Alabama Football: What We Learned From The Tennessee Game


With each passing week we learn more about the 2014 Alabama football team. We’ll spot trends as they emerge and puzzle at both the positive and negative outliers. In this weekly feature I highlight a handful of the lessons this team is teaching me.

Blake is an Asset to our Offense – Quarterback guru and ESPN Contributor George Whitfield articulated well what many have been observing and unable or unwilling to acknowledge on their own. Paraphrasing, Blake gives Alabama its best, most dynamic playmaker at the quarterback position, ever. Those are strong words and practically demand a knee-jerk response to the contrary. But do the impossible and pause yourself mid-retort and think about what is really being said, and more importantly, what is not being said.

For example, no one is saying that Blake is the Tide’s best quarterback ever. Rather, the wording is that Blake provides a skillset that is unique among Alabama quarterbacks. That’s much harder to refute. In fact, that’s the very reason some don’t like him. Make no mistake, Sims is still developing which explains why we see a wide range of outcome in his performance. But as he gains more experience and his comfort level grows, Alabama fans should expect to see more of the play that makes him special. In fact, I wish Blake were only a junior so we could continue to watch his development into next season.

Depth along the Offensive Line is Critical to Tide’s Success – Several weeks ago we referenced the emerging depth along the Tide’s offensive front. Little did we expect to see so much of it rotate through the starting lineup, but here we are having watched the Tide require back-ups at four of the five positions.

In fact, this depth and versatility was taken to new heights as Leon Brown moved from right guard to left tackle when Cameron Robinson exited the game with a high ankle sprain. Grant Hill was the swing tackle so the shift confirms continued progress from Brown. Additionally, Leon had been platooning with Alphonse Taylor at guard so the surprise level ratcheted up when Bradley Bozeman (who started two games at center for Ryan Kelly), was brought in to man the right guard spot.

The moves demonstrate Saban’s continued mantra that the Tide will continue to evaluate positions and will not hesitate to make changes where they are necessary. How this approach continues to unwind across the team and how this remade offensive line performs while Cameron Robinson is out will determine how this Tide team finishes the season.

Tide Tight Ends are underutilized – We’ve joked that the Alabama tight ends have been MIA and we’ve gone so far as to question the level of coaching they are receiving during the week. Against Tennessee, I observed a play by a freshman Volunteer that causes me to double down on my wonder.

Ethan Wolf was lined up on the right side of the formation. Upon the snap, Wolf fired off the line and ran right for Jarrick Williams who was assigned coverage. Wolf broke down as if to block Williams which caused Jarrick to run wide. Wolf them proceeded to run a ten yard curl for an easy catch and first down.

It was simple, but in the context of the surrounding action, it was beautiful. It was a savvy veteran move executed to perfection by a true freshman and it made me wonder if the Alabama tight ends could have run it to similar effect.

Offense Runs on Schedule; Its Schedule – Against Tennessee the Tide launched itself into the ball game rattling off 27 straight points and suggesting that another dominating performance was about to unfold. But then a funny thing happened – nothing. Sure, the Tennessee offense got started under third Josh Dobbs, but that should not have impacted the Tide’s offense. Instead, the Tide offense appeared to take a mid-game siesta.

However, as the Volunteers cut the score to perilously close ten points, the Tide reemerged and rattled off a spectacular 13 play, 76 yard drive for a touchdown then followed up with an 11 play, 78 yard drive that ended with a fumble near the goal line. That’s two game reclaiming drives that helped in securing the victory. While I’d much prefer to see a sustained effort throughout the game, I respect that the team was able to respond when it mattered most.

Landon Collins is the Key to the Tide’s Defense – Reggie Ragland continues to make his push, but Landon Collins remains the undisputed leader of the Alabama defense. Need evidence? Landon goes out with cramps and Tennessee promptly reels off a 15 play, 84 yard scoring drive of its own. While stranger things have happened, I’d bet that such a drive is not sustained with Collins on the field.

Check back next week as I continue to track these and new items as they emerge from the field. Also be sure to check out our podcasts as I explore and debate these topics and many more in a more animated format.