Southern Miss Game Review

*Editor’s note:  If you read nothing else, please scroll down to “Final Thoughts” and read that segment.  If you are a Bama fan, you absolutely need to read that section…

Welp, another day, another walk over. Alas, the final pieces of candy have been taken from this season’s babies and the real season is finally set to get underway. Sure, you can make a case that West Virginia wasn’t a total walk over after their impressive (511 yards passing and four TDs) victory over Maryland but at the end of the day….they beat Maryland…of the Big 10…and they’re turtles for goodness sakes. But you really can’t consider FAU or Southern Miss as anything more than a couple of speed bumps on the way to the SEC Highway.

As Alabama’s “Dallas or Bust” bus merges into the SEC Superhighway, I think we are all questioning whether this Crimson Ride has gathered enough speed to get out and get ahead of the pack. The Bama running backs have looked like the second coming of the four horsemen and Amari Cooper’s performances may force the NCAA to rename the Biletnikoff trophy (wouldn’t Cooper be so much easier to spell anyway?). But. But. You know there’s gotta be that big ole, big ole BUT. But Blake Sims hasn’t shown he can throw. But OJ Howard hasn’t caught a pass. But someone else needs to get involved other than Cooper in the passing game. But. But. But.

Then there’s the defense. You know, the side of the ball that I’ve been harping on for over a year now. Alabama’s defense set a high standard in 2009 and 2011 so that’s why I’m appalled when we, gasp, give up a first down! The pressure has been lacking (but getting significantly better). The coverage has been porous (and not getting better). And CJ Mosley isn’t around to play superman on that side of the ball. Sure the defense appeared to slow down WVU but are they good enough to stop the offenses in the SEC? So many questions…

As predicted in the W2W4 for Southern Miss, we’ve now watched three full games and I believe we still have questions going into the meat of the season. I think for me this is why I’m going to love watching this team so much this year – each Saturday is going to give us something to talk about. A little mystery to figure out. Speaking of talkin, let’s talk about that Southern Miss game, eh?

Alabama on Offense

By and large the Southern Miss game was one more piece of evidence that in Blake Sims we trust. This QB race is over. Jake Coker was warming up on the sidelines in front of me and appeared to be ready to go into the game when a funny thing bounced into Tyren Jones – a football! Suddenly Southern Miss scored a field goal and Blake Sims was summoned back out to widen the margin back out to a more comfortable level. That should tell you everything you need to know about this “battle”. Coker will continue to get “practice reps” as the games allow but the meaningful reps will be going to Sims. Period.

But…but….but….but Sims has earned it. Here are a few factoids to make you feel a little better about it, too:

  1. Sims has helped Alabama convert 17 of 25 third down opportunities. That’s astounding.
  2. Sims has converted 11 red zone trips into NINE touchdowns. Coker is 3 of 8.
  3. I read this somewhere else and haven’t verified it but Sims was 2 of 2 on third down against Southern Miss and is now 10 of 11 on the season. I’m not positive that’s correct but I do know he’s been fantastic on third down (see #1 above).
  4. For all the “all he can throw is a quick out” folks, Alabama didn’t throw a single one on Saturday.
  5. The ins and slants that Sims threw Saturday were exceptional. His decision making on the bootlegs is phenomenal, quick and decisive. And, on those boots he ALWAYS makes the correct read and correct decision. Always.

Here’s the last point on Sims and then we are moving on. After the game, I had a tremendous conversation with someone connected to the team and they simply could not say enough good things about Blake Sims. The entire team has rallied around him and, more than that, they BELIEVE in him. He is actually displaying more team leadership in the locker room than the previous QB did last season and the difference is palpable with his teammates. Folks, if you haven’t accepted that Sims is the guy, then you should. And based on what I heard Saturday night, he’s a really, really easy guy to cheer for.

Born to Run: With backs like these, baby we were born to run! It’s like something out of a Bizarro Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer movie. On Blake Sims, on Henry, on Kenyan and TJ! Atlee and Tyren and Coker, hooray! I really think Coach Saban wanted to emphasize some toughness and the running game Saturday night and, after a slow start, the ground and pound approach steamrolled the Eagles. Five backs averaged 6.2 yards per carry and totaled 333 yards rushing. Ouch.

Silent Night(s): Until the broadcast Saturday night, you really hadn’t heard Cam Robinson’s name called and that’s pretty amazing for a true freshman left tackle. He’s quietly been very sound in both the passing and the running game and he probably had his best game against Southern Miss. He fired off the ball and finished nearly every block with devastating effect. In fact, the offense looked his way on a couple of short yardage situations signifying their trust in the young fella.

These Boots Are Made for Throwin: Loved, loved, loved the boots and waggles that Kiffin called for Blake Sims. Sims has an uncanny ability to quickly decipher the right read in the passing game but he also quickly knows when to fold ‘em and take off running. On one particular boot, he had Fowler open short, Black open on an intermediate route and Cooper long. Instead of taking the easy shortie to Fowler, he made the correct read and hit Cooper 15 yards down the field. Sims also had a clear lane to run but made the right call in hitting Coop. Love Sims’ ability to do the right thing and not force this play.

Let the Bodies Hit the Floor: The offensive line played pretty well overall. Cam Robinson and Ryan Kelly stood out to me and Austin Shepherd had some shining knockdowns as well. But, if you want a really good time, turn on the tape when Coker comes in. What you’ll see is a second string line hell bent on complete and total domination of their opponent, just like Saban preaches. Alphonse Taylor was a beast but the meanest, cruelest, nastiest among them was big Dominick Jackson.   You can see why they lined him up at FB because he is mobile, agile, and hostile and when he hits it hurts. Mercy, he has a mean streak. Find the tape and watch 76 at right tackle on the last drive of the game. He just cripples and humiliates people.

Don’t Want No Short, Short Man: No teeny weeny passes from Sims this week. In all, I counted four or five vertical throws (fades, go routes, etc) and zero screens. Cooper’s catch on a deep fade was crazy good but credit the deep throw with some air underneath it that allowed the catch. You wanted to stretch the field vertically, right?

Convoy: It’s so much fun to watch Fowler operating as the lead back because it’s like an assault with a deadly weapon when he blocks. As little as OJ Howard is used, Jalston Fowler is like the swiss army knife for this group and is literally a huge reason the ground game has been so successful.

Danger Zone: In this case the highway to the danger zone is going man against Alabama. Southern Miss loaded up the box and brought pressure numerous times in an effort to affect Blake Sims just as you would any unproven passer. Unfortunately for the Eagles, Bama had the answer. With two wide receivers on the left along with Vogler, Amari was lined up by himself to the right. At the snap, Vogler and the slot receiver ran slants while the outside receiver ran a fly. This created a massive void in the secondary that allowed Cooper to run a short crossing pattern and then run to daylight. Probably don’t wanna man up on Coop but then that means you can’t blitz.   What to do, what to do?

Brown Out: Not Leon Brown’s best game. A couple of the early tackles for loss were due to Leon Brown getting blown up at the point of attack. If Dominick Jackson could play guard then it’s problem solved.

(Cue the Circus Music): Has there ever been a greater 13 yard gain on a reverse than Amari Cooper’s jaunt that covered 50 yards or more? How much fun was that – 4.3 speed on display at its best! Yeldon, Howard and Sims all provided key blocks that were the fries to Amari’s shake…

Some Nights: Some nights it’s just Fun to see what guys like Kenyan Drake and Tyren Jones are going to do when they get the ball. It’s well worth the price of admission to watch these kids run. Drake even lined up as a wide receiver and caught a slant pass!   See? Fun! I think Kiffin truly is the spoiled rich kid we all thought he was because, honestly, how can he possibly decide which one of these fabulous toys to play with?

Toy Story: Well, one toy Kiffin doesn’t want to play with is OJ Howard, apparently. I counted at least four designed plays for Howard but he was never open on these little against the gain flare patterns they ran for him. I truly thought this was the week – sorry for the poor W2W4 prediction there…

Prophet for Profit: However, I was feelin like Kool Mo Dee when the backs would “Go to Work” on the toss sweeps. I told you guys the edges would be the soft spot in the Eagle D and it was. I saw this stat – Bama averaged 9.27 yards outside of the tackles while gaining only 4.59 between them. As we said, the flanks of the Eagles were where they got winged.

Tide Bits:

  • No, seriously, Dominick Jackson is a big, strong, mean human being.
  • Chris Black continues to show he can make difficult catches in traffic. Very impressed by him.
  • Loved the hurry up sprint to the line of scrimmage and the quick snap at the goal line allowing Drake to score one of his three TDs. Sneaky Saban.
  • Sims recognized a screen wasn’t there and simply threw the ball away. Smart.
  • Coker once again failed to throw the ball away and took a bad sack. We saw this on tape last year and you were warned about this being an issue for Coker via this site.
  • I think Shannon Spake is kinda hot and very underrated…just sayin.
  • Kiffin continues to show that he’ll dial up the same play over and over until they stop it. This time it was a play action boot that Sims executed perfectly three plays in a row.
  • For the second week in a row, Sims dialed up a zone read. Most didn’t catch it last week b/c he handed it off. This week he kept it and fooled everyone, including a defender that was within reach of the ball. Nice to see it’s still in the old repertoire…
  • Really loved watching the second string offensive line work on every play they were in there to prove they should be starting. They dominated.

Alabama on Defense

We are a running little long here but there were just so many things on offense that caught my eye that I wanted to share with you guys. Defensively, some things caught my eye as well, though not all of them were good…

Pressure!: Honestly, the front four was very disruptive and forced a ton of early throws. Credit Spain Park’s Nick Mullen for hanging in there and delivering some tough throws under tough circumstances. In particular, my boy Ryan Anderson continues to be a beast off the edge and Xzavier Dickson continues to say, “remember me?” This is the best edge rush we’ve had in a long time – probably since Upshaw.

King of Rock: The king of rocking opponents and the bedrock for this entire defense is clearly Landon Collins. In reviewing my notes, he was in on four out of five consecutive plays. He made plays at every level of the defense, too. Collins is simply an amazing player and is THE most important player on this entire Alabama team. Saban moved him up to play next to the LB in the dime set and that move has paid off in spades. Now with Fulton out for a half and Williams out for the game, Collins’ presence is even that much more important. What a phenomenal player. He had 12 tackles and a hurry and was seemingly everywhere Saturday night.

Help: I need someone. And not just anyone. I need Tony Brown – in the starting lineup. At corner. Brown had four passes thrown at him and none (NONE) of them were completed. Cyrus Jones had some good moments but gave up big two passes (should have been three). And while Eddie Jackson was in position, he, too, gave up a long gainer – to be fair, it was a ridiculous catch. But, honestly, Brown is the best corner on the team and it’s not really close. Incidentally, I understand that Brown runs a 40 yard dash in the Chris Johnson territory (4.2s). Make up speed anyone? Wow!

Here Comes the Boom: I lost count of how many times Bama blitzed this week but it was a ton. Smart rolled his corners up much closer and brought pressure from a variety of different places. This was the most I’ve seen Saban blitz in a long time and was a departure from rushing four and playing coverage plan we’ve seen so many times against spread offenses. Again, credit Mullen for standing in the face of this rush and delivering some throws.

I Touch Myself: Ryan Anderson off the edge makes me moist. That is all.

Hey Diddle Diddle: Trey DePriest in the middle had a couple of good moments but seemed to spend an awful lot of his time chasing the play. All in all, it was probably the most active that he’s been this year as he laid the smack down a couple of really good times. But, you still see him getting exposed in coverage on backs and he looked completely lost on a shake route while he was playing zone. Later, DePriest gave up a really bad seam pass to the back he was supposed to have in coverage. He’s no CJ Mosley but then who is, right? Still, lots and lots of room for improvement here.

I Like to Move It Move It: The athleticism that DJ Pettway and Dalvin Tomlinson have shown is crazy good. Tomlinson actually chased the QB down from behind – at 300 bills, that’s movin’! I also saw more stunting this week with A’shawn Robinson and Jarren Reed showing up a couple times. Deshawn Hand also was freed up on a stunt, as well. Again, lots more activity and aggression on defense.

Tide Bits:

  • The corners really seemed intent on getting up closer and playing more bump and run coverage. All in all, this was a much more aggressive game plan than we’ve seen against one of these spread teams in a while. I am kind of wondering if this was a lab experiment of sorts.
  • I commented on it above but blitzing goes hand and hand with bump and run coverage with the idea that you only have to cover for a couple of seconds. The blitzing and the front four both were highly disruptive.
  • When you press up like that then you are exposing yourself to big plays. Credit Southern Miss for completing a couple of nice passes in the face of pressure.
  • I’m still seeing virtually nothing from the linebacking corps. DePriest showed up a few times for both good and bad reasons. I’m still looking for Ragland to appear.
  • Speaking of Ragland, to be fair the vast majority of the game was spent in a dime look with Ragland on the bench and an extra secondary member in the game. Landon Collins was a beast in this set whether he was blitzing, zoning or in man to man. He’s one exceptional football player.

Final Thoughts

As we said last week (and probably for the last time this year), we’ll again say there is no QB controversy at Alabama. Blake Sims is your winner and it wasn’t a close race. Blake Sims does not look anything like the kid we saw at A-Day. Credit his determination, his work ethic and the work he put in over the summer with a QB coach for determining his own fate and not caving to the voices of others. Sims believed in himself and continued to work hard on his own while the rest of the world salivated over Jake Coker. Kudos to Blake Sims.

As a result of Sims’ work, dedication and leadership, I’m told the locker room is the best it has been in a long while with everyone pulling in the same direction. Teammates are pulling for teammates and that develops a chemistry that is even more important than having a flashy quarterback. The vibe I got after the game is that this is a very special group and that they intend to do special things together. While some players last year were focused on their draft status, this group is being led by the example being set by Amari Cooper – likely the highest player that will be drafted from this team yet one of the hardest workers on the team. When I asked, “is Cooper the hardest working player on the team,” I was told that there is no one player working hard. Everyone is working hard and trying to out-work each other. In the weight room. In the meeting room. At practice. After practice. And working on their own on these really cool Ipads that they can use to conduct film study at their leisure. These kids have completely “bought in” are working hard to have each other’s backs. This Bama team may not have the best offense or the best defense we’ve seen but they certainly appear to have the best chemistry we’ve had around the Capstone in a while.

How will it shake out? We don’t really know. And, to me, that’s kind of the fun and the joy about this season…

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