Tide Bits Power Poll – Week 2

We’re one day later with this baby thanks to Tennessee scheduling their season opener on a Sunday.  Thanks, Vols.  Anyways, here we go…

1) Auburn Tigers (Overall 1-0, Conference 1-0) – The Tigers are the defending conference champs and there’s no good reason to move them out of the top spot until some cracks start to show.  There were none last Saturday against Arkansas as the Tigers pulled away in the second half.  After one game, Cameron Artis-Payne looks like a worthy successor to Tre Mason in the Auburn backfield.

2) Texas A&M Aggies (1-0, 1-0) – It was tempting to put the Aggies in the top spot after their beat down of South Carolina, but since these two teams will play later in the year, things will sort themselves out.  After Kenny Hill’s bust out performance on the road against Carolina, I’m for sure giving Kevin Sumlin’s system more credit than I have in the past.

3) Georgia Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0) – The Dawgs mealey-mouthed around with Clemson for one half Saturday night and then played like world beaters in the last two quarters.  Are Georgia’s defensive problems solved?  I’m not sure that the contest against against Clemson proves anything.  Georgia also may have some quarterbacking issues, but they for sure have a stable of running backs, led by Todd Gurley.

4) Alabama Crimson Tide (1-0, 0-0) – Overall, I wasn’t pleased with Alabama’s play on Saturday and they look like a team that will lose a couple three games this year.  But that’s not necessarily because of new quarterback Blake Sims.  That’s because of sub par defensive play from a unit Nick Saban labeled as soft at half time.  Without a better pass rush and without better corner play, several teams on the schedule will give this Tide defense fits.  

5) LSU Tigers (1-0, 0-0) – It wasn’t pretty, but LSU pulled out a win against a fired-up Wisconsin team.  We’ll see later just how impressive the win was, or not.  The Tigers have a stable of running backs, but have a major question mark at QB.  Anthony Jennings won the job and made a couple of impressive passes, but overall his play wasn’t at the level to win in the SEC.  Like Alabama, LSU may be labeled as one-dimensional and may have a tough time keeping up with or out-scoring several teams on their schedule.

6) Missouri Tigers (1-0, 0-0) – These Tigers posted a ho-hum 38-18 win over FCS division South Dakota State.  In the process, I don’t think very many questions were answered about Mizzou.  Maty Mauk played well and the defense was average, I suppose.  The Tigers have another cream puff this week (Toledo) and then we’ll find out more in week three when they host Central Florida.

7) Ole Miss Rebels (1-0, 0-0) – The Rebels helped kick off the 2014 season with a Thursday night win over Boise, 35-13.  The Broncos were clearly out matched, but Ole Miss did their best to help Boise stay in the game.  Quarterback Bo Wallace struggled in the first half with turnovers, but played like one of the Mannings on a couple of second half occasions.  And therein lies the rub.  This team will ultimately go no farther than Wallace can take them.  So how far can he take them?  First-half Wallace will take them to 6-6.  Second-half Wallace could take them to 8-10 wins.

8) Mississippi State Bulldogs (1-0, 0-0) – It’s always good to see your team take care of business in early season out of conference games and that’s exactly what Dan Mullen got with his team’s win over Southern Miss.  They didn’t beat a very good team, but they got a shut out, played well offensively and got the season off to a great start.  The Bulldogs have two more out of conference games (UAB, South Alabama) before traveling to LSU in week four.  That’s when we’ll find out more about these Dogs.

9) Tennessee Volunteers (1-0, 0-0) – The Vols actually looked like a decent football team as they ran way from Utah State 38-7.  Despite returning no starters on both sides of the line of scrimmage, UT handled the Aggies with no problems.  If the Vols can avoid a let down against Arkansas State this week, Sunday’s win makes the trip to Oklahoma in week three a little more interesting.

10) Florida Gators (0-0, 0-0) – Well, at least the Gators got to get dressed up for a game and return one kickoff.  After finishing 4-8, I’m sure they’ll take anything over another loss.  The Gators are likely to be better this season, we just don’t know how much yet.  Next up for Florida is Eastern Michigan.

11) Kentucky Wildcats (1-0, 0-0) – Mark Stoops’ gang picked up a nice win against UT-Martin in week one.  Yes, they were only playing UT-Martin, but they did what they were supposed to do when an SEC team plays an OVC team.  That hasn’t been the case recently for Kentucky football.  The ‘Cats look improved this season, but it’s too early to tell how much.

12) South Carolina Gamecocks (0-1, 0-1) – Carolina is probably better than the 11th-best team in the SEC, but they for sure didn’t look like it in the opener against the Aggies.  Both sides of the ball need major work in Columbia.  This week’s game against East Carolina will give us a gauge as to how bad the ‘Cocks really are.

13) Arkansas Razorbacks (0-1, 0-1) – The first game is for sure too small of a sample size by which to judge the Hogs this year.  They went on the road to face the defending conference champions and had to play in some nasty weather.  The final score, in my opinion, wasn’t a surprise.  There was no way Arkansas could hang with Auburn.  Are they better than the dregs of the league this year?  We’ll I have to wait and see.

14) Vanderbilt Commodores (0-1, 0-0) – Really no question here.  The Dores stumbled hard against the Owls in a game most expected them to win.  Wins were already hard to come by this year, so things could get ugly again in Nashville.

Week 1 Review

What a weird week of games and results, or in Florida’s case, no results.  So far, the tally for week one is 6-4, which is, in a word, brutal.  This is probably the worst week for picks in the history of this blog, but at least Bama won.

1) Florida, Idaho – suspended, whatever that means [Prediction: Florida 45, Idaho 6]

  • Pre-game: “Look for the new Gator offense to get off to a good start against the Vandals.”
  • Post-game:  Not sure yet how or when this one will be resolved.

2) Georgia 45, Clemson 21 [Prediction: Georgia 33, Clemson 28]

  • Pre-game: “Hutson Mason and Todd Gurley get the Dawgs off to a hot start.”
  • Post-game: Gurley ran wild and the Dawg defense stiffened in the second half.

3) Kentucky 59, UT-Martin 14 [Prediction: Kentucky 27, UT-Martin 14]

  • Pre-game: “Mark Stoops gets the Wildcats off to a good start with a not-as-easy-as-it-looks win against the Skyhawks.”
  • Post-game: A good start for the Wildcats as they didn’t mess around with UT-Martin.

4) Texas A&M 52, South Carolina 28 [Prediction: South Carolina 35, Texas A&M 34]

  • Pre-game: “The post-Johnny Manziel era is off to a losing start for Kevin Sumlin’s Aggies.”
  • Post-game:  The post-Johnny Manziel era may be better than the actually Johnny Manziel era.

5) Tennessee  38, Utah State 7 [Prediction: Tennessee 28, Utah State 27]

  • Pre-game: “This isn’t an easy out for the Volunteers, but then again, there haven’t been a lot of those lately anyway.”
  • Post-game: The Vols win impressively over a Utah State team that is supposed to be decent.

6) Temple 37, Vanderbilt 7 [Prediction: Vanderbilt 24, Temple 23]

  • Pre-game: “The Derrick Mason regime begins with a win over the Owls.”
  • Post-game: The Mason era is off to an abysmal start.

7) Alabama 33, West Virginia 23 [Prediction: Alabama 27, West Virginia 13]

  • Pre-game: “This game won’t be as close as the score, but the Tide offense will struggle a bit.”
  • Post-game: The Tide needed all that Blake Sims and the offense could muster as the defense looked soft.

8) Auburn 45, Arkansas 21 [Prediction: Auburn 44, Arkansas 28]

  • Pre-game: “Different year, same song for the Hogs.”
  • Post-game: Pretty much what I thought.

9) LSU 28, Wisconsin 24 [Prediction: Wisconsin 27, LSU 24]

  • Pre-game: “A tough opener for the Tigers means a tough loss in Houston.”
  • Post-game: For LSU, I suppose an ugly win is better than a pretty loss.

10) Mississippi State 49, Southern Miss 0 [Prediction: Mississippi State 31, Southern Miss 17]

  • Pre-game: “Dan Mullen’s Dogs get an easy win over the Golden Eagles.”
  • Post-game: Mullen’s Dogs cruise against a very bad Southern Miss squad.

11) Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13 [Prediction: Boise State 31, Ole Miss 30]

  • Pre-game: “A rough start to the season for Hugh Freeze’s Rebel Black Bears.”
  • Post-game: The Black Bears finished strong against over matched Boise.


Final WVU Thoughts, Sims Edition

There’s nothing like a good quarterback battle to ignite a fan base.  Alabama fans are no different.

Despite a stat line that read 24 of 33 passing (72.7%) for 250 yards with no touchdowns and one interception, half of the Tide fan base (at least) is hopping mad because they believe head coach Nick Saban has cast his lot with the wrong guy.  The right guy, obviously in their opinion, is Florida State transfer Jake Coker.  And this half of the fan base is incensed that Coker played no meaningful snaps against the Mountaineers in the Georgia Dome.

As usual, about half of the Alabama fan base is insane.

As I read fan comments last night, I actually felt sorry for the families of these lunatic fans and they actually made me feel a little better about myself.  That’s how nuts some of us are.

So this Monday following the first game of the season, let’s all take a deep breath and take a step back from the ledge.  Let’s gather ourselves and gain a bit of perspective.

First off, Saban, the head coach of our football team and the same coach that won four BCS national titles, felt comfortable enough with Blake Sims to name him the starting quarterback.  Yes, Sims had a circuitous route to the throne and, yes, Sims played bad in the last A-Day game, but Saban and his new offensive coordinator, Lane Kiffin, thought Sims did the best throughout training camp and gave the Tide the best chance to win.  

It’s pretty simple logic, but I think I’ll leave the starting quarterback spot up to these qualified coaches.  (At least for now.  As a blogger, I reserve the right to change my mind.)  These same coaches also determined which quarterback ran out onto the field at the Dome for each offensive series.  Sims was chosen for every meaningful drive.

For most sane Alabama fans, this makes sense.  To the average fan (and, obviously, not those with super fan insights despite having never played college football or coached the sport) it was apparent that the team was moving the ball – both on the ground and in the air.  Yes, Sims didn’t throw often down field.  Yes, his passes were of the safer variety.  But that’s ok with me!  For a first time starter, it kind of makes sense to ease him into the season and not start chucking the ball all over the place.  I dunno, maybe it’s just me, but that seems reasonable.  He also seemed comfortable running the offense and seemed to maintain his poise.  Saban acknowledged that this wasn’t always the case and indicated that Sims was almost pulled in the second quarter.  See!  This again proves that the four-time title winner was actually still coaching!  Amazing, isn’t it?

The problem, you see was the Tide defense and the Tide kickoff coverage unit.  We didn’t have a spare possession for Coker to play so that one-half of the Tide fan base would be at least a little appeased.  No, we needed every possession and Sims was moving the team.  That’s not to say that every pass was on the money or that every play was called correctly or that all was perfect.  No, things weren’t perfect, but they never are for first-time starters.  But he played well and he played with poise.  He did complete a high percent of his passes and he had only one turnover, although it was a bad one.  He also avoided the rush all night and was also able to use his legs to run for a few yards.  Don’t forget these last couple of comments, especially when comparing Sims to AJ McCarron.  Our last quarterback was not mobile and didn’t like to get hit (who does?).  Sims’ athleticism helped him escape trouble frequently and I can guarantee you that opposing defenses will have to scheme for his running ability.  I can also tell you that there were times against WVU when the threat of his running ability created open receivers.  

To summarize, you are nuts if you think Sims didn’t play well.  

Does that mean we can win a title with him?  I really don’t think so.  I don’t think he’s as polished of a passer as we need in the long run.  I have doubts about winning a shoot out with him.  Now that doesn’t mean he’s going to play poorly, it’s just saying his upside this season isn’t as high as it probably should be.

But that also doesn’t mean we could win with Coker.  For whatever reason, Coker was beaten out and the WVU game didn’t follow the script that I’m sure Saban and Kiffin wanted so that Coker could play more.  That doesn’t mean that he won’t play the next couple of weeks.  He may play and he may play a lot.  But the bottom line is Sims helped us through a tough game against a tougher than expected opponent and that’s more than Coker can say at this moment.

Our real concern, however, lies on the other side of the ball.  Yes, we missed C.J. Mosley and, yes, we even missed Trey DePriest.  We also still miss Dre Kirkpatrick, Kareem Jackson and Dee Milliner.  We don’t have a lock-down corner right now and that is very concerning.  My feeling is that our defensive line and linebackers will play better than they did against WVU.  I’m not sure about the corners.  We are waiting on Eddie Jackson’s return, but I’m not counting on much from him given that he’s recovering from knee surgery.  Next up would be Tony Brown.  Who knows?  Maybe the freshman is ready to ball.  Something tells me he’ll get his chance.

Post Game Thoughts: West Virginia

Watching Alabama football games isn’t always a lot of fun for me.  Yes, I love the build-up to the games and the anticipation of the season starting, but the actual watching can actually be tortuous.

I think this is primarily because of my out of whack expectations.  Alabama has won so many championships that my expectations are totally unreasonable.  I want to win and I want to dominate.  I want to compete in such a way that when the game is over, they readily admit they were outclassed and whipped – in every phase.  Obviously, this is nuts and these expectations can’t possibly be met.

But watching football lately has become even more tortuous for another reason.  I hate the hurry-up, no huddle offense.  With a passion.

I suppose I don’t hold it against people if they like the offense.  It is, I reluctantly say, a natural evolution of the game.  It shows how people adapt and thrive give a certain set of circumstances and I guess that’s admirable.  I guess.

But I still don’t like it.  To me, it’s basically glorified cheating and doesn’t represent the spirit of the game.  People will trot out defenses of the HUNH by bringing up the wishbone offense, but that’s really ridiculous.  The wishbone was about mental discipline and physical strength.  On both sides of the ball.  When the play was over, go to the huddle, get ready and then do it again.

The HUNH is all about deception.  It’s not just a no huddle offense.  Hurry up, bang, bang run a play.  No.  This is sprint to the line, lock in the defense and then the O gets to move around, get out of their stances, dance around, look at the sideline and then do what they want.  It’s basically cheating and I hate it, so much in fact, that I don’t know how much longer I can stomach it.  Life is too short for the HUNH.

Now, with that being said, let’s discuss Alabama – West Virginia.

First off, I was not surprised by the score.  Alabama was a mid-20 point favorite, but I didn’t expect them to cover.  That doesn’t mean I’m a betting line genius, it just means I was expecting the kind of game we saw (well, up to a point).  We had a brand-new QB and offensive coordinator and lots of holes to fill on defense. Things played out accordingly.

Next, let me adjust your perspective:  This team will lose a couple of games this year.  I’m not totally giving up or trying to be Negative Ned.  No, I’m just stating the obvious.  Our defense has some extremely big holes in it – holes that we also had last year, and our offense is good, with tons of star power, but I’m not sure Blake Sims can make all of the throws we need to win a couple of the toughest games.  That’s not saying he played terrible or poorly.  Not at all.  He played well.  It’s just stating he’s limited.

There are a couple of keys to beating a HUNH team.  Dominate the line of scrimmage, play disciplined, assignment football, and be able to cover man-to-man on the corners.  We saw the fruits of not being able to do this last year and we saw similar results against WV.  The defensive line played better, especially in the second half, but they helped make Clint Trickett look like Jameis Winston.  Our corners – well, one cornerback in particular, didn’t play well at all.  In fact, it atrocious.  It’s not the intent of this blog site to trash people.  So there’s no need to type out a lot of vitriol.  But let’s call a spade a spade.  One of our corners got picked on – repeatedly.  And if we can’t get better play – something that we’ve counted on all off-season, we’ll have a long row to hoe this season.

Our linebackers also didn’t play particularly well.  Specifically, they didn’t play well in coverage.

I’m not trying to take anything away from West Virginia, but I’m not sure they are a very good football team.  Defensively, I know they are suspect.  Offensively, I think we made them look a lot better than they really are.  With that being said, there are much tougher HUNH teams on our schedule.  As Nick Saban noted after the game, now we have some feedback; now the team knows which areas need to be improved.  I sure hope those improvements can be made and made soon.  Otherwise, we have trouble brewing.

But things were not all bad.  The offense racked up over 500 yards.  Blake Sims completed over 70% of his passes, we had two 100 yard rushers and Amari Cooper caught 12 passes.  That’s pretty dang good for a new coordinator and a new quarterback.

Sure, I don’t think the WV defense is very good, but the offense executed the game plan put before them very, very well.  Offensively, there was no room for error in this game.  Our defense was hardly breaking their serve and there was no breathing room.  Every possession counted and points were needed on each of them.  At each critical junction, though, Sims and the offense stepped up and made plays (yeah, well, except for one interception).  And when the game was on the line with a 10 point lead and almost seven minutes left, they ate the clock and iced the game.  That’s a great first game in my book.  It’s a great confidence builder and, most importantly, the team won.

Heading into this game, I expected Sims to play about 70% of the snaps.  That was assuming he just didn’t stink things up.  I figured the game would be too close for Jake Coker to play much of a significant role.  I guess I was expecting a little larger lead in the second half and Coker would play most of the fourth.  Obviously, it didn’t work out that way and I think it was a good call for Sims to play the whole way.  He was leading the team, they were moving the ball and scored on most every possession.  Sims wasn’t playing poorly enough to justify whatever upside Coker could provide at that point.

Unfortunately for Coker, Sims’ play may have secured the starting role for a while.  Unless he stinks it up big time against either Florida Atlantic or Southern Miss, I think we know who has won the QB battle.  I do think Coker will play some meaningful snaps in the next two games.  There is still a good chance we’ll need to lean on him at some point in the year, so the experience will be helpful.

To sum things up, I hate the spread and our team has some significant weak spots this year.  We have some huge challenges on the schedule.  I’m hoping some significant improvement will occur between now and then.  For now, though, I will enjoy being 1-0 and this 33-23 win.

Roll Tide!

Opening Day Memories

Just a few more hours now, Lord willing, and this year’s edition of the Crimson Tide will kick things off against West Virginia.  One one hand, It’s hard to believe it’s here already, but on the other, it seems like such a long time since the Sugar Bowl.  I’m sure you know what I mean.

As the first game day of the season approaches every year, it makes me think back to many of the opening days of yesteryear.  No matter the year and no matter how good or bad we were supposed to be, it was always exciting.  Always.

I spent the lead up to those days much like I do now.  I’d find some source of information – usually an Athlon’s magazine, and I’d hunker down and absorb every bit of it.  The closer we got to the season usually meant a pre-season pullout section in The Birmingham News and I’d devour that too.

Those early years were, of course before the Internet and before the proliferation of ESPN, so I “watched” most of the openers by listening to John Forney and Doug Layton on the Alabama broadcast network.  I’d find some sort of radio, try to drag it outside or prop it up on a window ledge inside, and then I’d proceed to re-enact the action live in my backyard.  Man, those were good times.

My dad worked shift work at the local paper factory, so there was two out of three chance that he wouldn’t be at home for most of the games.  If he was working the day shift, he’d usually get home after the game started and if he worked the evening shift, he’d have to leave for work before it was over.  (If he was working the midnight shift, he’d just stay up to listen and suffer the consequences later.)  This put a big responsibility on me.  Though the folks at the factory would usually have a radio on with the game, dad was always sure to ask me what happened and he’d listen intently as if I was telling him the secret Kentucky Fried Chicken Recipe.  Most of the games were won by the the Tide, so after my recap, both of our smiles would beam and we would have a hop in our step for the rest of the day.

In my elementary school years, we would also have our pee-wee football games on Saturday evenings.  There were three league teams and the games would start around five o’clock with the youngest team and be followed by the two older games.  For the coaches and players on the field, and for most of the folks in the stands, this meant being out of earshot of a radio.  The action on the field was important and we’d try to do our best, but our game meant nothing in relation to the game being described by Forney.  The concession stand would have the game on most of the time, so that gave us every incentive to make a visit or two (or three or more).  If we were fortunate, the public address announcer at the field would somehow wrangle a score and announce it to the crowd.

As you can probably see, these games – Alabama football – became part of the fabric of our culture.  They became ingrained in us.  Yes, I suppose as Alabamians we did – during the course of the 1900s – use Bama football to elevate our esteem.  I can’t argue with that.  But for the people of my era, we weren’t concerned about our esteem or what happened in the past, we just wanted the Tide to roll.  We just wanted to win.

And so as opening day rolled around every year, our spirits were bouyed.  We were lifted out of the dog days of summer and the drudgery of school starting back back focusing out thoughts on Bama football.  Like Pavlov’s dog, we were trained.  We were able to disregard or put away the harsh realities of our present lives and be lifted, no just because of the change of seasons, but because our winning past time was back.

Things changed a bit as I entered my teenage years.  The kickoff of Alabama football was still the object of my affection, but with the decline and death of coach Paul Bryant, our situation changed.  Our expectations of winning were still there, but our coach, our leader, was gone.  Our affections were still firmly fixed on the Tide, but we knew things were different.

As the 1983 opener approached, the first in 25 years without coach Bryant, the emotions of Tide fans were all over the place.  We just weren’t sure what things would be like without Bryant.  We weren’t sure what all Ray Perkins would change or what he was up to and we weren’t sure if he could make us champions again.

Ultimately, we struggled that year, finishing 8-4 after a 4-0 start, but we were excited once again the next season as Bama opened up with independent Boston College.  We raced to a 31-14 lead as Tide star Kerry Goode exploded onto the national scene, but our hopes for the game and the season were dashed when Goode injured a knee in the third quarter.  Doug Flutie starred in that game and eventually went on to win the Heisman Trophy that year.  Had Good stayed healthy, Flutie’s competition for the award would surely have been stiffer.

As I continued to age and the realities of life set in, my expectations for Bama football quietly began to change.  The standard was still the same – perfection and championships – I can say that for sure, but experience told me that those days were gone for a while.  But each opening day still brought the same butterflies and excitement.

Today, obviously, we live in a time when the golden days have returned.  We are entering season number eight with Nick Saban at the helm and he has led us to three national titles in the last five years.  These have indeed been the glory days all over again.  In addition to the titles, we opened up under Nick Saban by beating the likes of Clemson, Virginia Tech (twice) and Michigan all on the national stage.  Our expectations now are, quite frankly, pretty unreasonable.  We have so much talent and such good coaching that we should win every single game.  Unfortunately, though, our unreal expectations can sap some of the joy out of the game.  We are one of the best teams in the country year in and year out.  We should win.  But when we don’t, things can get ugly.  I know.  I’ve experienced this ugliness first hand.

So as we sit on the edge of the 2014 season, we have a chance to check our perspective on things and give ourselves several reminders:

* It’s just a game.  Yes, there are all sorts of implications from losing, but this is still just a game.

* And because it’s just a game, our esteem isn’t determined by the game.  Are you going to change your fan affiliation if our team loses?  I should hope not!  So relax.  It’s just a game and these are some of the best times of our lives.

* Other than being at the stadium and yelling, there’s nothing you can do to help your team win.  Your special game day socks don’t help.  Your lucky underwear don’t help.  Your national title tee shirt doesn’t help.  Think about it.  Falling for these sorts of things is actually insulting to our team that works so hard all year round to prepare for the games.  And you think you control the outcome of the universe by sitting in your lucky seat?  C’mon.  Get real.

* Just because the coaches or players may make mistakes or do dumb things, it doesn’t give us the right to spew venom at them.  Think about it.  Would you say these things to the players if you were in the same room with them?

(Hopefully, I’ll remember these things if the game gets close tomorrow.)

These are special times and we are privileged to be fans of a special team.  Let’s do our best to make memories that will stick with us for a lifetime in a good way.

Roll Tide!