The New Junior Senior Bowl

The Senior Bowl.  To many, it’s just some silly college all-star game that serves as a filler on the weekend that offers us no other football games to choose from.  However, to the kids who are participating, the coaches who are working with them and the 32 NFL teams and their scouts who are in attendance, it’s a week-long interview process that could determine the rest of these all-stars’ lives.

 Each January prior to the NFL draft, the general managers, scouts and coaches descend on Mobile to scrutinize the weigh ins of these half-naked college all-stars, looking for “good weight distributions” and bodies with little flab.  Then, the scouts and coaches get to watch the kids as they absorb the playbooks in the classroom and then watch the all stars put their classroom studies to work on the practice field.  For college seniors, if they want to be seen and improve their draft stock then there is no more important event than the Senior Bowl.

 This year, though, it’s not just college seniors who are participating in this week-long interview process and no one could be happier about that than Nick Saban.  This year, the new director of the Senior Bowl (and Alabama radio color commentator), Phil Savage, met with the NFL and decided that any junior who had already earned his degree could be and should be invited to Mobile.  So, in a landmark decision, Alabama’s junior right tackle DJ Fluker became the first ever junior to be invited to the Senior Bowl.

 While it’s a tremendous opportunity for Fluker, the real long-term opportunity favors Nick Saban.  Saban sells high school seniors on the idea that in three years, if they are good enough, the Tide coaching staff will help them pursue their NFL dreams.  Players like Mark Ingram, Julio Jones and Trent Richardson are among the numerous Alabama juniors who are living proof of this.  Each declared early for the NFL with the blessing of Saban and each has prospered in their NFL careers.  The other selling point that goes hand in hand with the three-year NFL plan is the fact that, on the Alabama plan, Saban and company also have an academic plan in place which, if followed, allows their players to earn their degrees in their junior years.  In 2009, 22 players who took the field against Texas had earned their degrees.  This year, as a result of Saban’s academic plan and Fluker’s work in the classroom, the Bama junior has the chance to make history by participating in the Senior Bowl.

 With this landmark Senior Bowl ruling, even more future Alabama players can realize the opportunity of participating in this important week-long interview process.  Before this ruling, a player’s value needed to be a first rounder like Ingram, Richardson or Jones because they didn’t need the benefit of a good Senior Bowl performance to boost their stock.  But now, if they have their degree, more marginal players will have the opportunity to attend the Senior Bowl as juniors and provide for their families a year earlier than expected.  A player who is viewed as a fourth rounder can now participate in the Senior Bowl and have the opportunity of enhancing their draft stock to a third or second rounder with a good week of practice.  Players who, for whatever reason, want to provide for their families as soon as possible can now do so a year earlier and perhaps increase their draft stock along the way at the Senior Bowl.

 While this ruling likely means a few more early departures by Alabama players in the future, the selling point of this new ruling should encourage even more highly sought after and talented high schoolers to flock to the Capstone.  Think about this.  As a parent, Saban & Co will offer your son the chance to go pro after three years with their degree in hand and now with the chance to impress the NFL scouts at the all important Senior Bowl.  This quiet, under the radar ruling should work to Saban’s benefit as the rich should continue to get richer…all the way around.

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W2W4 Report Card – 2013 BCS Championship Game

Well, this was the worst prediction week of the season for the W2W4 segment.  While a lot of the analysis was right, the thought that the Irish front 7 could slow down Bama’s running game crippled the accuracy of this week’s W2W4.  There were some bright spots like where we told you Teo had issues when he engaged defenders and that the Irish were susceptible to the play action pass around the goalline, so at least we got that part right!

 Anyway, here it is – enjoy!!!!

 Predictions We Got Right 

When Teo is engaged with an offensive lineman he’s rarely able to disengage and make a tackle. Even walk on Kelly Johnson was able to manhandle Teo on occasion so when Warmack got a hold of him it was over.
Play action passing will be deadly against the Irish. Pretty much any pass was open but the play action passes were especially effective.
Checkdowns to the backs should be available. Nothing epitomized this more than the TD catch that Lacy had when he caught the checkdown and spun past three Irish defenders for a touchdown.
At the goalline, the Irish can be victimized by play action on first and second down. The touchdown pass to Michael Williams made me smile as the entire Irish goalline defense shot the gaps expecting the run.  Williams was wide open.
You can also run the ball off the tackle against ND’s goalline defense. Yeldon walked in between the G and T at the goalline.
If I’m wrong about the Irish stopping the Bama running game, the Tide will win by more than 2 touchdowns. Bama won by four touchdowns because ND couldn’t stop the run.
If Bama is patient, they can score on long 10+ play drives. Alabama scored on drives of 82, 61, 80, 71, 97, 86 and 75 yards.
AJ will throw for around 250 yards. AJ threw for 264 yards – finally a good prediction.
Cooper will have 7 catches. He had 6 – c’mon, that’s pretty accurate, right?
The combo of Yeldon/Lacy will combine to be Bama’s second leading receiver. Lacy dropped two and Yeldon dropped one or this would have been a big time pick.   As it was, they combined for 3 catches for 17 yards and a touchdown.
The Irish offense isn’t very good. They weren’t really much of a challenge.
The Irish basically have two plays – throw a jump ball or allow Golson to extend plays to complete passes down the field. This is essentially all they did.  Throw a jump ball or back shoulder fade or have Golson run around and make a play.
Look for Bama to blitz in this game more than usual. Bama started the game and ended the game with a variety of blitzes.
Look for ND to use an up-tempo offense as they did against USC Sooooo predictable.
Look for Saban to keep Mosley in at all times on defense. Mosley never came off the field and was named defensive MVP of the game.
The Irish won’t be able to run the ball. Check.
The backs will rush for less than 60 yards. Check.
The Irish will rush for less than 120. Correct again.  Golson was seen as a running threat so that’s why there were two rushing predictions.
Alabama will have an advantage in special teams. Thanks to Cody Mandell and Cade Foster, this was dead on.
The team that commits the fewest turnovers and converts the most third downs will win. Bama won the turnover margin as well as the third down converstions.
Alabama will win their 15th championship Monday night. Winner!
If I’m wrong about Notre Dame stuffing the Bama run, it will be a blowout win and I’ll gladly eat crow. Bon appetit!

 Predictions We Got Wrong 

This game will obliterate the previous record for the most watched game. Due to the game quickly becoming a blowout, this game ranked third in all time ratings.
The Irish will slow down the Tide’s running game Mega-wrong.  Wow.  Worst prediction of the year.
Wide receiver screens will be used and will be wide open. We threw one wide receiver screen.  Just one.
Yeldon will likely be the more effective runner against Notre Dame. Nope – it was Lacy.  He was much more effective.
The Tide will be forced to pass more than they run. Bama ran 45 times and passed it 28 times.
Alabama will have to settle for field goals. Alabama didn’t have to attempt a single field goal.  Neither did Notre Dame.
Alabama will be held to under 140 yards. How funny is it that Lacy alone rushed for exactly 140?  I think I got this one wrong.
AJ will throw a pick into coverage. McCarron didn’t throw a single pick.
AJ will be victimized by two coverage sacks. The only hit on AJ was when Barrett Jones leveled him.
Cooper will not have a catch over 20 yards in the air. That 34 yard TD pass was sweet!  He also had two near misses on deep balls.
Look for Golson to fumble the football at least once. Nope – no fumbles by Golson.
Eifert will lead them in catches. Nope, it was Jones.  Now, they sure tried to throw it to Eifert a bunch…
Riddick will be the second leading receiver. Wow – their best playmaker caught just 1 passes.
The Irish will only score one TD. Almost got this one right.
The Irish will settle for field goals. Nope – they didn’t attempt a single one.
Notre Dame will fake a punt or field goal out of frustration. Nope.
If Bama can catch a punt, you should see a nice return in the punt game. Nope – just saw several fair catches and one muffed punt…
Final score:  Alabama 19  ND 13 Way, way, way wrong.  Worst score prediction of the year.

 Correct Predictions:  22

 Incorrect Predictions:  18

Game Review – 2013 BCS Championship Win

The 15th national championship was never supposed to come this quickly or this easily for the University of Alabama but there we were hoisting the crystal ball in Miami after an easy 42-14 win over Notre Dame.  At the beginning of the season, most pundits felt the 2012 Bama team was Saban’s least talented team in the last four years and, honestly, it’s hard to argue that point.  With the losses of Trent Richardson, Mark Barron, Donte Hightower, Courtney Upshaw, Dequan Menzie, Josh Chapman and Brad Smelley to the NFL draft, the 2012 cupboard looked a wee bit sparse.  In fact, even Saban admitted as much during his post game comments, saying that he may be proudest of this particular team because they had overachieved to get to this game.  And, when you consider the devastating injuries to Jalston Fowler, Dee Hart, DeAndrew White, Kenny Bell and Chris Black that should have decimated the offense, it’s astounding to think that this Alabama team not only over achieved but they set numerous offensive records on their way to Miami.  With this year being considered a “down year,” it’s evident that the 15th National Championship is just one of many more Saban & Bama championships to come.  As a Bama fan, all I can say is Rule Tide Rule!

 Mark Twain once said, “there are three kinds of lies:  lies, damned lies and statistics” and never has that been more clear when looking at this year’s Fighting, er, Frightened Irish defense.  Coming into the game the Irish sported some gaudy defensive stats:  #1 in scoring defense, #6 in total defense, and #4 against the run.  They’d given up only two touchdowns all season and never yielded a touchdown drive of over 75 yards.  In less than three minutes, the Alabama offense bent over Boy-Ti Teo and the rest of the Irish D, taking their manhood along with their pot o’ gold.  After Alabama rammed home a second touchdown in as many drives, Irish eyes were cryin’ because they realized their gaudy defensive stats were just damned lies, accumulated against the woeful competition of the Big 10.  By the third quarter, the concourse was crowded with Irish fans looking to salve their wounds by drowning themselves in as much beer as Sun Life Stadium had to offer.  There was no reason for them to go back inside the stadium because nothing was going to change the fact that Alabama was the vastly superior team so unless you enjoy watching your best friend get punched in the face repeatedly, it made more sense for them to get punch drunk on the concourse so they didn’t have to endure the carnage.  Here’s a rundown of how the Irish got run down, run over and run out of Miami…

 Alabama on Offense

 Prior to the game all of the talk centered around the Alabama offensive line versus the best front seven in all of college football.  Could the best offensive line in the country control the Irish front?  Would the Alabama backs have the same kind of success that they enjoyed against Georgia?  These questions were answered resoundingly with a decisive first possession drive that let the entire world know that nothing would be stopping the Bama brutes on this day.  After the first drive of the game, Irish fans should have simply woken up the echos, hugged them and told ‘em that they missed them terribly for it was quickly obvious that Notre Dame had a looong way to go before they could stand toe to toe with Nick Saban’s Crimson Tide.  The entire offensive line (and tight ends/h backs) owned the day as they didn’t give up a sack and had just one penalty while leading Alabama to 529 total yards.  The Bama backs were able to deftly start in one direction, getting the ND linebackers to commit, and then they’d bounce it outside or jump cut into daylight.  It was too easy.

Simply put, this was a game that matched big, strong, manly men against boys with the golden domes on their heads, leis on their necks and fear in their eyes.  It was no contest.  When the biggest hits of the game on AJ came from Barrett Jones and Lebron James (when he hit on AJ’s girlfriend) then you know it’s been a pretty solid night!

 Rammer Jammer:  On the first drive of the game, Alabama ran four times in five plays and scored a touchdown in less than three minutes.  It was the first time all season that Notre Dame had given up a TD drive over 75 yards.  It was only the third rushing TD they’d give up all season.  And it was easy.  Throughout the game, Alabama used H-back Kelly Johnson in tandem with Michael Williams and they brutalized the Irish front.  Williams was especially outstanding as the vast majority of the rushing yards came off of his inside hip.  Meanwhile, Kouandjio, Steen, Jones, Warmack and Fluker owned nearly every one of their one on one matchups with the vaunted Irish d-line.

 Lacy Lingerie:  Eddie Lacy is a big mammer jammer and when he’s healthy he can be a powerful force.  Lacy entered this season still hurting from a turf toe surgery and then suffered ankle and knee sprains within the first two weeks of the season.  However, the month off between the Georgia game and the championship game may not have benefitted anyone more than Lacy.  He was fast.  Powerful.  And elusive.  It was amazing to watch the number of times the ND defenders took bad angles on their way to attempting to tackle him.  It was almost like they were thinking that nothing that big should move that fast!  And, when they did get to him, he tossed them to the ground like rag dolls.  Lacy forced a ridiculous 13 missed tackles with 101 of his 140 yards coming after contact and he left a confetti of brown stained Irish jock straps on the Miami turf.

 I Mean I Missed Again:  According to the Pro Football Outsiders, the Irish finished the game with a whopping 19 missed tackles on the day.  Safety Zeke Motta was especially awful with six missed tackles but showed he was a complete disaster by being equally bad in coverage. The Irish often had chances to stop the running game, as unblocked defenders swarmed the line of scrimmage with clear shots at the running back, but they were unable to make the play.  Just before the end of the first half on a critical 3rd and 3, Teo shot the gap and had TJ Yeldon in his grasp behind the line of scrimmage.  Yeldon slipped out of the tackle and converted the first down, shaming ND’s best player and Heisman runner-up.  Four plays later Bama held a 28-0 halftime lead while Teo held his head in his hands.

 Zoning In:  I’ll admit that I was sad when Jim McElwain departed and I was worried that the next Bama OC may not be as good.  Well folks, Doug Nussmeier is pretty damn good.  The Irish play a ton of zone pass coverage to protect their average to below average secondary and Nussmeier took advantage of this all night long.  Alabama stacked or bunched receivers numerous times and attacked the Irish corners by running two wide receivers at them.  The first receiver would blow by the Irish corner and slant behind him on a corner route.  The second receiver would run an out route in front of the corner, forcing him to choose to cover either the deep or the short receiver.  AJ dropped in several perfectly thrown routes against this zone coverage, beating the corner and safety on the deeper throw.

 SEC-ya:  Notre Dame typically uses their three LBs in their zone defense and refuses to take them out against 3 or more WRs.  Nussmeier exposed this perfectly on Amari Cooper’s 19 yard TD pass.  To the top of the screen, Kelly Johnson lined up wide as a wide receiver which allowed Cooper to line up in the slot against slow-footed Irish LB Danny Spond.  In a heartbeat Cooper raced past Spond on a post and AJ rifled the ball perfectly into the soft spot of the zone.  Honestly, Bama could have thrown for 500 yards if they wanted to.

Damned If You Do:  The Bama OL protected McCarron about as well as they had all year and this allowed Bama to scorch the Irish secondary when they played man to man.  On Cooper’s 34 yard touchdown reception, the Irish were in man to man.  Kelly Johnson and Kevin Norwood ran posts or slants from right to left while Cooper ran a long slant from the left to right.  The result was possibly the longest or deepest pick play in the history of football as the corner covering Cooper ran into his own man, leaving Cooper all alone to make the score 35-0.  On the throw, AJ deftly moved left in the pocket, opening up a great view to throw back to the right.  Nice job all around…

Dynamic Duo:  While Alabama has used Kelly Johnson as their H-Back the entire season, he’s never been in on as many snaps as he was against Notre Dame.  The Bama staff found something they liked with this formation and they used this personnel grouping 34 times, using it both in the running game and the passing game with great success.  Using the H-back, Bama ran it 25 times for 176 and passed it 9 times (with only 2 incompletions) for 128 yards.  Key plays out of this formation were the big pass to Norwood to start the game, Lacy’s 20 yard TD run, Cooper’s 34 yard TD catch and Cooper’s 19 yard TD catch.  Johnson did an outstanding job either kicking out or sealing the edge and even had his way with Teo once or twice.  Pretty outstanding for a walk-on.  Meanwhile, Williams was his usual outstanding self and even caught 3 passes which resulted in two first downs and a TD!

Puttin’ On the Hits:  My two favorite hits of the game came against Dan Fox.  The first was on an Eddie Lacy 17 yard run where he lowered his shoulder and absolutely destroyed Fox along the sideline.  Later, Chance Warmack pulled at the 2:47 mark of the third quarter to lead Yeldon through the hole and leveled Fox, flattening him to the ground and right out of the play.  But, the play that stood out to me the most was when Eddie Lacy used his off hand to literally throw poor Danny Spond down to the turf as he trampled on him and then merrily continued up field!

Alabama on Defense   

I won’t spend a ton of time on this side of the ball this week since this, to me, Notre Dame had possibly the worst game plan against us this entire season.  The Irish had been a run first, ball control offense throughout the year utilizing dinks and dunks to move the chains and keep the ball.  Against Alabama, the Irish used an up-tempo no-huddle attach which was completely out of character for them and instead of taking short passes they seemed intent on throwing jump balls down the field.  They ran the football only 14 times with Riddick and Woods and chucked it 36 times with a freshman QB.  This was an insane approach, in my opinion.  Worse yet, the ND brain trust decided it would be a good idea to attack All-American corner and first round NFL draft pick Dee Milliner!  Honestly, if I were a Notre Dame fan I would be pissed.  The Notre Dame team they had watched for 3 months didn’t remotely resemble the team that showed up in Miami.  The Irish had a favorable matchup with Theo Riddick in the passing game yet they only threw him the ball twice (once for a TD).  Riddick also averaged 3.7 yards per carry but only carried the mail 10 times.  The Notre Dame offense was an Irish car bomb and that, coupled with the death of the Irish defense, resulted in a massive Irish wake.

Dee-Fence:  Saban and Smart absolutely did the right thing by matching up Dee Milliner on TE Tyler Eifert every time he split out wide.  During the season, Eifert was far and away their best threat and Bama shut this down early in the game.  Once again, Bama’s staff was able to take away what the opponent does best and in this case they did it quickly and decisively when Milliner managed to thwart two fades to the big TE on the first two throws of the game.  For the game, Goldon attempted  7 passes to the man Milliner was covering, completing only two of them for 33 yards.  Of course, one of those passes was tipped to Clinton-Dix for an interception.  He.  Was.  Awesome.

Holy Mosley:  Alabama had better be searching for their next CJ Mosley because he has become the Tide’s most valuable and most versatile defender.  For the first time this season, Mosley played in every single defensive package and wrapped up the defensive MVP honors for the game.  Mosley went sideline to sideline all night long and, on a critical play early in the game, raced across the field to force Golson out a yard short of the first down.  I’d take him over Teo any day.

The Last Laugh:  The play that Clinton-Dix made to intercept the tipped ball was beyond outstanding.  I’ve complimented the hands in the Bama secondary all season long but this play was ridiculous.  Ha Ha was everywhere Monday night, showing tremendous range and even some toughness near the line of scrimmage.  And to think he’s only going to get better…

Line Change:  I noticed Alabama substituted across the defensive line early and often.  Stinson, Williams, Ivory, Square, Dial, Pagan and Devall all contributed early in the game and the rotation kept the Bama front fresh as a daisy.  Of course with Bama holding the ball 38 minutes to 22 minutes for the Irish, the defense was pretty fresh anyway.

Do You See What I See:  Once again, the Smart Saban defense was able to slide a safety down to the line of scrimmage right at the snap of the ball right into the play.  I’ve said this numerous times over the last two years but it’s uncanny how many times Bama uses their safeties perfectly to slam the door shut on the running game.

Anticipation:  After watching Johnny Football zig, zag and get outside of containment, it was obvious the coaching staff focused on tightening that up against Golson.  I was especially impressed with Adrian Hubbard as he was very patient and anticipated Golson’s moves to get outside.  Hubbard waited him out, never taking the bait and this resulted in a sack and several pressures.

What We Have Here Is Failure to Communicate:  I loved the shots of Kelly, Golson and Eifert as they all tried to figure out what in the world was happening to their offense.  Frustration was evident as early as the first quarter and you could tell they knew they were in trouble.  I’d submit to you that, as a result of trying a completely different offensive approach in this game, they were well outside of their offensive comfort zone.

Fighting Irish:  I do have to say this, as my buddy and I mentioned this during the game.  Down 35-0, I was actually impressed with Golson and his ability to throw the ball.  Bama had tight coverage several times along the sidelines but Golson was able to buy time and fire a few perfectly thrown darts.  I honestly thought that this game was some of the best coverage by Alabama this season but the Irish made several outstanding grabs.

Extra Hot Sauce:  Against A&M, early on Bama tried to use their front four to get pressure on Manziel.  As the game progressed, Saban and Smart began committing five and six players to the rush and this helped contain the Aggies in the second half.  Against ND, the Tide committed Mosley, Depriest, Sunseri, Dix, Lester and others to the blitz and it kept the young Irish QB unsettled for most of the game.  In a fitting end, Saban finished off what was essentially the last viable Irish drive by overloading the right side of the Irish line with Mosley and Depriest flying in on a blitz.  While the OL picked up the LBs, this freed DJ Pettway for an 11 yard sack and a decisive blow against the Irish.

Alabama on Special Teams

How many times have we complained about Alabama’s inability to catch a punt????  Once again, this reared its ugly head but thankfully it was Bama who held the four-leaf clover when the refs ruled fair catch interference against ND.  I’ll be honest with you – I didn’t feel it was interference.  To me, Belue’s block forced the Irish defender in too close so Bama was fortunate on this one.  Also, I’d bet that Christion Jones would tell you that was a punt he should have caught – the interference wasn’t bad enough to make him drop it.  Thankfully this was a non event for Bama fans as it could have been so much worse.

However, the fair catch interference was about the only special teams item that was nerve-wracking.  Cade Foster pounded the end zone with touchbacks and Cody Mandell had four punts, averaging 49.2 yards (compared to Notre Dame’s 42.8), with two of his punts hemming the Irish up inside the 20. 

Conclusion

Listen, this game was an ass kicking from the word go.  Bama was bigger, stronger, faster and better coached so the result was predictable as soon as Eddie Lacy crossed the goalline with the game’s first touchdown.  The story of the game was how easily the Crimson Tide moved the ball on the vaunted Notre Dame defense.  Once it was apparent they were overmatched, it was time for the Irish to start pounding drinks (since they weren’t going to be pounding the Bama backs) all around the concourse.  Alabama scored touchdowns on all five red zone possessions and scored on four drives of 75 yards or longer.  The Tide offense imposed their will throughout the game and never allowed the game to be in doubt.  It was a massacre.  And while Lacy and Yeldon each rushed for over 100 yards, you had the distinct feeling that McCarron could have thrown for over 500 yards if they’d asked him to.  The Irish simply had no answers to either the run or the pass.

Meanwhile, Notre Dame’s offense tried to be someone they were not and it cost them dearly.  The methodical Irish offense that throughout the season was intent on running the football and controlling the clock instead tried to become Texas A&M by using a no huddle approach focused on attacking Alabama thru the air.  This approach never had a chance.  Credit Saban and Smart for infusing more speed in the secondary and at linebacker in an effort to shut down the passing game.  At the beginning of the season, Sunseri played next to Lester at the safety position but at the end of the season it was Clinton-Dix.  In nickel, Sunseri was the nickel back at the beginning of the season (with Perry sliding to safety) but at the end of the season it was Geno Smith.  A&M and LSU attacked Nico Johnson in the 3-4 set but in this game it was CJ Mosley out there instead.  The pass rush even changed slightly with Pagan and Devall providing more athleticism across the front as the season progressed.  In the end, these tweaks along with the overall talent proved to be far too much for the Irish O.

While the 2012 Alabama team wasn’t Saban’s best, it certainly was his best coaching job of any of his four championships.  Absorb the fact that this Bama team had to overcome the losses of Richardson, Smelley, Hanks, Maze, Gibson, Black, White, Bell, Hart and Fowler on offense and dealt with the departures of Barron, Hightower, Upshaw, Menzie and Chapman on defense.  The Tide’s defense was a work in progress as Sunseri, Perry, Dix and Lester made up four of the six Bama DBs in their dime package to start the season.  By the end, Geno Smith and John Fulton were infused at different times in attempts to plug the holes in the secondary.  For all of the issues, Alabama’s defense finished the season ranked first in scoring, total defense and rushing defense.  That’s a helluva rebuilding year, eh?

From here, things will likely only get better for Alabama as we continue our magic carpet ride with a very happy Coach Saban.  Since he’s not going anywhere (can we please put that to rest) anytime soon, you have to know that with two additional spots in the playoffs it will only allow Alabama to have even more success.  To think that Kansas State, Ohio State and Oregon almost took our spot this season – with two additional spots coming in 2015 that will not happen in the future.  So, buckle up boys and girls because it’s going to be a lot of fun to be a Bama fan in the years to come!  RULE TIDE RULE!