Character. That’s the word that kept coming to mind as I watched Alabama continue to bounce back from so many self-inflicted wounds Saturday. Character.
Character is what you have to have in order to persevere through five years of football, bouncing back and forth between running back and quarterback, never really getting a chance to show anyone what you are capable of.
Character is what tells other teams the answer is “NO” when they call to recruit you away from Alabama so that you can be a starting quarterback elsewhere.
Character is what drives a man to succeed even when the whole world is convinced that he cannot. Character makes you seek out a quarterback coach in order to spend 100 hours practicing your craft, even though no one is giving you a chance to succeed.
Character allows you to bounce back with a 79 yard touchdown pass to tie the game back at 14 after a disastrous fumble allowed the Gators to take the lead.
Character is what it takes to win a game in spite of committing 11 penalties and four turnovers.
And character is what it takes to learn from a humbling firing experience and use it to springboard yourself back towards the top of the coaching tree.
Character also allows you to hire a coach when you believe in his abilities to help the team, even though the outside world will never understand the hire.
Maybe it was the ad nauseum coverage of the Jameis Winston debacle. Maybe it was my feeling of inspiration that I gained for Blake Sims (and the team as a whole) after I talked to a walk-on following the Southern Miss game. Or, maybe I kept thinking it because it’s true. Alabama had numerous chances to cave into the pressure of the game and, in some ways, it did. However, each time that Alabama was confronted with adversity, character prevailed and what could have been a terribly disappointing defeat turned into a reason for optimism and pride. Let’s go to the highlights – Roll ‘em!
Alabama on Offense
Coming into the game it was evident that Florida’s weakness on defense was in their pass defense, particularly where it involved covering players coming out of the slot. We pointed this out in the W2W4 after Kentucky exploited it throughout the second half of their game with the Gators. But, while the weakness was evident, the question was whether or not Blake Sims would have the ability to take advantage of it. Well, consider that question answered with an exclamation point after Sims rolled up 445 yards passing, hitting on 23 of 33 throws – four of which went for touchdowns. Sims began the game by showing the world that he has some deep ball skills when he hit speedy Kenyan Drake for an 87 yard bomb down the sidelines. Then, after the Gators took the lead on a disastrous DeAndrew White fumble, Sims struck again with the deep ball, this time hitting Amari Cooper deep down the middle after he’d lined up in the slot. Coop was so wide open that there were no Gators on the screen but credit Sims for putting enough air under the ball so that Coop could glide underneath it and score. It was an excellent game by Sims as he made every throw, every read and every first down. Honestly, there should be no naysayers after this performance…
Third and Sims: I saw these stats from Christopher Walsh and they are absolutely mind blowing. On Saturday’s third down attempts, Sims completed 7 of 9 throws for 95 yards and a TD. Now on the season, Sims is completing 81.5% of his throws (22 of 27) for 288 yards and two TDs! That is a ridiculous completion percentage in any circumstances but to complete 81.5% of your passes on the most critical down in football? Wow. Just wow.
In Kiffin We Trust: You all know I was not particularly sold on the Kiffin hire, as I thought he was wrong for so many reasons. Now it’s me who was wrong for so many reasons. Once again, Kiffin devised a brilliant scheme that allowed openings for some of Alabama’s very best skilled athletes. Whether it was isolating Kenyan Drake on a poor, unsuspecting linebacker or moving Cooper around to free him up for 10 catches and 201 yards and three TDs against the very best corner in college football – Kiffin was simply amazing. I especially loved how he moved his tight ends out wide to help identify if Florida was in zone or man. After racking up a ridiculous 645 yards of offense Saturday, Alabama is now averaging 588 yards of offense per game (up 144 yards per game over last year). More impressively, Nick Saban’s bizarro Tide offense is now running more plays per game than Auburn! There’s not enough space here to say all the good things that Kiffin has brought to the offense but credit him for doing a fantastic job.
Simply the Best: I hope everyone appreciates what they are seeing out of Amari Cooper on Saturdays because he’s simply one of the best we’ve ever seen at the Capstone. His route running is amazingly crisp and sharp as he always appears to be running full speed. However, on Saturday Coop showed he compliments his 4.3 speed with tenacity and strength when he snared a fade pass from the clutches of two Florida Gators (one of which was Vernon Hargreaves). But, perhaps his finest moments to his teammates came on back to back Derrick Henry toss sweeps in the third quarter as he absolutely punished the Florida safety on consecutive plays, springing Henry for big gains each time. Coop is the total package and it’s a privilege to watch him play on Saturdays.
And We’re Off: We touched on this before but sooooo much credit has to go to Kiffin for designing the first play of the game to Kenyan Drake. Good scouting told Kiffin that Florida would move their middle linebacker out there for coverage so he got the matchup he wanted. But, credit has to go back to the spring where Drake was identified as a weapon to get out into space and take advantage of both his speed and his hands. And, finally, credit has to go to Sims – did anyone know he could loft such a gorgeous deep ball? Um, yes. Kiffin did! CBS didn’t show it but Kiffin was beyond jacked when Sims and Drake connected for this bomb.
Out to Practice Early: When a player is left all by his lonesome down the field, my dad always said it looked like he was “out to practice early.” On Cooper’s bomb, I frankly have no earthly idea what the Florida safety and corner were doing but Cooper was the epitome of “out to practice early.” Evidently Muschamp didn’t know what his guys were doing either as he berated them both along the sidelines. Seriously. I have no idea what they were doing in that “coverage.”
Fumble-ayah: Lawdy mercy – fumbles, fumbles and one more fumbles. Kenyan Drake’s fumble was the result of extra effort where he exposed himself and the ball to being ripped out. While it’s still an absolute no-no, I didn’t feel it was the result of being careless with the football. No, that honor goes to my guy DeAndrew White. Going into the game, I felt it would be terribly important for White to take some of the pressure off of Cooper and with six catches for 48 yards (including three outstanding grabs) he was able to do that. However, DeAndrew was careless with De-football and was De-stripped. If this continues, he will be sitting on De-bench. Careless. Lastly, there’s Blake Sims. After carrying out a zone read fake to Kenyan Drake, Blake took off running to the right, unaware that Leon Brown (who had another dreadful game) had allowed massive penetration to Deonte Fowler and Fowler quickly relieved Sims of the football. Since Brown didn’t block for Sims on the play, perhaps he should have at least blocked Sims from taking the ass chewing he got from Coach Saban.
Tush Push: After watching Clemson’s inability to convert 3rd and shorts from the shotgun against FSU, it dawned on me that Alabama crushed the Gators in short yardage situations by sneaking Sims from under center twice on Saturday. Nothing fancy, just a snap and a push. And, just for fun, Bama even showed a little wildcat with TJ Yeldon converting two conversions for good measure, following the tush push of the middle of the line. It was a strong performance in short yardage situations against a very, very solid front 7.
Personal Jesus: For those of you who want to see anyone other than TJ Yeldon in the backfield, you should know that he serves a big purpose back there. No other back on the team picks up the blitz as good as Yeldon and he came up big on Saturday. In fact, credit should go to the entire line as the only sack they gave up was when Sims held on to the ball too long on a pump and go.
If on First You Don’t Succeed: Speaking of the pump and go, did you notice that Alabama took four deep shots on first down? The pump and go would have been a fifth deep shot. The long touchdowns to Drake and Coop were both on 1st down and Sims’ 32 yard hookup to Amari on the deep sideline fade that was called back due to an illegal formation was a first down throw, as well. Sims also fired one deep on 1st down to Jalston Fowler who had slipped out of the backfield on a wheel route.
Where’s the Beef: Did you notice how much Fowler, Vogler and Howard were used during the game? Evidently Alabama liked the personnel grouping Florida used when Bama was in a heavier package so, again, credit Lane Kiffin for finding a weakness and exploiting the heck out of it. Oh, and for extra credit, did you notice that Lane even moved Austin Shepherd next to Cam Robinson for a play? Yep!
I Need a Hero: To me, the biggest plays of the game were courtesy of Derrick Henry. For all the Sims love and the Cooper artistry, Derrick Henry delivered twice when it mattered most. The biggest play was a Henry screen reception on 3rd and 23. It was a 21-21 game in the third and Florida had just scored the tying touchdown – now Bama faced an impossible third and long. Sims flipped an innocent screen pass to Henry and he simply took over from there. First, Henry used a very average block by Arie K to his advantage, cutting back into the open field. Next he ran thru a tackle, still 8 yards short of the first down. There he paused, allowing a Gator defender to fly past him out of bounds and suddenly it was a 29 yard gain for a first down at the Florida three yard line. Earlier, after yet another Bama penalty, Bama faced a first and goal from the Florida 13 with the game tied at 14. After a monster run by Henry it was second and goal from the 2 and Bama cashed it in for the go ahead touchdown.
Whew, there was soooo much to cover regarding the Alabama offense that I didn’t nearly get to all of the stuff I wanted to point out. Just know that Jalston Fowler is performing a HUGE role on this team as he’s lined up as a fullback, an H-back and a tight end. His blocking has been outstanding and of course he’s been a big weapon out of the backfield as a receiver. A long time ago I posted a video of a ridiculous catch he made in high school so it’s no real surprise he has excellent hands and has become the main end zone receiving threat on the team. Also, the entire offensive line deserves credit with the exception of Leon Brown who struggled once again. Cam Robinson lost his helmet on one play so Alphonse “Shank” Taylor game in at right guard and Leon Brown slid over to left tackle. Folks, if this ever happens for an extended period of time then you need to pray. A lot. Brown whiffed badly and showed everyone why he’s better when he’s not exposed on the edge.
Alabama on Defense
Before we get too deep into the defensive side of the ball you should know two things. First, all three Florida touchdowns came off of turnovers. Second, Jeff Driskel is not a good quarterback. Sure, he’s improved but he’s not quite ready for prime time. As a result, Florida converted only 2 of 13 third downs (Alabama converted a silly 12 of 16) and they had the ball only 20 minutes while Alabama had it the other 40. It was not a good performance for the Florida offense. As for the Bama defense, there were several good things that I really liked…
No Soup For You: You’ve heard me say it in this space a hundred times so now maybe you understand what the fuss was all about. Tony Brown, welcome to Alabama football!!!! After Gator receiver Demarcus Robinson hauled in 15 passes for over 200 yards last week, they lined him up opposite of Tony Brown throughout the game, hoping to take advantage of the true freshman. The Gators tried Brown on 8 occasions succeeding only twice for 14 yards. Oh, I do like this young fella! Saban even dialed up several corner blitzes, one of which netted Brown a tackle for loss. SWEET.
I’m Gonna Get You Sucka: Jarran Reed had one helluva game. Not only did the former Gator commit get to play Gator toss with Jeff Driskel, he also swatted down a pass and posted five tackles. With the Gators bringing a downhill running attack, Bama needed Reed to step up and boy did he deliver. Honestly, he was outstanding and as dominant at the defensive tackle position as we’ve seen.
You Found Me: Yeah, I found you Maurice Smith – for the second week in a row Smith defended the pass extremely well. The Gators threw at him six times but only completed two passes. This kid continues to shine each time he’s given an opportunity to play.
Grouplove: Props to Trey DePriest and Reggie Ragland, both of whom turned in their very best performances of the year. They stuffed the solid Gators running game with hard hits throughout the game and DePriest even deflected a pass. Solid effort here. Additionally, Denzel Devall singlehandedly blew up two different running plays for losses. The ends did an awesome job stacking and shedding the tight end blocks and this subsequently blew up the bread and butter of the Gators’ offense. Can’t brag on this group enough.
Greatest American Hero: Landon Collins. Wow. He had a one handed pick and he nearly picked another. He’s a beast. He also made the defensive play of the game when he tackled the Gators for a loss and forced a punt after Bama had taken a 28-21 lead. (On the pick, did you notice Bama showed blitz and then backed out of it, only rushing three?)
You Spin Me Right Round: Poor Jabriel Washington – he was the closest defender on the first Gators touchdown but he really wasn’t that close at all. He’s a former corner so he should have the skill set to play man, however the way he threw his hands up it appeared to me that he thought he had safety help. Back when he played corner, he would have had safety help. However, when he IS the safety, there is no help. Meanwhile, I have no idea what DePriest was doing on this play. He half-heartedly “rushed” the passer when he had a huge lane to lay the smack down. Kind of a weird play all the way around. (Credit Washington for making a nice catch on his interception later in the game)
You Wreck Me: On the other touchdown, A’shawn Robinson could not defeat single blocking and watched as Driskel rushed by on his way to a 16-yard touchdown run. I simply don’t think Robinson is healthy as I’m not seeing the burst and strength he had last season. You’ll recall he suffered a knee injury in fall camp and I’m just not positive he’s 100%. And, for all the bragging I did on DePriest above, he was blocked by a pretty weak attempt by the smaller of their two running backs.
I’m the Man: After Florida came up short on a third down play, the Gators were in range for a 48 yard field goal. However, there was an ineligible man downfield penalty that Saban decided to accept, giving the Gators another third down chance at the Bama 40. This was a risky call because Saban risked giving up a first down. However a Bama blitz and a DJ Pettway pass rush forced an incompletion and a Gator punt. Nice call Coach! FYI – Saban still has never lost to one of his protégés…
The Gators didn’t really figure to score a bunch against Alabama and they wouldn’t have had it not been for the generosity of the Alabama offense. Alabama’s defense stacks up much, much better against run first teams so it was no wonder that they controlled the Gators throughout the game. In addition, Driskel’s inability to hit deep passes (or any passes on Saturday) made it virtually impossible for the Gators to move the ball. As a result, the offensive stats for Florida were atrocious. The Gators gained 200 yards. Bama gained 645. Florida had the ball 20 minutes. Bama had it 40 minutes. Again, had it not been for three fumbles and a pick, this game would have been a route.
This has been a write up that is bordering on a novella so I’ll try very hard to be short here. I have so much admiration for Blake Sims and it absolutely broke my heart when he was forced to leave the game due to an injured shoulder. We sit 20 rows behind the trainer’s bench and we watched as Sims took two throws and then waived off the staff, letting them know he couldn’t continue. As he left the field to a loud standing ovation, I feared that he wouldn’t be able to continue and my heart sank for him. Sims went in for treatment and then came back out to a thunderous ovation. He then threw a few more passes and gave the staff the thumbs up. The next thing he did was to congratulate Jake Coker on leading the team to a touchdown pass. That’s leadership, folks. That’s why his teammates respond to him. That’s why the staff responds to him. And I guess that’s why I responded, as well. I think you are looking at a possible slight separation of his shoulder and I fear for what another big shot on his shoulder will do. He’ll be limited this week and likely limited next week as well so hold on tight as the Ole Miss game approaches. After watching the way he had to wave off the throws after his injury, I know it’s more than a bruise. But, he’s a gamer so you know he’ll be playing until the damn thing falls off. Love. This. Kid. Love…This…Team!