HZT Upon Further Review: Alabama vs. Mississippi St.


10- 0 on the season might be the only thing positive to come out of this dogfight of an SEC matchup against the Bulldogs……Ok ok, it wasn’t a total flop but it didn’t impress any voters or onlookers that’s for sure.  The Crimson Tide are undefeated going into the Chattanooga game and a 20-7 win over an SEC foe isn’t exactly laying an egg but the concern lies within the team not putting together four full quarters and finishing  drives. The mistakes made by the defensive backs haven’t cost the Tide but better passing teams know they can exploit the secondary and the run game can be hit or miss.Execution and consistency are the things that have set the Crimson tide apart from the rest of the country over the last five years and the very thing that seems to be tough to get a handle on (at times) this season.

Last season the Tide schedule was brutal, more so than this year and that could in turn wind up being not so good in the future. The most glaring weakness on the team is at cornerback and the very position that just so happens to have not been tested but one time all year against Texas A&M.  The Aggies went right after the Bama secondary and made them pay, delivering one of  the most productive offensive efforts of any Tide opponent over the last few years. Following the A&M game the Bama defense has been in lock down mode and the safety duo of Vinnie and Haha, then Vinnie and Collins and finally Collins and HaHa have been lights out and athletic enough to mask many of the cornerback deficiencies they have (with a little help from the offenses who aren’t capable of pushing the ball down field).

All in All, this MSU game provides a little insight into how good this Tide team could be if it all comes together before years end. When you field a team that goes out and plays sloppy, drops passes, makes mental errors, fumbles and gives away free field position you expect a nail biter and a close game but the bulldogs never had a real chance, despite Alabama screwing around much of the game. After what is always a tough game with LSU, the Tide offense just looked tired and like they needed a break, well, win these next 3 games and they’ll get a month rest before likely facing Florida State. The MSU squad has a group of extremely talented linemen on both sides of the ball but no team depth brings about conditioning issues late in games against tough teams and they just don’t have the supporting cast right now to win big games. This must be taken into consideration when looking at this game. MSU has as much raw talent along the defensive line as anyone in the SEC but they are young and still learning, not to mention not having quality backups to spell them when fatigue sets in. The offensive line for MSU isn’t as young but they are very sound and talented, big, & experienced linemen but the depth just isn’t there. This is directly responsible for the major differences in how the line of scrimmage was controlled/uncontrolled in the first quarter as opposed to the fourth quarter. As I re-watched this game  trying to see exactly why the Tide just couldn’t assert themselves, it looked very much to me like they were going through the motions, waiting for the second half to arrive so they can take advantage of MSU’s lack of depth and fatigue.

Although MSUs’ players were very eager, playing with a chip on their shoulder and obviously playing inspired, cocky football, the Tide were almost the opposite in terms of emotion yet the Bulldog’s still couldn’t get a leg up on them.  MSU stayed in the faces and ears of Tide players talking trash and though they paid it absolutely no mind, you could see the difference in the emotional importance of this game to both teams. Alabama knew deep down, after getting a feel for the opponent, that they wouldn’t have the firepower to pull the upset and they did just enough to get the win without getting too worked up about the whole thing. At this stage in their development, the Tide have developed a quiet confidence about them and they seem capable of answering each and every time they are called on to put the opponent away. As I watched patiently looking for mistakes or communication issues, they really didn’t have many, they just didn’t have a lot of enthusiasm or a sense of urgency as they waited for MSU to make a mistake and they pounced. The team is reaching a comfort level playing together that produces a lot of trust in one another and confidence in themselves and the scheme that they seemed to be lacking in spades when the season began and things are much better than this game suggests on the surface.

Cyrus Jones still struggles in coverage and despite him getting the nod from Saban, he doesn’t appear to be the long term answer there. Despite the lone cornerback question mark, the only other unknown seems to be the difference in how Saban disciplines Yeldon and Drake for their ball security woes. Saban seems to get on Drake pretty hard about the fumbles and Yeldon seems to evade the coach’s wrath. Possibly because if they both ride the pine then we have no running back with experience, but any way you slice it, this team is far better when Drake is getting the ball more as he is clearly the most explosive of the two (even with the fumbles). The closer and closer that Bama marches towards a showdown with FSU, the clearer it becomes that a player with Drake’s skill and speed will be a must to bring home the three-peat and keeping him on the sideline would hurt more than it would help……..Just my opinion of course.

This week’s warm up game against Chattanooga will be a good chance for the starters to stay crisp while giving way to the youngsters around halftime so they can add to their game time log books. I am interested to see how Saban handles the situation with AJ however. He has jumped into the “AJ for Heisman” pool with both feet and is plugging his starting QB every chance he gets but will he leave McCarron in an extra quarter to pad his stats? Or will he continue on with what they have so far in terms of stats? I believe that Saban isn’t concerned about the Heisman nor does he believe AJ will win it actually, he is simply creating buzz around his guy going into season’s end as to put him in the best possible position exposure wise before the off season workouts and scouting combine gets cranked up. He has a far better shot at being a high draft selection with an impressive off season than he does at the Heisman……and it pays better.