20 October 2011
The University of Alabama football team has wrapped up its practice week for the Tennessee Volunteers. A walk-through on Friday will put the finishing touches on the week, and on Saturday we will all see enough of that horrible color to last us for a lifetime. In case you've forgotten... I really hate orange.
Here's what you need to know:
I hate orange. Just a reminder.
It looks likely that Bama will be without several guys this week. Both Anthony Steen and Cade Foster have been cleared for contact, but neither guy has done much in practice this week. Look for Alfred McCullough to start at right guard and Jeremy Shelley to handle all place kicks and kicking off.
Additionally, Eddie Lacy is likely to be very limited, if he plays at all. He had just five carries at Ole Miss, and unless the game manages to be competitive after half time, I doubt we'll see him get those touches this week.
Barrett Jones spent a good deal of time watching Cyrus Kouandjio work at left tackle and Nick Gentry had both hands wrapped pretty heavily, but expect we'll see both of them play.
One apparent position change has happened - true freshman Bradley Sylve has been working with the cornerbacks. He had been working exclusively with the wide receivers. Jabriel Washington had been working with the corners, but has been Bama's scout team specialist for imitating small, shifty guys on offense. I am guessing that Washington is going to stay at corner, and it's possible that Sylve is just getting a look there because some reps are available with Washington working so heavily on the scout team. This position change is happening at about the same time as the move of Jalston Fowler from linebacker to running back last season.
The Alabama-Tennessee game is possibly the most important rivalry in southern football, so the game obviously brings back a lot of memories. My favorite is probably the 9-6 game in 1990 when Tennessee thought it had the game won, only to see a blocked FG with less than a minute to go inexplicably bounce twenty yards to put Bama within Phillip Doyle field goal range. Watching Doyle run around the field at Neyland Stadium shooting finger pistols at the stunned and deflated orange-clad bunch cinched him as an all-time favorite of mine.
The back-to-back upset wins by Bama in 1986 (56-28 at #2 Tenn) and 1987 (41-22 in Birmingham against #8 Tenn) bring back fond memories, but also bring up the dread of doubt about what could happen if a tired Bama squad overlooks the Vols. We got a glimpse of that in 2009 when Bama tried its very best to lose to Tennessee, only to see Terrence Cody save the day.
So am I worried? No.
This team is considerably different than the 2009 team in one major way. This team has simply obliterated its opponents this season, allowing its considerable depth to be utilized. The two games that preceeded Tennessee in 2009 were 22-3 and 20-6 wins at Ole Miss and at home against South Carolina. While neither of those games were particularly close, Bama simply wasn't playing very well at that point in the season. The South Carolina game was a close one, with a Mark Barron INT return for a touchdown keeping the game from being a nailbiter. Bama's last two games this season have resulted in a combined score of 86-7. And, really, those two games were not as close as the scores would indicate.
Bama played poorly in the first half against Vandy, and a little sloppy in the first half against Ole Miss. Then the Tide simply went to work and demolished their opponents in the second half - a combined score of 55-0. That meant that a lot of front line guys got to take the fourth quarter off. The fact that Bama took care of business in all of its early season games meant that a lot of younger guys got significant minutes. In that time, a few guys (like Adrian Hubbard and Chris Underwood) demonstrated that they were capable of getting more meaningful minutes. This Alabama team did what it was supposed to do in garbage games against Kent State and North Texas - it allowed some guys to develop into new roles. The fact that Bama was able to continue this work in games against teams like Penn State, Arkansas, and Florida is a testament to how good this team. And the net result is that this is now a much deeper team.
While a snap off here or there might not seem like that big of a deal; it is. When guys get to take whole quarters off, it becomes an ever bigger deal. This Bama team is not nearly as tired as the 2009 team was. And it has shown in recent weeks. It helps that the team is deeper, as well.
Of course, what really helps is that I believe that this team is simply better than the 2009 team. They've got seven more games to win to accomplish what that team did, but I believe that this group of players is more talented and far more focused and motivated than that group was. And considering that team had a Heisman winner, multiple first round draft weeks, and a a national title to its credit - mostly built on focus an motivation... well, I think it's easy to see that I have said a mouthful. It's also easy to see that I really like this Bama team.
It also helps that this injury depleted Tennessee squad isn't as good as the 2009 team was. Lane Kiffin's idiotic "play to not get humiliated" strategy worked well at Florida that year, and worked to perfection against an exhausted Alabama team. It was also indicative of larger cultural problems within the UT football program under the sport's #1 spoiled brat. Derek Dooley is still fighting to correct that culture, and injuries to some key players has set that back another year. If he didn't wear that damn color, I might feel sorry for him.
I think the crowd is likely to be energetic as hell. Watching LSU and Auburn will galvanize the fans. There are three possibilities in that game:
- LSU struggles to beat Auburn due to the suspensions. Auburn loses, LSU looks like crap. A double win.
- LSU beats the living hell out of Auburn despite the suspensions. Auburn getting humiliated is always a fun thing to watch.
- LSU can not overcome the suspensions and Auburn wins. An Auburn win would suck, but knowing that the Tide will move up to #1 postgame would be exciting.
So the crowd should be intense. Forgetting all of that, the opponent will be wearing that damn color, so the crowd better be intense.
With that being the case, I think we'll see what we saw against Arkansas. And that's a systematic beat down of an SEC team. Bama can name the score in this one, but Nick Saban won't embarrass his protege. Vegas thinks Bama is 30 points better. Those folks don't keep the lights on at the casinos by being wrong much. It's as bad of a matchup as this series has seen in a while, and Bama is too motivated to let it be anything but a bad game.
Then the Tide finally gets a break before the November 5th matchup that will likely determine who plays for the national title.
And there is simply no way that I could end this without saying finally and definitively - I HATE ORANGE.
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