19 October 2008
Someone finally managed to take a lead on the Tide this year when Ole Miss kicked a FG with 5:25 left in the first quarter to make the score 3-0. It took Alabama all of 1:15 to rectify that with a four play, 73 yard drive that was capped off with Marquis Maze's first career touchdown. And for the remainder of the first half Bama pretty much did whatever they wanted with the football.
Unfortunately for the Bama offense the game lasts two halves. For the second straight week, and third time in SEC play this season the Tide was out-played in the second half of football. That is an alarming trend that will have to be dealt with at some point this season.
Fortunately Alabama has been able to build enough of a lead in the first half that lackluster play in the second half hasn't mattered in the won-loss record. When the scoreboard hit triple zeros on Saturday the Tide had earned Nick Saban the first 7-0 start in his coaching career.
This was one of John Parker Wilson's better games as Alabama's quarterback. He's had a higher completion percentage, and he would certainly like to have the interception back. But for the first time this season he hit a deep ball. In fact, he hit several deep balls.
Bama's first touchdown was a simple go route to Marquis Maze along the right sidelines. It only goes in the books as a 26 yard TD pass, but Maze was led so perfectly that he could still be running behind the Rebels' secondary. It was the best pass of the season by John Parker and it set the tone for Bama's second TD drive. With Bama demonstrating that it could complete the deep ball the Rebels backed an extra guy out of the box, and Bama stuffed it right down their throats for a Mark Ingram TD.
That second drive brought the Ole Miss defensive backs closer to the line, and Bama went deep on them again. Bama went for trickeration for the first time this season, perfectly executing a flea-flicker. Ole Miss didn't get beat badly on the play, with two guys running deep with Mike McCoy on his flag route. For the second time in the game John Parker set a new best for "best pass of the season" hitting McCoy in stride just over the top of the defender's arms. The play went for 30 yards, but like with Maze's, McCoy could still be running.
He added another big play in the second half, hitting Nick Walker in stride on a great play fake for a 40 yard gain. The pass didn't go but about 15 of those yards, but it hit Walker perfectly in stride, which is something that John Parker has struggled with in the past.
I was prepared to say that the interception was not his fault, but Coach Saban indicated otherwise. It looked live like Mike McCoy ran a different route than John Parker was expecting. Coach Saban said in post game that John Parker has been taught to not throw a deep middle ball when the defense has a safety in a deep middle position. So chalk this one up to a poor decision.
Overall the numbers were - 16 of 25 with 1 INT, 219 yards and 2 TDs
Glen Coffee has to stop putting the ball on the ground. Period. I don't think that his fumble on Saturday was necessarily his fault, but when fumbles have come at the pace that they've come from him, he's going to take the blame.
It wasn't a great day aside from the fumble, either. The Rebels spent a good deal of time with seven and eight guys in the box, and Glen had to fight for virtually every yard that he got. The numbers show just a 4.0 average per gain, and many of those yards came on second effort. He also caught two passes, but those were just as much of a fight for positive yards.
13 rushes, 52 yards, 2 receptions, 1 yard
Mark Ingram returned to the #2 spot in the rotation this week with a solid game. He faced a lot of the same defensive front that Coffee faced, but was able to squeeze out a little more per run. He made most of his hay on Bama's second TD drive when the Rebels were off of the line scrimmage a little because of the Maze TD.
There was one 19 yard run for Ingram, but the rest of his yards came bouncing between the line of scrimmage and the linebackers. It was the type of tough running that we had grown accustomed to seeing from Mark earlier in the season, and it was nice to see him return to that. It was also nice to see him return to the end zone, following Terrence Cody to pay dirt.
17 rushes, 73 yards, 1 TD
For the first time this year someone other than Julio Jones and Nick Walker caught a touchdown pass. In all the group combined for four plays of greater than 25 yards, which is exactly what you want out of your receiver corps. With teams stacking the box more and more these guys have got to continue to show their ability to beat man to man coverage.
Nick Walker had his first big game since the Clemson game, hauling in a game high five receptions for a game high 65 yards. He was the first option on several plays for the Tide passing attempt, and with the exception of one late drop, he was as steady as ever.
His highlight reel on draft day will likely include his 40 yard reception that showed off speed that most people were probably unaware that he possessed. He wasn't able to run away from the Ole Miss secondary, but it certainly took them longer to catch him than I (or they) would have guessed. Look for Bama to use Nick more downfield as the season goes on.
Julio Jones started the day with a 40 yard play that has been mostly lost in the shuffle of other big pass plays. On a quick hitter to the right side Julio initially bobbled the ball before securing it, breaking a tackle, making a guy miss, stiff arming a guy, and then dragging a defender for close to ten yards. It was the type of play that you see on Sunday, and the fact that it was made by a true freshman is still staggering.
It wasn't just the one play for Julio either. He racked up another 25 yards later, demonstrating that Ole Miss would absolutely have to double cover him to keep him from having the type of huge day that he seems to be building towards. The Rebels did double team him, holding him to just one more catch (an ill fated screen that lost two yards) the rest of the way.
Thankfully someone else stepped up. Initially it was Marquis Maze, who beat Marshay Green horribly on a go route for Bama's first touchdown. He earned some time in the dog house with a celebration penalty following the play, though I'll forgive him a little considering it was the first score of his career. He looked to have a big gain later in the game on a screen pass, but just as he accelerated into space an Ole Miss defender yanked him down by the face mask (which was somehow missed by the official standing right there).
Mike McCoy took his turn to step up in the second quarter, making a nice play to accelerate past two Ole Miss defenders to reel in his first touchdown of the season. He hasn't been spectacular this season, but with that 30 yards catch, along with two others for 15 yards, he has continued to up his per catch average - something that Glen55 has been adamant that he must
The shock of the day was the first appearance of true freshman tight end Brad Smelley. He had a great fall camp, but it looked like Bama's numbers at the position might earn him a redshirt. Evidently he took advantage of the off week to pass Chris Underwood on the depth chart, and he earned his first snap on Bama's second play from scrimmage.
It took him a little longer to get his first catch, but he got that, too. He did a great job of breaking off his route to become an open target for John Parker Wilson who was being flushed from the pocket. His catch went for a 16 yard third down conversion that led to an Alabama touchdown.
Despite the fact that he's listed on the roster as a tight end, he never lined up in the traditional tight end position. He was in motion behind the line on a couple of snaps, but otherwise was split into the slot for all of his plays. That's something we'll likely see a lot more of over the course of the year. Interestingly enough, he also joined the kickoff return team as a front line blocker.
It wasn't a great day for these guys. Despite the fact that Bama put up 24 first half points, the Tide's second touchdown drive was the only long, sustained drive of the day. Some credit has to be given to an athletic and strong Ole Miss defensive line, but this group did not dominate the way that we are used to seeing this year.
Andre Smith did not appear to be 100%, but Bama still went behind him every time that they had to have yards. He and Mike Johnson have been solid all year, and that continued to be the case Saturday. But solid isn't always good enough, and the Tide needed better blocking in the second half when yards were tough to come by.
John Parker Wilson was sacked twice, though I'll lay one of those on him for not getting rid of the ball quicker. But he was harassed all night and that is on the line. Yes, Ole Miss is a team that has very good pass rushers, but they need to do a better job of forcing teams to rush more than four guys. And that's been a weakness in each of the last two games.
I would be remiss to not mention that we saw a new offensive lineman on Saturday. Terrence Cody technically lined up in the backfield, but at his size, a refuse to call him anything but a lineman. With Terrence running in behind Smith and Johnson there was a huge hole for Mark Ingram to run behind.
Had the Bama offense been able to do anything in the second half this game would likely have felt a lot different. Just one scoring drive would have taken all of the momentum from Ole Miss and given it back to Bama. Unfortunately the Tide could manage just two fourth quarter first downs, which meant that Ole Miss had the ball a lot in the final stanza.
Tennessee is 11th in the nation in total defense, so the Bama offense will face another tough test this weekend in Knoxville. It will take more than one half of football to win a game in Neyland Stadium, and I would guess that these guys will have that hammered home this week.