15 September 2009
FIU brought a decent quarterback and a nice set of wideouts to Tuscaloosa Saturday – but they didn’t bring much else. Without a running game to distract Alabama’s defense, and without good pass-blockers to keep Paul McCall healthy, on his feet, and looking downfield, that wasn’t enough.
Between some nice FIU passing hookups and – arrrgh! – another TD kickoff return, it took the Tide about 40 minutes to put the Golden Something-or-Anothers away. How did they do it?
Here’s how: Like last week, we’ll start off with Greg McElroy
I know I don’t really have to say this, but in case you weren’t watching, or in case you were watching but you were too drunk to tell what was going on, or in case you think all quarterbacks are from the planet Krypton and have ice fortresses in which they hide from Lex Luther, I’ll say it anyway: Greg McElroy put on a quarterbacking clinic in the first half.
Sure, FIU definitely has the “IU” part in their name, not just the F. (That is to say, we weren’t playing Florida.) We were playing a team without much pass rush or really much of anything all that noticeable on defense.
But still. 15-16 in the first half, and the only incompletion was a perfect pass, on Julio Jones’ hands, for what shoulda been a TD, that Julio dropped.
And it wasn’t just accuracy, although that was quite outstanding (see, for example, the first-down completion to Mike McCoy in tight double-coverage). It was McElroy’s ability to use his time effectively to find an open man, including multiple plays in which he moved in the pocket, found an open man with the time bought, and then either set back up or threw on the run to hit that open guy.
After the last few years, it is sweeeeeet indeed to have a QB who uses his pocket time so well.
How good is McElroy? We really don’t know yet, but when you consider he is just getting his feet wet, well let’s just say I’m optimistic. My opinion that we have upgraded at QB is getting stronger.
On the other hand, it must be said that Greg had plenty of time to look downfield just about every time he went back, and several times he had more than plenty. I’m not sure I saw a single offensive line pass-blocking breakdown in the entire game.
We did give up one large sack of the 12-14 yards, near-our-own-goalline variety, but it came from a running back’s mistake, not an OL breakdown.
On the play, FIU came with two speed-rushers around our left end. Our blocking scheme was unusual: LT Carpenter blocked the guy in front of him and ignored the end rushers, while RG Jones peeled back to handle the left side of the pocket. Jones took the first speed rusher out of the play, but Ingram apparently did not see the second guy and instead of taking him on, gave Jones some help he didn’t really need. The second guy came untouched and McElroy didn’t have a chance.
Again, it’s hard to see who blocks who on TV, but I DID notice that our running backs were running through some gaping holes on the left side in the fourth quarter. I also saw some nice mobility from that new left tackle dude from junior college. Carpenter made a couple of very nice blocks on the corner.
Again, though, there were a few plays where our running backs got stuffed. And that’s against FIU.
Despite that, you have to be pretty happy with the status of an offensive line that started the season a bit on the green side. Combine that with McElroy’s good play, and both the big pre-season question marks have positive answers. That bodes really really well.
Ingram and Richardson
By this time last year, I had already realized that Ingram was a better athlete than Coffee. I expected Ingram to be starting by mid-season.
It didn’t happen, and in retrospect, it shouldn’t have happened. Yes, Ingram was a better athlete, but Coffee had enough of a mental edge, specifically in his ability to find and hit the open hole, to more than compensate for the physical difference.
Now I have realized what I expected to realize all along, i.e., that Richardson is a better athlete than Ingram. (And yes, I realize that Ingram is a super athlete. But still. . . .) Will Ingram’s football skills keep him his job?
It’s a good question. More so than perhaps any other position, talent trumps experience at running back, but that does not by any means signify that experience has no value. Richardson’s talent edge does not appear to be large, and Ingram has improved over last year in his ability to hit the holes. He also appears to have blossomed into an excellent pass receiver, which is not too surprising considering his bloodlines.
I made the pre-season prediction that Richardson would lead the team in carries over the second half of the season. I won’t walk away from that prediction – but I won’t harp on it, either. It might come true, it might not.
But what about Upchurch, you might ask, and it would be a mighty good question. Roy has looked awfully good on the field this year.
Trouble is, that hasn’t been so often. Upchurch certainly doesn’t appear to be brittle in the way that, say, Brodie Croyle appears to be brittle, but he sure has been injured like clockwork throughout his career. The timing on the latest one was just awful for him, right when Ingram’s flu was going to give him a game to shine.
Now he has a high-ankle sprain, an injury that can take a long time to recover from. Given that Saban, who treats the details of player injuries like state secrets, except more secret than that, mentioned that sometimes players are out for several weeks with high-ankle sprains . . . well, do the math. By the time Roy is back in the lineup, Richardson will probably have Wally Pipped him.
If FIU’s defensive backs breathed a sigh of relief when Upchurch left the field – no doubt they saw last week’s game film – they were acting prematurely. In addition to replacing Upchurch’s ball-carrying ability, Richardson also assured that we did not skip a beat in our ability to use our running backs to send opposing defensive backs limping to the sideline. I believe that Ashlyn Parker was the FIU cornerback who suffered Richardson’s wrath.
Nice long TD run, but he still goes down too easy.
I think the idea of putting him at wideout was to have somebody to take pitches on wildcat options, but I think I’d rather have one of the other backs taking the pitch. If he is to get time, it will probably be from his receiving, long TD run or not.
Oh well, there goes the Heisman.
The Crimson Fridge
How long before Cody gets a handoff on a goalline play? My money says it happens by the end of the season.
As a blocker, he didn’t look too shabby on his chance, knocking too guys out of the way as he led Ingram into the end zone. In fact, one of ‘em appeared to be a bit worse off for the experience.
Physical Defense and FIU’s Big Hookups
Last week I bragged on how physical our DBs are, and I don’t think I was off the mark. But there’s a downside to that.
Some folks were putting out the word after the Florida and Utah games that we couldn’t handle the spread, that we were too big and lummoxy to cover the whole field against a team that opened it all up. I think it would be a mistake to buy into that idea too heavily – BUT there is no doubt that to some extent you choose between “bigger” and “faster” in crafting a team identity, and while we have not completely abandoned “faster,” we have put most of our eggs in the “bigger” basket.
I say that to point out the obvious: Mark Barron is not Rashad Johnson. While Mark brings his own gifts to the table, and ultimately may become a more complete player than Johnson, there is just no doubt in the world that, as of right now, Barron might be more likely to knock you into the next county but he doesn’t have Rashad’s coverage skills.
Nevertheless, that’s not why FIU lit us up a time or three through the air. In fact, the biggest completion on Barron was FIU’s touchdown strike, when Mark’s coverage was pretty much spot-on perfect but they completed it anyway.
THAT’s why FIU lit us up: not because of our defensive deficiencies, but simply because they made several big-time passing plays, perfect passes and nice catches. Really, you can’t stop that. Can’t be done.
The one time we really got burnt was on their third and forever on their first series, when that tall #82 dude – Greg Ellingson – left Robbie Green in his dust. Bama and Green were very lucky that play was not a 97-yard touchdown. The only reason Ellingson went down was that he was already off-balance from a push from Green just before the ball arrived (that was never called), and went ahead and fell over when Green reached out and brushed his thigh while Green was falling down.
That passing success pretty much disappeared after halftime, though, as McCall started noticing the high possibility that he was going to absorb a brutal hit every time he dropped back to pass.
OK, yeah, it was just FIU, but Bama’s pass rush came hot from the start and eventually it totally took McCall out of the game. Lorenzo Washington spent most of the game running free, and Hightower had good pressure a couple of times as well, but it was primarily Anders and Dareus breathing in McCall’s face.
All in all, Bama got five sacks and plenty of pressures. The sacks total would’ve been seven, but Dareus and Hightower each had a play where they tackled McCall on a passing play just after he got past the line and thus it wasn’t officially a sack.
We haven’t had a lineman get free on the pass rush like Dareus has done over the last couple of games since Gilberry graduated. And Dareus brings a level of strength that Gilberry couldn’t touch.
His change of direction is pretty amazing for a big man. And he can bull-rush, too.
Johnson made a couple of very nice physical plays on passes down the sideline. However, he allowed himself to be picked twice on crossing patterns, with both plays turning into big gains.
Also, it was Marquis who was victimized on the kickoff TD, as is described below.
On the one hand, Johnson looks like a guy who is just doing time waiting for Kirkpatrick to get the picture and take his place. On the other hand, he looks more athletic than ever before.
Maybe it’s Marquis who will get the picture. If he does, he’ll be hard to move. If he doesn’t, it’s just a matter of time.
Bummer. Damian was making his first big showing. Not only was he threatening Javier Arenas as our top kickoff return guy – well, maybe not but at least he was getting his name said on TV – but he got in McCall’s face a couple of times.
Maybe next year.
I try not to spend too much time on the bleedin’ obvious, such as the fact that our kickoff return coverage is our big weakness. So I’ll just tell you what happened on their return.
Hilton caught it near the left hash-mark and came up the middle. He looked for all the world like a guy who was going to just run into the scrum and try not to get hurt, but then . . .
Woodson was in front of him, but he got blocked. Woodson played off the block as Hilton ran by him, but only got a hand on Hilton and that wasn’t enough.
The middle was still plugged and Marquis Johnson had the outside contain to the right, but Hilton head-faked left and Johnson bought it. Hilton cut right, ran by Marquis, and was off to the races. Chris Rogers just couldn’t catch him.
(By the way, Chris Stewart, who must have never been to an Alabama game before, called Rogers “Julio Jones” during the play-by-play of the kickoff.)
After we started going to the pooch kickoffs because Saban had lost confidence in our kickoff coverage, special teams coach Bobby Williams had a pretty special look on his face. It was the look of a man who knows he needs to get his resume in order.
On the other hand, I noticed upon re-viewing the game that Williams had the exact same look on his face before the game. Maybe he always looks worried . . . or maybe he already knew there was a problem.
I have to mention the embarrassing second-quarter snafu that saw us taking a successful extra point off the board and burning a timeout. Good thing Tiffin went ahead and buried the extra point again, or “embarrassing” wouldn’t have began to cover it.
Otherwise, the coaching was what you would expect: superb. A better mix offensively, including a coherent four-quarter gameplan that eventually wore down the outmatched Golden Somethings. Defensively, we made the needed adjustments to keep their early successes – which they earned as opposed to our giving to them – from being duplicated.
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