It was supposed to be the perfect storm. The air was to be filled with laser guided passes and the ground filled with fleet-footed five-star receivers hauling in catches from the Tennessee river to the Tennessee Rock. The Vol line was to be an impenetrable force, allowing Tyler Bray to go all McDreamy or Weird Al on Alabama’s secondary – you know, Like a Surgeon. But, much like the overhyped Michigan matchup against the vaunted Denard Robinson. Much like the “much ado about nothing” Arkansas game with Tyler Wilson. And, much like the disposal of the Ole Miss Black Rebel Bear Confederate “hurry up and punt” offense, Tennessee’s offense, like everyone else’s offense, was rendered helpless and as effective as Derrick Dooley on crutches in a 40 yard dash.
I was one of those who felt that Alabama’s defense would be challenged in this game. And, while I could point out to you numerous missed UT opportunities like throwing an interception in the end zone, UT turning the ball over on downs at the Bama 33 or the dropped pass by Justin Hunter that surely would have set up another field goal (or worse), Alabama removed the fear factor from this game early on. Perhaps it’s time to acknowledge this team as we did its 2009 and 2011 predecessors. This entire season I haven’t been able to escape the parallels between the 2012 team and the 2010 team. Like the 2010 version, this Bama team is a supremely talented team with a more experienced quarterback and, in 2010, that was supposed to be more than enough to take us to Glendale. But, the 2010 crew found itself unmotivated at times and, as a result, they lost focus (and games) against South Carolina, LSU and Auburn (the game of which we do not speak). You can go back and check the archives but, after we dismantled Florida in 2010, the superlatives and the Arizona travel arrangements were flowing. We’d beaten the top passing team in Arkansas and the top rushing team in Florida – what else could possibly slow down the Bama train to Glendale after those “feats of strength?” I mean, the Gamecocks had a schizophrenic QB, LSU had, well, nothing on offense and the Cammy train was leaking $100 dollar bills. Frankly, I’ve had a hard time forgetting those losses and the time it took me to remove the egg from my face after declaring Bama as the best in the SEC in 2010. Well, after once again shutting down the conference’s leading rushing attack and two of the conference’s top three passing attacks, perhaps it’s time I got past all that 2010 nonsense. Anyone know a good place to stay in South Beach?
Alabama on Defense
That’s right, the Bama Lighthouse would like to acknowledge defense wins championships by starting this week’s review with a standing (or seated) ovation for the Tide’s D!! Hip hip, hooray!!!! While the evening wasn’t perfect by any means, the means in this case justified the end of Tennessee scoring threats. Sure, Bray connected on passes of 44, 41, 26 and 25 yards – obscene numbers on most nights for the Alabama staff – but the Tide rose up with two interceptions, two turnovers on downs and all but eliminated the Vol running game. In other words, besides four solid gains, it was business as usual for Nick Saban, Kirby Smart and their multitude of talented defenders. The Tide rarely blitzed but was still able to “shut ‘er down” in Hard Knocks-ville, continually pushing in Dooley’s stool all night long (no, really, there was a guy carrying around Dooley’s stool on the sidelines)…
At this point, you have to be thinking that this year’s Tide defense could perhaps be in the same discussion as the 2009 troops or the 2011 record-setting crew. It’s simply mind-boggling (if something so simple can boggle one’s brain) that Alabama could lose Mark Barron, Dre Kirkpatrick, Donte Hightower and Courtney Upshaw and, yet, still remain an immovable object. Alabama snuffs out the running game more easily than quicksand and they shoot down air strikes more quickly than a Patriot missile. With Tennessee’s outstanding offensive line, Tyler Bray was supposed to have the time and the weapons to light up bulbs on the opponent’s scoreboard that had rarely been lit. Instead, Alabama left Bray searching for answers and Dooley searching the want ads. While the pundits continue to question Alabama’s opponents, no one can question the Bama D…or at least no one should as long as we have Nick at Nite…
Get Off: The key to any solid defensive unit is its ability to get off the field on third downs. With Tyler Bray at the helm, limiting his third down passing conversions was a must. Without blitzing much at all, Bama was able to generate enough pressure to get into the face of Bray and limit him to 3 of 9 passing on third downs for 26 yards and one interception. In fact, after 3:38 remaining in the first quarter, Tennessee as a team didn’t convert another third (or fourth) down in the game. Mission accomplished and a happy ending for all…
Shutdown: When most Tide fans think of Alabama’s secondary, they naturally think of Dee Milliner – after all, Dee leads the nation in pass breakups and is a sure-fire first rounder. On Saturday night, young Deion Belue introduced himself to the country with a stellar performance of his own. On the night, he was targeted six times and never gave up a completion to the studly Vol receivers. While he was the defender that was beaten by Justin Hunter at the end of the half, Hunter must have heard Belue’s footsteps (or shrieks of fear when thinking about having to explain giving up a huge bomb) and he dropped the ball. In the preseason, Belue was, at best, supposed to be a nickel or dime defender. John Fulton or Travell Dixon were slated ahead of Belue but that didn’t last long at all. Now we know why.
Razor’s Edge: Mega props to Adrian Hubbard who continues to shine in his edge containment role. Early in the game, UT ran a reverse to the dangerous Patterson. Patterson had scored TDs on this play twice before and gained 50 yards on another one but, in this game, Adrian Hubbard was ready and tackled Patterson for a loss. Outstanding!
Help: I need somebody – and not just anybody. Dee Milliner will do just fine, thank you. On a third and goal, Bray lofted a pass into the end zone for Justin Hunter who had position and size on Robert Lester. However, Dee Milliner was peeking into the backfield, left his man and broke on the ball before it was even thrown. Dee broke up the pass, saved a touchdown and made a highly intelligent, NFL type of play on the ball. Also, I’ll take Robert Lester in a Momma’s Little Helper role as he ranged over to pick Bray off in the end zone. Sunseri had the underneath coverage and Lester covered a ton of real estate to create a soul crushing pick in the end zone.
Who Dat?: Um, so if anyone can kinda help me describe or explain who Tyler Bray was throwing to when CJ Mosley picked him off, I’d be interested to get your take on it. BTW, on the play the cameras caught Nick Saban chewing out Perry on the sidelines as he blew the underneath coverage on the running back. Funny but even when things are great, Saban can find a way to coach his kids up.
Black Keys – Tighten Up: Tighten Up is one of my favorite Black Keys songs and I couldn’t help but think of it when CJ Mosley blew up a UT screen. I don’t know what the Bama players key on but you NEVER see them give up yards on a screen pass. The one time they tried it, UT lost six yards as Mosley shut it down. You just can’t screen against a Smart defense.
Ebony and Ivory: Staying with the piano man theme, I have to point out that Brandon Ivory played his best game ever in a crimson jersey. The Memphis native must have been geeked up for this one because he played his butt off. Ivory is really turning into a top-notch tackle and perhaps the heir apparent to Jesse Williams next year. He was quick and strong off the ball and caused problems for Tennessee all night long.
The Anatomy of the Play of the Game: Most Tide fans will have forgotten this play but this, to me, was clearly the play of the game. With Tennessee at the Bama 33 and Alabama leading 23-10, the Vols were in perfect position to cut it to a one score game with seven minutes to go in the third quarter. On 4th and 1, the Vols lined up in their “Beast Mode” package with AJ Johnson at tailback. In three games I had never seen this play get stopped so a fourth down conversion here was a certainty. Here’s how it all went wrong for the Vols:
- Brandon Ivory came off the ball as quickly as it was snapped. With the center getting shoved back into the backfield, the first crack in the UT line was formed.
- Next to Ivory, Jesse Williams was winning his battle against the Vol guard. While he didn’t generate the push that Ivory did, he was able to stalemate and bend back the Vol OL.
- The Tennessee tackle surged out for a cut block on Adrian Hubbard but Hubbard was able to use his hands and push the Vol tackle down, all the while staying on his feet.
- Meanwhile, Ed Stinson was destroying the Vol’s tight end, shoving him back a good two or three yards. The push by Stinson and Ivory funneled AJ Johnson into big Jesse Williams and Adrian Hubbard, each of whom were defeating their men.
- Johnson absorbed the first glancing hit (if a 330 lb man can do such a thing) by Jesse Williams and then he took on Hubbard’s hit while still maintaining some forward lean. But, about the time you thought Johnson would be able to lunge forward, Robert Lester knifed in and erased Johnson’s efforts for good. Loss of a yard. Loss of down. Loss of game.
The result of the play was a turnover on downs that sucked the life out of the Vols. Alabama took possession and, six plays later, Amari Cooper was scoring on a 42 yard touchdown pass. Um, Mr Dooley, would you mind turning the lights off on your way out?
Alabama on Offense
It’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt and, for once, it was just all fun and games for Bama’s offense. AJ’s knee remained attached to the rest of his leg and Eddie Lacy, TJ Yeldon and Kenyan Drake all made it thru the game with minor bumps and bruises. In my film study leading up to this game, injuries were really the only question because it was a certainty that Alabama would have their way with the Vol defense. In short, Bama’s offense “did it like this, they did it like that, they did with a whiffle ball bat…”
One if by Land: While the Tide running game got off the ground a little slowly, by the time it was all over Yeldon and Lacy had bludgeoned yet another team. TJ Yeldon was particularly impressive on this night showing the strength, speed and vision that’s been endearing to Tide fans since the Michigan game. All Yeldon did was score two touchdowns and gain 129 yards on only 15 carries. While I love the balance between the two backs, with a Rebel Yel-don, I l cry more, more, more…
Six if by Air: While one true freshman (Yeldon) was once again making his mark on the ground, another true freshman by the name of Amari Cooper was taking the game over by air. Seven catches. 162 yards. Two touchdown passes recorded. Oh, and one touchdown pass nullified for a penalty. Wow. And, the way he used his body on the long TD pass was NFL-esque. But, hey, Bama is such a young, young team. It’s so tough being us…. J
All I Do Is Win, Win, Win: While AJ McCarron continues to get extravagant tattoos and shows up to games wearing tuxedos, all he does is win football games. With each pass that is thrown without getting intercepted, AJ extends the Alabama record for passes completed without throwing a pick. AJ now leads the nation in pass efficiency and, while no one really knows how to compute it, rest assured completing nearly 70% of your passes without getting a single one intercepted is a pretty good way to score well. To me, AJ’s best effort was a clever little dump pass to Eddie Lacy when he was flushed from the pocket. The resulting completion moved the chains and eventually led to another score. All in a days work for the unflappable McCarron.
May I Cut In?: For the first (and second) time this season, Blake Sims took snaps when the game was on the line. This was an interesting little wrinkle to me as there was really no reason to insert him into the game. BTW – did you notice that AJ was lined up as a wide receiver at the bottom of the screen? Yep. And, we faked the fly sweep in AJ’s direction. This could be setting up Sims handing the ball off to the fly sweep who, in turn, would pitch it to AJ. I look for Blake Sims to run a wheel route out of this and be left alone down the sideline for AJ to throw to. If nothing else, we showed it twice against the Vols and now other teams have one more thing to prepare for.
Wide Open Spaces: As predicted, UT’s coverages were horrific. UT’s defenders looked more lost than Lindsey Lohan at a church retreat and they treated the Bama receivers as though they had the dreaded bubonic plague. This year, Rocky Top means a defenseless team to me as Michael Williams, Amari Cooper and Kenny Bell each scored touchdowns without having a defender near them on the screen. The Tide receivers were so wide open they looked as though they were out to practice early – good ole Rocky Top.
Sabotage: Last week Alabama ran the same play over and over against Mizzou and they never stopped it. Against Tennessee, Bama showed the same formation they brutalized Missouri with but, this time, the Tide ran a play action fake. As the Vols rushed up to defend the run, Amari Cooper slipped unseen 23 yards down field for the first Bama touchdown. Alabama runs multiple plays from a single formation and loves to sabotage the opponents’ game film by baiting them into thinking the Tide has a tendency. Honestly, we show tendencies to later break them. Awesome.
Ain’t Broke: When Mosley set up Bama with an interception at the Vol 32 ,did you notice Alabama ran the exact same play three times in a row to get to the Vols’ one yard line? Out of their three wide receiver shotgun formation, Yeldon followed Steen on a pulling action into the hole. With UT spread out to defend the pass, the pulling guard took out one ‘backer while Barrett Jones took out the other. The results were an 8 yard gain and then a 4 yard gain. With the Tide on the other hashmark, they simply flipped the play from the same alignment and this time Yeldon followed Warmack into the hole for an 19 yard gain. I mean, if they can’t stop it, why not keep running it? We did the same thing against Mizzou last week with tremendous success. Love it!
You Spin Me Right ‘Round: Most defenses want Eddie Lacy Dead or Alive but as long as Lacy has the circle button at his disposal, defenders will just grasp air. Eddie had two more of these spin moves this week and the slo-mo spin move ESPN showed while TWO Vol defenders were left air hugging themselves was awesome!
Bama on Special Teams
We’ll go short and sweet here but, by and large, this was the only letdown of the evening. A botched snap on an extra point, two long kickoff returns, a fumbled punt and two missed field goals were beyond problematic. Taken alone, it’s just a bump in the road but, collectively, it was ugly. Perhaps Bama got all of their gaffes out of the way Saturday night as it would be nice not to have to worry about this again.
To the good, I’d like to praise Cody Mandel as he had a pretty magical moment of his own. Punting from his own six, Mandel boomed a 49 yard punt when Bama needed it most. He’d been shaky for the last few games so this was a HUGE punt, in my opinion.
Also, while Cyrus Jones made a truly freshman mistake by trying to handle a rolling punt (honestly, how do we survive with all these true freshmen – grin), he also had two spectacular punt returns. The future is bright at this position!
Listen, there were a few big gainers by the Vols and one woulda shoulda coulda bomb that should have been snagged by Hunter. There was the usual circle pass to the back out of the backfield that continues to break down Saban defenses and, yes, the Vols gained a season high 282 yards against the Tide D. But, in the end, the Vols scored 13 points. Alabama held the ball for 37 minutes while the Vols had it for 23. Honestly, the game was never really in doubt and the Tide was once again masterful in victory over another seemingly hapless opponent. While the pundits tell you that Bama still hasn’t played anyone, they have played some good offenses and they’ve choked the life right out of every single one of them. And, while Bama’s D is dismantling offenses, the Tide offense continues to score points by land and by air. On offense and defense Nick’s team is incredibly sound. There appear to be few weaknesses. In order to beat this Bama team, you’ll have to have a very, very stout defense and an extremely solid passing game. Every opponent left on the Bama schedule has major flaws that seem to indicate it may just be time to dust off Will Smith’s “Welcome to Miami” song. Here, I’ll help you with the lyrics: Party in the city where the heat is on, All night on the beach till the break of dawn – Welcome to Miami! (Bienvenido a Miami!)