FALCON CREST AN ALABAMA RETROSPECTIVE: After stumbling at South Carolina and a lackluster performance against Ole Miss, the Crimson Tide got back on track by blowing out Tennessee on the road.
GAME 9 - LSU 24, ALABAMA 21 in BATON ROUGE, LOUISIANA
Baton Rouge is where many football dreams go to die; Alabama's BCS hopes were no different. Both offenses had trouble in the first quarter with LSU turning a Greg McElroy interception deep in Alabama territory into three points. Soon after Alabama drove 81 yards on 11 plays, finished by a 1 yard TD pass to Trent Richardson. The second half started off like the first with a missed LSU field goal then a UA punt. On the next drive Josh Jefferson tallied 94 of his 141 passing yards on the day in two throws - a 19 yarder and a 75 yard TD throw to Rueben Randle. Alabama responded right back with a 10-play 73-yard TD drive. LSU retaliated with scores on its next three drives: 35-yard field goal, 10-play 77-yard TD drive with a two-point conversion, and another field goal thanks to an Alabama fumble deep within Tide territory. Alabama would cut the deficit to three with 3:17 left, but the Tigers ground enough time off the clock to punt with 14 seconds left. Ballgame. LSU avoided turning the ball over even while shuffling two quarterbacks (it makes sense to Les Miles, dude), and used a steady rushing attack (even without a Josh Jasper fake punt factored in, LSU averaged 4.9 yards a carry) to get the win.
REASONS TO BE ALARMED: Ingram and Richardson averaged 4.7 yards a carry against a top-30 run defense behind a less than full strength offensive line. The front seven is starting to make a few more plays (5 tackles for losses).
REASONS TO HOPE: LSU was able to use a mixture of straight-ahead runs and trick plays to move the ball down the field, Greg McElroy was accurate (21-34 for 223 yards, 2 TDs and a pick) but the LSU secondary was able to play the ball (10 pass breakups), LSU was able to move the ball on the 'Bama secondary despite switching between two quarterbacks most of the game.
GAME 10 - ALABAMA 30, MISSISSIPPI STATE 10 in TUSCALOOSA
It didn't take Alabama long to recover from the LSU loss. Although Ingram was uncharacteristically stymied on the ground (53 yards on 18 rushes), he made up for it by taking a 78 yard screen pass in for a score. This game was all about the big play for the Crimson Tide. Along with the Ingram screen, a 45 yard pass from McElroy to Marquis Maze and a 56 yard run by Julio Jones both went for touchdowns, and assuming you've read the score just above this paragraph that was more than enough for 'Bama. The Tide got plenty of pressure on Chris Relf in the first 45 minutes for five sacks and an interception. The Bulldog rushing game was also slowed to the tune of 3.0 yards per carry overall. There's not much more to say about this game, it was the typical dominant performance against an inferior team for UA.
REASONS TO BE ALARMED: The defense is now getting sacks in addition to the pass breakups and interceptions, Alabama can survive a bad day from Mark Ingram quite well, no Richardson in this game = no problem.
REASONS TO HOPE: MSU (not our MSU) was able to break through the less than 100% Alabama offensive line (seven tackles for a loss), AND FOR THE PUNTING REPORT YOU'VE BEEN WAITING FOR: STILL MEDICORE (38.2 yard average on 4 punts).
GAME 11 - ALABAMA 63, GEORGIA STATE 7 in TUSCALOOSA
Yawn yawn yawn. 'Bama scored touchdowns on seven of its first nine drives, with the other two ending in missed field goals (one understandable from 54, one incredible from 27 that bounced off the right upright). There's not really much one can ascertain about Alabama's offense and defense from this performance. The offense was as efficient as could be hoped against 1-AA competition and the defense hurried the GSU quarterbacks ten times, pressuring them into four interceptions. The lone Panther score came on a kickoff return, but other than that it's hard to see how this game could've gone better for Alabama going into the Auburn match.
REASONS TO BE ALARMED: The Crimson Tide eviscerated a wildly inferior opponent as expected.
REASONS TO HOPE: The special teams unit of Alabama, to put it lightly, leaves something to be desired.
GAME 12 - AUBURN 28, ALABAMA 27 in TUSCALOOSA
Alabama began the Iron Bowl out for blood. A 7-play 71-yard drive for a touchdown. Auburn three-and-out. A 68-yard pass to Julio Jones for a touchdown. Auburn three-and-out. 61 yards and ten plays later the Tide had its third touchdown of the first quarter. Auburn three-and-out. Alabama embarked on a five play, 82 yard drive that ended in a... fumble. From that point the Tide offense was done in the end zone, and Auburn slowly found its footing. While Cam Newton was kept in check on the ground (22 runs for a net of 39 yards), he managed to do just enough damage in the air by 36 and 70-yard touchdown passes to get Auburn a one-point lead about midway through the fourth quarter. Alabama's comeback bid was an 11-play drive that took 6:37 off the clock. This would have been great for the Tide if this drive managed to go more than 29 yards, but it didn't. Auburn got the ball back and ground the clock to under a minute before punting inside the Alabama 20. Four incomplete A.J. McCarron passes later Auburn had the victory.
REASONS TO BE ALARMED: If first-quarter Alabama shows up for the Capital One Bowl it's going to be a long day;the defense was able to make college football's most dynamic player one-dimensional; I don't know who's going to stop Julio Jones unless it's Julio Jones (10 receptions, 199 yards and a touchdown).
REASONS TO HOPE: Ingram and Richardson were hampered (20 runs, 60 yards) by a run defense similar in ranking to MSU's on a per carry basis (Auburn: 3.49, MSU: 3.59), the offensive line is making it hard for Greg McElroy to function as a human being (5 sacks), fumbles are present (Ingram and McElroy both lost one).
That's Alabama's season to date. Here's what I've learned:
OFFENSE: Greg McElroy will complete 67% of his passes no matter what the opponent, Ingram and Richardson can both hurt defenses in equal quantities, the offensive line was a liability the second half of the season (that was due to injury though, they'll be at 100% for the bowl game), Julio Jones is going to be the most challenging matchup for the MSU secondary this season.
DEFENSE: The rush defense is decent (33rd in yards per carry given up: 3.64), the front seven doesn't make many big plays (75th in sacks, 82nd in tackles for a loss), but the secondary is ferocious (#1 in interceptions among teams that have played 12 games, #5 in passes defended per game).
SPECIAL TEAMS: Richardson absolutely has the ability to score touchdowns off the kickoff. If you couldn't tell from the motif of these previews, punting is a weakness (92nd in the NCAA). Field goals are an adventure with this team from any distance. If there's a glaring weakness to this squad, special teams is it.
That's the long and short of Alabama's season. LVS will be in tomorow for an in-depth preview of how MSU will attack the Tide.