Alabama – Colorado State Game Review

Former Alabama “legend” Forrest Gump said it best when he explained that life is like a box of chocolates – you never know what you are going to get.  Well, thus far in 2013, Alabama football has been much like a box of chocolates.  The Crimson Tide has tasted the sweet, chocolaty goodness of victory each time they’ve come out of the tunnel but in all three games they have found a sticky, gooey substance that’s made Bama fans wonder “what the hell is that?”

Against Virginia Tech, Alabama’s offense was MIA throughout much of the contest and, were it not for the heroics of Christion Jones, the game would have been much closer than anyone would have wanted to admit.  The next time out against Texas A&M, the groups reversed roles.  It was Alabama’s offense that was in mid-season form while the defense was in historically bad form, giving up more yards than any Alabama defense has ever given up.  EVER.  What the….?

On Saturday, we witnessed yet another uninspiring and sub-par effort from the Crimson Tide.  With battles against Ole Miss and LSU looming on the horizon, one has to wonder if things are ever going to come together for four quarters for the 2013 version of the Alabama football team.  At this point I think anyone who thinks they know anything definitive about the Tide’s future is either a delusional fanatic or Chicken Little.  The truth is that there’s enough talent on the team to sleep walk to easy 25 point victories over FBS opponents.   But, it’s also evident that there isn’t enough team chemistry brewing down there right now to reassure the fans who want to go ahead make those Pasadena reservations.

Anyway, here’s what we saw on Saturday…

Alabama on Offense

Yeesh.  What an awful day at the office.  Earlier this season Tulsa and Cal Poly (Cal Poly has a football team?) ran for over 200 yards against the Colorado State Rams’ defense, so you just knew that a relay team of Yeldon, Fowler, Drake, Hart, Henry and Tenpenny would be toting the football across the goal line more times than you could count.  Well, unless you can’t count beyond ONE, that didn’t exactly happen.  The Alabama backs combined for only 66 yards rushing on 21 carries (the fewest rushing attempts of any Saban coached Alabama team) and one solitary rushing touchdown against one of the lowliest rush defenses in the land.  Folks, this wasn’t Virginia Tech.  This was Colorado State.  And it was a pitiful performance on the ground by the Tide.  Just like the Tulane and Western Kentucky games that have gone before this one, we’re going to cut to the chase so that we can put this horrific offensive performance behind us.

Once, Tice, Fee Times a Mayday:  One of the hallmarks of a Saban offense is a tremendous ability to convert third downs.  With vicious running game leading a play action passing game, Alabama usually plays ahead of the chains and finds third downs fairly easy to convert.  Not this season.  In probably the most alarming stat that I’ve seen, the Bama offense is converting only 33% of their third downs this season.  Alabama is 13th in the conference and 98th nationally which is absolutely unconscionable.

Don’t Want No Short Short Man:  Nothing makes me angrier than completing a pass well short of a needed third down conversion but that’s exactly what we saw from Alabama Saturday night.  Here’s a quick hit list for the times I came flying out of my chair, screaming at the TV:

  • On 3rd and 12 from the Bama 26, AJ completed an eight yard pass to Brian Vogler.  Thanks for nothing.
  • On 3rd and 7 at the CSU 8, McCarron had plenty of time and hit Bell for a 5 yard gainer.
  • On 3rd and 5 from the Bama 29, McCarron hit Christion Jones for a 3 yard pass. Jones did come back to the ball but he also ran his route short of the first down.
  • On 3rd and 9 from the CSU 29, AJ hit Jones again on a crosser for no gain.  To be fair, Cyrus Kouandjio was badly beaten on the play.
  • A 3rd and 7 from the Bama 30 saw AJ hit Jones yet again for, wait for it…..a one yard gain.  AJ bailed on a solid pocket and needlessly dumped the ball to Jones again on a crossing route.
  • 3rd and 13 at the Bama 48 led to a screen pass to TJ Yeldon for 9 yards.  Short yet again.

If you’re scoring at home (or if you’re alone), that’s six completions on third down that were well short of the sticks.  Now that’s a pretty good reason Alabama ranks so poorly in third down conversions.  In fact, McCarron never threw a ball longer than 5 yards in the air on third down.  That’s amazing given the talent that we have at the wide receiver and tight end position.

Enter Sackman:  Big Cyrus continues to lose money each Saturday he takes the field against lesser competition.  If he’s playing LSU or Georgia, he’s a beast.  But, when he plays Western Kentucky or Colorado State, he seems to lose some focus.  Twice on Saturday, Kouandjio was easily beaten forcing a hurried throw and, later, a sack.  He also committed another holding penalty, his third of the year.  Incidentally, the other CSU sack came as a result of a corner blitz that Brandon Greene (and the rest of the line) failed to pick up.  If Greene had slid to the left to pick up the blitzer, the defensive end that he was blocking would have come free.

You Dropped a Bomb On Me:  My favorite receiver outside of Amari Cooper (who sat out the game with a minor foot injury) is definitely DeAndrew White.  As a freshman he was described as a football player who also ran track as opposed to a track guy trying to play football and hopefully you can see the difference.  White has shown an ability to elevate and snatch passes from virtually any angle and his double moves can be deadly.  Oh, yeah – and he’s really, really fast.  He should have caught two touchdown passes but AJ under threw one that forced White to rise up and make a great catch for a 35 yard gain.  Oh, and on Yeldon’s 38 yard scamper, guess who had the key block…

Don’t Call it a Comeback:  TJ Yeldon sat out the first quarter of the game because he went all throat slashy on the Aggies after scoring a touchdown last week.  Since the ref was standing there less than two feet away, it was a pretty easy call.  Yeldon promised to atone for his mistake and on his first carry he busted off a 38 yard carry.  Sadly, that one play accounted for well more than half of the Tide’s 66 yards of rushing on offense.

Pulling No Punches:  Similar to the Virginia Tech game, the Tide’s offensive line didn’t do much pulling at all.  In fact, I didn’t see a single play where the Tide pulled any of their offensive linemen.  Were they holding back a little sumpin sumpin?  Trying to establish a mano y mano identity?  Whatever the reason, I can tell you the results were poor.

One Way Or Another:  Did you notice that Kenyan Drake went wrong way on his touchdown run?  Did you notice that TJ Yeldon went the wrong way on a run later in the game?  The lack of focus on Saturday was mind-boggling and it was an affliction shared by everyone in the huddle – just like the Virginia Tech game.

Weapon of Mass Destruction:  It sure is fun to watch OJ Howard on offense.  He had another three catches for 38 yards and he continues to hold his own as a blocker.  This kid is going to be fun to watch for the next few years!

Blurred Line:  Ok, here’s the last comment on the line.  Shepherd and Arie Kouandjio missed a couple of blocks but no one got man handled like Ryan Kelly.  On a four yard loss by Yeldon, he was tripped up by Kelly who was shoved FOUR YARDS into the backfield.  Kelly was thrown back so quickly I had to re-watch the play three times to figure out what happened to him!  He got shoved around pretty badly and was one of the reasons the running game was shut down so easily.

Alabama on Defense

You knew former Tide offensive coordinator and present Colorado State coach Jim McElwain would have a nice little offensive game plan to combat the Tide’s overwhelming talent gap and, for the most part, he did.  With starters like Deion Belue, Jarrick Williams and John Fulton being held out of the Tide’s secondary, Colorado State attacked the Bama defense with screens, curls and simple three-step passes at or near the line of scrimmage.  This pretty much eliminated the advantage Alabama had with their front seven and placed the game squarely on the shoulders of the young Bama defensive backs.  As a result, the Rams’ QB completed 63% of his passes and the Rams team won the time of possession battle.  Wow – it hurts to type that.

Once again Alabama’s pass rush was virtually non-existent on Saturday.  In fact, in the last two Saturdays, our opponents have thrown the ball 77 times and have been sacked twice.  Twice.  That’s it.  The thing a young and inexperienced secondary needs most of all is a pass rush but that is precisely what they aren’t getting.  Against A&M, Kirby Smart and Nick Saban preferred to contain the QB as opposed to rushing him.  However, Colorado State didn’t have a Johnny Manziel.  Still, instead of pressuring and harassing the Rams’ QB, the Tide refused to blitz and never pressured him much at all – hence the time of possession issue.  When you have the talent that Alabama has along their front seven, you would think that even if you played a vanilla defens the Tide should win virtually every single one on one matchup across the front.  Well, that didn’t happen Saturday and hasn’t happened much this season.  To be fair though, Alabama didn’t blitz much at all and played more zone defense than I have ever seen a Nick Saban defense play.  So we did pretty much play the Rams straight up (no gimmicks) and held them to 6 points and only two yards rushing.  Here are a couple of other things we saw…

The A Team:  In every game this season, A’Shawn Robinson (5 star true freshman) has looked very, very good and Saturday was no exception.  Robinson is holding the point very well and isn’t allowing any rush lanes whatsoever.  Oh, and he leads the team in sacks with…….two.  That’s two more than Adrian Hubbard, Denzell Duvall and Xzavier Dickson combined.

Pre-Screening:  Look for a bunch of offensive coordinators to dial-up wide receiver screens against the Tide’s defense.  Last week they did an excellent job against the screen but this week they were pretty brutal.  Geno Smith, Maurice Smith, and Bradley Sylve all had their issues with defending this pass so that should be a point of emphasis for them in upcoming practices.

Livin’ On the Edge:  Alabama has always done a tremendous job of holding and securing the edge and forcing running plays back into the middle of the field.  Adrian Hubbard had an excellent game on the edge and he’ll be the key figure in the Tide’s defense against Ole Miss’ fly sweeps this week.

Maxi DePriest:  Alabama played a lot of their typical 3-4 alignments mixed with a ton of 4-2 nickel looks as well.  This kept Trey DePriest on the field and allowed him to make a ton of plays.  Perhaps the most critical play was his forced fumble on the Colorado State 30 that led to a Tide touchdown and a 24-6 lead.  Trey had a very good game this week and it was very good to see.

Livin’ in the Landon Under:  Landon Collins is second only to CJ Mosley in his importance to the Tide’s defense.  And while he’s doing a great job up close to the line of scrimmage, he twice showed the range and ability to play the deep safety role.  This kid is a player and he’s becoming supremely confident in what he’s doing on defense.

Get Up, Stand Up:  None of the young corners really stepped up (though I thought Eddie Jackson looked really good in coverage) but Geno Smith reminded us that he’s a pretty darn good cover guy in the slot as he played outstanding coverage Saturday.  He’s going to be needed against Ole Miss and LSU.  BTW – John Fulton had another sub-par game so I kinda wonder if Geno will stay in the slot or eventually be forced outside.

Do You See What I See:  On a 2nd and 10 at the CSU 28, Adrian Hubbard found himself lining up as the corner!  If you noticed Nick Saban blowing a gasket at Cyrus Jones, that’s because Cyrus was misaligned, leaving Adrian Hubbard lined up as a corner on the outside!  A 6-6, 250 pound corner?  Hubbard has been used several times in coverage (as has Dickson) but never, ever as a corner!

Alabama on Special Teams

Panic Room:  As we have discussed multiple times in this blog, the place kicking situation is iffy at best.  Thankfully, Foster did have two attempts Saturday night, making good on his second try from 46 yards.  However, if you watch the two kicks you’ll see the first 46 yarder was actually well struck while the one he made was mishit.  Right now, I don’t see how anyone can have complete confidence in Cade Foster if he’s called upon to attempt a game winning kick this season.  Here’s hoping that he doesn’t have to.

Block Party:  Once again the special teams shock troops came thru for Alabama, this time with a beautifully designed block of a CSU punt.  Dee Hart and Reggie Ragland came in from the left side of the CSU line, forcing two of the three personal protectors to pick them up.  At the same time, on the right side of the CSU line, Landon Collins and Kenyan Drake broke thru, forcing the one remaining protector to make a choice – and he chose…poorly.  The result was Collins hand fighting with Dillon Lee for the honor of scoring yet another special teams touchdown for the Tide.

Conclusion

Saturday’s uninspiring effort has given Bama fans and Bama haters plenty of ammunition to shoot holes into this team’s ability to compete for a third straight national championship.  And while the product on the field is certainly lacking at times, it’s the focus off the field that is more of a concern (and perhaps more of a litmus test for this group) for the Lighthouse staff.  Saban has ranted and raved all season about needing more leadership on the team.  He’s mentioned that players don’t trust the calls, don’t trust the coaching and don’t trust each other.  Players have been suspended.  They’ve been punished.  They’ve been dismissed.  Yet, last week Saban lamented the fact that an Alabama player missed curfew because he came back to the dorm drunk.  Clearly they are not getting the message and are not buying in to what it takes to be a champion.

Championship teams like the one we had last year play with one soul.  One heartbeat.  The beauty of last year’s team was captured during the exchange between AJ McCarron and Barrett Jones at the end of the BCS game when Bama was pummeling the Irish.  Good wasn’t good enough.  Mediocrity wasn’t acceptable.  Mistakes were not tolerated.  After three games this season, the one thing you can say with any degree of certainty is that this team is not playing with one soul or one heartbeat and mediocrity is ruling the day.  Hopefully, it won’t be tolerated or accepted against Ole Miss.

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