment. But, we think UGA may have the right stuff…
LSU: You knew this was coming, right? Yeah, I know, we could have come up with LSU without the aid of any fancy schmancy stats. But, at least our due diligence proves that LSU is once again a contender, right? LSU is ranked #1 in the conference in rushing and #1 in the conference in stopping the run. While they only rank 12th in the conference in passing, they haven’t really had to throw it much given the big leads they’ve amassed. Thus far, you’d have to say that Zack Mettenberger can get the ball down the field better than their previous QBs and, remember, one of them – Jordan Jefferson – beat Bama twice.
Here are two other interesting teams who just narrowly missed making our watch list this week. Again, we’ll revisit this list at the next quarter mark of the schedule and reexamine the stats thru week 6. But, until then, know that these two teams barely missed the watch list:
Florida: Florida ranks third in rushing (no, really) and fifth in stopping the run, so they have two of the key ingredients necessary to beat Alabama. However, the Lighthouse is still in the dark about whether Driskell is a legit QB. He gives up too many sacks and still has a ways to go to prove himself worthy of even getting to the SEC Championship game. By the end of week six, Florida will have taken on LSU and that should reveal quite a bit about the Gators.
South Carolina: Honestly, our experts projected that South Carolina would actually be listed ahead of LSU in the “worthy opponent” rankings so we are surprised to see them down here in this list. You’d figure with Lattimore, Shaw and Clowney they’d have all of the ingredients necessary to cook up an upset victory over Alabama. But, not so fast my friend! As we pulled back the curtain, we found that the Gamecocks rank TENTH in rushing – that’s even with Lattimore and a run first QB! Now, South Carolina does rank second (behind LSU) in stuffing the run and they are ranked a surprising fifth in passing, so they are close to meeting our defined criteria. But, if they can’t run the football, they have no shot at beating Bama. A Week 6 matchup against Georgia will be quite revealing.
You’ll note that of the teams above, only LSU appears on the Tide’s current schedule. The only way Alabama would play one of the other three teams on our list is for them to win the East. The scheduling gods decided that Alabama would only face Tennessee and Mizzouri from the East this year.
As for the other future Tide opponents besides LSU, Ole Miss looks to be a challenge offensively but they are very challenged defensively. Mizzou looks to be the inverse of Ole Miss as they are below average offensively but rank fourth in stopping the run. Tennessee has no running game to speak of and their defense got thrashed by the Florida rushing attack. Surprisingly, Mississippi State and Texas A&M are average to slightly above average across the board but average ain’t gonna git ‘er done against Alabama. And, lastly, there is Auburn…I say lastly because that’s where they appear in every single SEC category, so we can categorically state that they are of no consequence this season.
So, there you have it. Georgia and LSU look to be the highest hurdles for Alabama to clear this season (assuming UGA makes it to the SEC Championship game) on their quest for another BCS championship. As for the rest of the scheduled hurdles, like any good elephant would do, Alabama should simply run right thru them.