Western Carolina Review
And so, here we are again! Last season, after Alabama suffered a natural disaster of a loss to LSU, the Tide needed help and was saved when a line of Cyclones swept away the Okie State Cowboys, clearing a path to New Orleans for an LSU redeaux. This season, Alabama got face planted by a Heisman-esque stiff arm from Texas A&M and, once again, needed assistance from the football gods. But, as mortified fans across the country witnessed, once again the football gods smiled on Alabama. Oh, all those poor haters. First, poetically a bunch of Bears knocked off #1 KansasState. Then, just a short while later, an elated Crimson Tide fan base rejoiced as the Stanford Tree fell down and wiped out the Oregon Ducks! Along with snuffing out the Duck Dynasty, underneath the Tree was the gift of hope for the SEC! By the way, how ironic is it that Alabama’s BCS hopes were rekindled by a school whose mascot is a TREE? Harvey Updyke must be going crazy right now (because he is, well, crazy)!!! Saturday was like an early Christmas and the partying taking place Saturday night between Tuscaloosa and Athens was legendary. So, here we are again. Once again the Tide has risen like a Phoenix and in a sport that claims “every game matters” suddenly every game matters once again for the Tide. Hello BCS – we just can’t quit you!
But, to get to the big BCS dance, Alabama will have to take care of a little business first. Next up is Auburn and with last year’s “Never Again” chants still ringing in their ears, it’s unlikely that the Tide will look past this game. I mean, it’s the Iron Bowl, right? Also, it’s the Gene Chizik farewell tour and I’m pretty sure St Nick would like to send Gene out with a big bang and an extended middle finger for all of the trouble on the recruiting trail he’s caused Saban over the years. After dispatching of the Tiggers, then the Tide will have to contend with Georgia and the Dawgs. Here’s hoping Richt calls for another Black Out so that way they can have on their funeral attire for the death of their BCS hopes!
But, enough of this. I know what you really want. What you really want is a complete and thorough dissection of the Alabama game versus…who was it again? Right. Western Carolina. I know you are just dying for me to delve deeply into a game that was 42-0 at halftime and used a running clock (i.e. no clock stoppages) during the entire second half, right? No? Ok, I didn’t really think so. But, for you and only you I did review the game and I concentrated on the second half because, honestly, evaluating the young puppies was about the only good to come from this game! Here we go…
Alabama on Offense
A hot knife met butter when Alabama met Western Carolina Saturday afternoon. And, when this Western Carolina bug smashed into the Tide’s windshield, it was ugly (or as we say, “Fugly”). As the big uns on the Tide offensive line pushed around the little Catamounts like they were abandoned shopping carts in a parking lot, it quickly became evident that there was nothing for us to evaluate here. AJ was able to have a lovely picnic lunch on a gorgeous fall day as he had all day to complete 6 of 6 passes averaging over 22 yards per completion. Eddie Lacy averaged nearly 10 yards per carry. Blake Sims averaged nearly 9 yards per carry. TJ Yeldon was “limited” to only 8 yards per carry. Even Brent Calloway averaged over 7 yards per carry! So, what can we glean from Saturday? Well, I concentrated on the second string offensive line as I wanted to evaluate what next year’s line might look like. There were some bright spots but there were some awful gaffes as well – one kid in particular had a woeful day against a division II team. A really BAD DII team. Yikes…
The Good: I thought Ryan Kelly did a very nice job at center. In the entire second half, Kelly never missed a block or an assignment that I could tell. I thought he had a very good day at center and showed good quickness and leverage while maintaining his blocks. The loss of Barrett Jones will obviously be big but Kelly showed potential Saturday.
The Really Good: Prior to the season and during the season, I’ve been very critical of the backup tight ends. Basically, if your name wasn’t Michael Williams then you had a long way to go to earn your reps at tight end. Surprisingly, I saw several good things out of the backup tight ends Saturday. On a 9 yard run by Brent Calloway, both Harrison Jones and Brent Vogler sealed their men, perfectly creating a crease for Calloway to drive thru. On the very next play, another 9 yard run by Calloway, Harrison Jones pulled from his flexed tight end position and wiped out the WCU defensive end. Even in limited snaps, Malcolm Faciane was able to provide a couple of decent blocks, as well. Nice!
The Bad: During the off-season, we heard that Kellen Williams had ascended up the OL food chain so I was expecting to see some great things from him. Unfortunately, Williams nearly had more bad plays than good ones Saturday as he whiffed on pass blocks and run blocks. There were times when he was able to engage and drive his man back but complete whiffs are inexcusable. Not his best day, IMO.
The Ugly: As good as Cyrus K has been, that’s how bad Arie K was Saturday. Five separate times Arie K either whiffed or missed his block badly and, like Williams, it didn’t seem to matter if it was a run or pass. Granted, three of the five whiffs were on pass blocks but he missed his assignments on running plays as well. To his credit, Arie did help pave the way on Blake Sims’ touchdown run but, more times than not, Arie K was responsible for allowing Sims to be pressured by being unable to engage at the point of attack. Once he whiffed at the point of attack, the rushers sped past him as though he were posing as the Nick Saban statue out front of Bryant-Denny. Folks, it was a really bad performance for this Kouandjio brother.
And Now a Word From Our Sponsor: Back in August, the Bama Lighthouse told you that Blake Sims would be the #2 quarterback unless Alec Morris made a move. The Lighthouse was proven to be 100% correct on this prediction! Sims’ ability to run the read option is outstanding and he very rarely makes the wrong read – this is what separates him from Ely and Morris. There’s a reason he gained nearly 9 yards a carry while Calloway gained over 7 yards a carry – Sims was making the right reads. However, by going 2 of 6 and missing an easy throw or two, you also see why Nick only sees Sims as a change-up.
Alabama on Defense
Evaluating the Bama defense against the Catamount offense is like evaluating a boxing match between Muhammad Ali in his prime and Pete Becker, Monica’s MMA boxer boyfriend on Friends. The tale of the tape would show that Ali would have Becker on size, skill, speed and reach while the only thing Becker would have is the uncanny ability to get punched repeatedly without passing out. But, even as woeful as the Western Carolina Beckers were on offense, they still connected on a couple of similar punches to what we’ve seen in the last couple of weeks. As our safeties continue to be slaughtered in man to man coverage, you have to cringe thinking of what an Aaron Murray and a few good men can do to it. To Saban’s credit, they’ve inserted John Fulton and Geno Smith into the secondary to provide more athleticism to remedy this issue but Sunseri continues to be a liability in coverage.
Same As It Ever Was: When WCU’s Garrett Brown raced thru the middle of the Bama secondary for a 28 yard reception, you couldn’t help but notice the crimson shirted #3 that followed like a caboose behind him. Yes, Vinnie was slightly impacted by grazing the umpire who was in his path but, honestly, he was beaten badly at the snap. On the very next play, Vinnie blitzed and sacked the quarterback for an 8 yard loss so he still has tremendous value in dime package as a pseudo LB. But, in coverage, you need to get the butter and the jelly ready b/c he’s toast.
Comedy of Errors: What a wacky sequence of plays that took place before the end of the first half. The only thing missing was a gaggle of clowns and a bearded lady (who would have to be Tammy from the Finebaum show). First, on a Western Carolina punt, Sunseri slammed into the punter earning a 15 yard roughing penalty. But, the Catamounts were able to decline that penalty because on the other end of the field, Christion Jones was committing his second muffed punt of the day. This one gave WCU the ball back on the Bama 29 with about a minute to go in the half. Two plays later, WCU called for a trick play where they handed off to their running back who, while running full speed to his left, was to spin around and throw a lateral back to their QB so that he could….well…I don’t know what he was supposed to do. That’s because Adrian Hubbard (and the momentum of running full speed away from your intended target) forced a bad pitch and, with the ball lying on the turf, Deion Belue was able to scoop and score to make it 42-0 right before the half. Even Les Miles would have disapproved of this tricky “creativity”…
So, You’re Tellin’ Me There’s a Chance: Geno Smith had a nice first start. He didn’t miss any assignments and even broke up a pass so maybe we are taking baby steps to shore up the secondary in nickel and dime packages.
Thanksgiving Stuffing: For the third time this season, Brandon Ivory led a short yardage stand and turned away an offensive threat. At 6’4 he’s listed at 315 but if that’s true then I never gained the freshman 15 (or 20) in college. Ivory has to be closer to 330 than 315 but even at that size he’s incredibly quick off the ball. On 4th and 1, WCU challenged Alabama’s middle and while Jesse Williams was blown back 2 or 3 yards, Ivory was stoning his man and shoving him back into the ball carrier. This pause allowed the rest of the Tide defenders to join the fray but, for the third time, it was Brandon Ivory to the rescue on 4th and short.
Extra Points: Denzell Devall continues to impress when given a chance as consistently shows he’s extremely athletic and has an ability to pressure the QB. DarrenLake flashed a couple of times as a big athletic nose tackle and LaMichael Fanning looked good in getting some pressure once again. Meanwhile, I wasn’t all that impressed with Hayes and Ragland at the middle linebackers. They consistently got caught up in the wash and took bad angles to ball carriers. WCU rushes went for 8, 6, 11 and 14 while these two were manning the LB positions.
Bama on Special Teams
For the love of Pete, can we not find a punt returner who will, you know, catch the ball? A key component in the whole returning thing is to, you know, catch the ball! At this point, the Lighthouse is ready to send Barrett Jones back there because the other two Jones boys (Christion & Cyrus) continue to drop the football.
Cody Mandell had another good day punting the football while his WCU counterpart actually connected on a 6 yard punt. I’d never seen that bad of a punt before on a relatively windless day – wow.
Cade Foster was once again effective as a kickoff man with six of his eight kicks getting to the end zone (with three of them being touchbacks) so that was good to see. I meant to mention last week that I watched Adam Griffith kick during warm ups and this kid has a leg and a half. He popped a 55 yarder with relative ease and it looked like it had maybe 10 more yards in it. He also gets the ball up in the air much more quickly and steeply than the others so he looks extremely impressive.
There really isn’t a ton to conclude from a game against Western Carolina. The starters were out of the game by halftime and no one got hurt – those were the only two questions coming into the game. The real Bama victories took place later that evening as the K-State and Oregon losses once again pumped life into a desperate Alabama football team. If the partying in the Tuscaloosa streets was any indication, then I’d look for some renewed enthusiasm from the Alabama team over the next two weeks! You know, it’s not every year you get to have a second chance at a national title….it only seems that way lately…