23 October 2009
I’ll be interested in watching Monte Kiffin’s opening moves in the chess match with Jim McElwain. The obvious strategy is to crowd the box to stop the Bama running game and let Greg McElroy (137.6 efficiency, 59.5%, 7.6 YPA, 1.6% picks, 189.3 YPG), whose struggles the last couple of weeks have been well-publicized, take his chances. McElwain is smart enough to be ready for that – but is Kiffin thinking a step past that, knowing that McElwain will be ready to counter a D stacked against the run?
And will McElwain think a step past that? And will Kiffin think 2.7 steps beyond that? And will McElwain be prepped for that? (Imagine this paragraph looking at its own infinite images in two mirrors. . . .)
It’s hard to say how much of the load will fall on McElroy’s shoulders til we see how that pans out. I have heard a lot of Tide fans this week wonder why we don’t run a lot more and pass a lot less, but my sense is that McElwain and Nick Saban are determined to work the kinks out of the passing game before we get to the stretch where a one-dimensional offense won’t cut it.
I’m looking for McElroy to air it out 25 times or so, perhaps more if Kiffin stacks the box. Greg will be facing another tough pass D led by all-world safety Eric Berry (50 tackles, 4.5 TFLs, 1 pick, 1 46-yard fumble return) and with athletic DE Chris Walker (5.5 TFLs, 4 sacks, 2 picks) providing the kind of outside pressure the Tide has struggled to handle over the last couple of games. Will he look like a quarterback that has been beaten down by three tough defenses in a row? Or will he look like a quarterback who is starting to get the hang out of making things happen under pressure, now that he has gotten a good solid taste of it?
On the other side of the ball, the chess match between Nick Saban and Lane Kiffin shapes up as less interesting from a neutral observer’s perspective, as you have to give a noticeable edge not only to Saban as a coach but to the talent he is working with. Tennessee’s senior tailback Montario Hardesty (112.0 YPG, 5.4 YPA, 7 TDs) has rushed for as least 86 yards in every game this year, while the Bama D has given up 75 yards to a back only three times in the last 21 games. My take is it is going to be tough for Hardesty to make his yards up the middle, where he likes to run, behind the relatively undersized Vol offensive line, which featured against Georgia three starters weighing in at 260, 270 and 282 (although the other guys are 324 and 346). Looking at the above numbers, I give the Bama D a better chance of making it 3 out of 22 than Hardesty’s chance of getting his 86.
Kiffin will likely use Jonathan Crompton (127.1 efficiency, 57.6%, 6.4 YPA, 5.1% picks, 201.7 YPG) to attack the edges and corners with a short passing game. The Bama D has been at its most vulnerable on the corners this season, but you are living on the edge if you put it up in the air 40 times against the ball-hawking Tide pass defense. After an awful start to the season, Crompton has looked sharper recently, most notably against
Of fan interest is the "matchup" between Tennessee's home run threat true freshman Bryce Brown (41.7 YPG, 4.5 YPA, 2 TDs) and Tide freshman Trent Richardson (51.3 YPG, 5.4 YPA, 4 TDs). The duo shared billing as the nation's top running back recruits of 2009. Brown's role in the Tennessee offense appears to have tailed off a bit lately. My money is on Richardson to post better numbers tomorrow, as the Tide will not allow the suddenly-prominent Heisman campaign of Mark Ingram (129.3 YPG, 6.7 YPA, 11 TDs) to take touches away from the UA freshman.
Finally, we all know Bama has struggled on kick return defense this year – but
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