Worrying About the Tide

If you’re like me, you woke up yesterday morning a tad bit disgusted with yourself for worrying any at all about the BCS title game with Notre Dame.

I try my best to keep worrying about football in perspective. After all the Bible says this about worrying:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7 ESV

This passage even applies to football, as small as it may be in the whole big scheme of things. So I certainly don’t want to sin by worrying about football, of all things.

But I was a tad bit concerned. I mean, I do like to win and I do hate losing and I really didn’t want to lose to Notre Dame. Thankfully, most of the 37 days between the SEC championship game and the title game were very busy for me personally and I didn’t have a lot of time to think about football, much less worry about it. So I was good on the worrying front for a while.

Also, after going through two previous “off-seasons” between Bama’s last game and the championship game, I knew it was best to avoid as much media as possible to avoid the inevitable overload.

But around Christmas, the schedule slacked up a bit (thankfully) and I could turn more attention to football (and to this blog). I

So I began paying more attention to the media and somewhat got sucked into the idea that Notre Dame had a chance. On Tuesday I began thinking about how they sucked us** in.  Here are a few thoughts:

1) Notre Dame is Notre Dame and the media folk were glad to see them back. The Irish have arguably the top brand in college football and they’ve been mishmash for white a while. The opportunity to hype an undefeated Irish team caused all reason to flee the media.

2) It was Notre Dame vs. Alabama. This was perhaps the best match up the ESPN folks could have imagined. How can a match up between these programs not be hyped to the max and over hyped to the point of hoping for a competitive game?

3) Would Alabama have its “mind right?” This was part of the “dynasty vs. destiny” talk. After all, a hungry-haven’t been-here-in-a-long-time Notre Dame team surely had an emotional advantage over Bama. Fueling this fire was talk of players being sent home and distracted practices. Many Tide fans also remember the cockiness and entitled feeling of the 1992 Miami Hurricanes and were over eager to find any sort of hint of this happening this time around (so, of course, that it could be appropriately snuffed out in plenty of time).

4) Bama was a 10-point favorite. 24-14 or 34-24 would have been a lot different than 42-14. 42-14 is a wood shedding. 24-14 is a much too close game where a turnover or penalty can swing momentum and change the outcome.

In the end, though, our common sense should have prevailed. Alabama was better at every single position group – including linebacker – than the Irish. Notre Dame struggled against some much weaker teams. Alabama’s one loss came against a team quarterbacked by a Heisman winner a week after traveling to LSU and winning in the final moments. And this list could go on.

Before the game, this was one comment I had:

We’re the favorite heading into next Monday’s game.  If both teams play their best, we should win and it might not even be close.  But if we turn the ball over and play spotty on special teams we can expect something similar to the first four games in this series.  And that’s what scares me.

In the end, I think proved to be true.  I just wish I had listened to my own words.

Roll Tide, everyone, and enjoy #15.

 

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National Championship Next Day Thoughts

In 2006, I took the family to Knoxville to watch Alabama play Tennessee.  My kids were young and really didn’t understand all that was happening, but I remember one of them asking, “Dad, will we ever win again?”

Of course, my daughter lacked any sort of historical perspective and didn’t understand the rich heritage of Alabama football, so she couldn’t be soothed by the memories of victories past.  And I have to say, I didn’t honestly know how long it would take for us to win again.

Fast forward six years and a few months later, and we now bask in the glow of three national championships in four years.  I grew up in the 1970s and never thought that sort of dominance could be repeated.  But it has.

To be honesty, I’m sort of numb.  Three out of four is hard to fathom.  Beating down Notre Dame 42-14 is hard to fathom.  Realizing that we are watching some of the best players to ever play at Alabama is hard to fathom.

A few comments on the game…

*** Manti Te’0 is a class act and has an incredible personal story.  He’s hard to root against.  Perhaps Te’o just had a bad game at a bad time – I guess his pro career will tell that tale, but if not, he appears to have been vastly overrated.  That’s not necessarily his fault.  I think the media wanted so badly for Notre Dame to be good and hitched their wagon to Te’0.

*** Eddie Lacy, now that he’s healthy, is a beast.  He was clearly playing through some issues early in the season and wasn’t full go.  The last two games, however, we’ve seen the full Lacy.  He’s big, strong, fast, quick to the hole and, of course, has the spin move.  Lacy will make a great pro back.

*** Alabama wanted the game on Everett Golson’s shoulders and that’s what they got.  He really didn’t play all that badly – 21 of 36 for 270 yards a touchdown and a pick, but in the first half the ND offense didn’t make plays when they needed them.  And there was really no way the Irish offense could keep up with Bama’s.

*** The Tide defense allowed 302 yards, with the vast majority of those coming through the air.  To me, that’s not on the defensive backs, but the result of a lack of a pass rush.  We need a dominant pass rusher in the mode of either Courtney Upshaw or Marcel Dareus.

*** Speaking of defensive backs, it was bold of Irish coach Brian Kelly to try to pick on Dee Milliner.  Does he know something the rest of the country doesn’t?

*** And speaking of Kelly, nice concession speech on the way to the locker room at half time.

*** I guess Barrett Jones could block Louis Nix III after all.

It’s the off season now.  Lord willing, we’ll have more time to discuss what just happened.

Roll Tide.

Game Day

We’ve finally made it to game day.  Thirty-seven days after beating Georgia in the SEC title game, the Tide finally gets to play again.  For all the marbles.  Against Notre Dame.  As a heavy favorite.

The glass half-full part of me sees all of this and winces.  I see a set up and I see things like this:

Alabama’s first national title under Nick Saban was hard and was fueled in a big way by the loss to Florida in the 2008 SEC championship game.  The 2011 title – just last year – was hard, but was fueled in a big way by the big-time under achieving in 2010.

But as hard as the first two were, the one played for tonight will be – and has been – even harder.  Winning two titles in three years brings along a bandwagon of satisfied, entitled and expecting.  To fight through that and compete – simply because of the challenge – takes a special person and a special team.

Bama’s favored by 9 or 10 points, but Notre Dame is a worthy opponent and I’m certain they will bring their “A” game and play their best.  As I’ve mentioned before, our plan will be to make life miserable for Everett Golson.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we went up-tempo to start the game and wouldn’t be surprised if we keep the ball in the air.  But at some point, we’ll ask Chance Warmack and company to take the game over.  If we take care of the ball, we should be fine.  If we don’t, all bets are off.

Prediction: Alabama 20, Notre Dame 13

“At some point in the game, you have to take the game.”

Nick Saban addressed the world last night via his radio show and said this in response to a question by Phil Savage:

Saban cited some of the usual factors such as tackling, turnovers, control of the line of scrimmage and finishing. He said it’s impossible to carry over momentum from the regular season, so the team must approach this as a one-game season and play with passion and “tremendous mental toughness. At some point in the game, you have to take the game.”

Well said, coach Saban, well said.

This match up with Notre Dame reminds me most of games with LSU over the last few years.  With LSU, there hasn’t been a lot of fancy stuff, mostly just smash-mouth football.  Old man football.  And that’s what we’ll see against the Irish.  Sure, we may see the occasional hurry-up offense, but mostly, I think, we’ll see who can run the ball the best and who can protect their quarterback the best.

As I’ve said before, I believe the game for Notre Dame will fall on the shoulders of Everett Golson.  If Golson can avoid poor decisions and be accurate on third downs, the Irish will be able to move the ball on Bama and it may be a long night.

Defensively, the Irish will load up to stop the run.  We shouldn’t be fooled; we won’t be playing the Georgia defense Monday night.  The Golden Domers may not be as talented as the Dawgs, but they are a better defense and will sell out to stop the Tide’s running game.

From Bama’s view point, stopping the run on first down and forcing second-and-long and third-and-long is a must.  This, as mentioned above, puts the game on Golson’s shoulders and forces him to be the hero.  To turn Golson into the goat, Alabama’s extra defensive backs – Geno Washington and Vinnie Sunseri – have to have good games.  A high percentage night by Golson means they didn’t.

Offensively, it’ll be interesting to see how the Tide plays this one.  The offensive line is better run blocking than pass blocking, but the Irish will load up to stop the run.  Will the Tide force it’s will onto the Irish and run the ball anyway?  Or will we put the game on McCarron’s back again and try to take advantage of an over matched Irish secondary?  My guess here is that we try to play fast from the beginning, score quickly and put as much pressure as possible on the Notre Dame offense.

Tackling, turnovers and the line of scrimmage – again, all those matter.  But as coach Saban also said, eventually to win the game you have to take it.  We’ll see if our boys are up to the challenge.

 

More Saban Jedi Mind Tricks?

As fans, we look for any clues leading up to ball games to let us know if our team is prepared and ready.  So, I’ll have to admit, at first I didn’t take this as a good sign:

“We sent two players home due to a curfew violation,” Saban said in the statement.

Nope.  Not good at all.  I don’t care if it’s two team managers getting sent home, I wouldn’t view this as a good sign.

And then I got to thinking.

What if this is another of Nick Saban’s Jedi Mind Tricks?  Planned or not, Saban is a master at using the unwitting media to serve somewhat of a useful purpose.  Maybe this is another example.

The Tide rolls into Miami as the across-the-board favorites.  Bama is the strongest team in the strongest league and that’s a fact.  What’s also a fact is the media hype is about to intensified  100 fold as the bowl season ends and all attention turns to Miami.  What if Saban is tired of hearing how much better his team is than Notre Dame, especially when we’ve seen a couple of SEC teams (coughFloridacough) underwhelm recently?  And what if Tide practices haven’t gone as well and haven’t been as intense as he would prefer?

Sending a couple of subs home early might be just the message he needs to send to his team heading into the weekend before the game.  And if the media chirps about that this weekend rather than talking about how great the Tide is, that would be swell, too.

What Scares Me About This Game

I’ve thought many times trying to recall my first memories of college football.  The first game I sat down to watch from beginning to end was the 1976 Liberty Bowl involving Alabama and UCLA.  Before that, I can recall bits and pieces of games and I can never remember a time I didn’t know about coach Paul Bryant (known, of course, simply as the “Bear”) and Alabama’s crimson and white uniforms.

There’s also another picture seared into my earliest memories of this splendid sport, golden helmets filling a playing field beneath a perfectly blue sky.  And I believe that memory comes from the Alabama and Notre Dame contest played on November 13, 1976 in Notre Dame Stadium.  The Tide went on to lose that game 21-18.  Though I don’t remember the game itself, out of it, for me, came a loathing of all things Fighting Irish.

With that game, coach Bryant dropped to 0-3 against the Irish.  The 1976 loss came on the heels of losing the 1973 Sugar Bowl (24-23) and the 1975 Orange Bowl (13-11).  Bryant’s last game against Notre Dame came in 1980, a 7-0 loss.  Bama played the Irish two other times in the 1980s and AL.com has published a great look-back at all six games.

So how does that tie into what scares me about this version of Alabama vs. Notre Dame?  Well, in the six previous meetings between the Tide and Irish, Alabama arguably fielded the better team in five of those games, with 1987 being the exception.  Of the five, Bama won one (1986).  That leaves Bama as the better team in all four of coach Bryant’s losses to the Irish.  So, what happened?

In 1973:

A 25-yard touchdown pass from sophomore halfback Mike Stock to sophomore quarterback Richard Todd in the fourth quarter put Alabama ahead for a third time at 23-21, but Davis missed the point-after-touchdown kick. It was only his second miss in 53 attempts during his senior season.

In 1975:

Alabama mistakes enabled both of Notre Dame’s touchdowns.

The Fighting Irish took an early 7-0 lead after junior Willie Shelby’s fumbled punt return set up Notre Dame at Alabama’s 16-yard line midway through the first quarter. Fighting Irish fullback Wayne Bullock scored on a 4-yard run three plays later.

Alabama appeared to dodge a bullet in the second quarter, when Mike Washingtonblocked a 45-yard field goal attempt. Washington, though, was offsides, allowing the Notre Dame offense to return with a fresh set of downs. It capped a 17-play, 77-yard drive that spanned more than 7 minutes with a 9-yard Mark McLane touchdown run to take a 13-0 lead.

and…

Todd’s pass hit Notre Dame’s Barnett square in the chest. The Fighting Irish cornerback snatched it, broke a tackle and ran all the way across the field and out of bounds.

In 1976:

On a second-and-goal play from the 7-yard line with a little more than four minutes left in the game and Alabama trailing by three points, Rutledge threw over the middle to Thad Flanagan, but Notre Dame’s Jim Browner stepped in front for an easy interception.

In 1980:

Just a few moments later, though, Notre Dame had the ball back at Alabama’s 4-yard line after another Jacobs fumble. Phil Carter plunged into the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run that ultimately served as the game-winning score with 36 minutes still left to play.

Fumbles.  Interceptions.  Missed extra points.  In each of those games, Alabama was in position to win or tie, but did the things you can’t do if you expect to win a close game.

It’s the same game 30 or so years later and as coach Bryant would say, there are no new excuses, just the same mistakes that get you beat.

We’re the favorite heading into next Monday’s game.  If both teams play their best, we should win and it might not even be close.  But if we turn the ball over and play spotty on special teams we can expect something similar to the first four games in this series.  And that’s what scares me.

 

For ND to Win, Golson Has to Step Up

Since the beginning of the 2010 season, Alabama has lost five times:

10/9/2010 vs. South Carolina, 35-21

11/6/2010 vs. LSU, 21-17

11/26/2010 vs. Auburn, 28-27

11/5/2011 vs. LSU, 9-6

11/10/2012 vs. Texas A&M, 29-24

If you’ve listened to Gary Danielson any over the last three seasons, he’s pointed out that teams that beat Alabama out rush them.  To be fair, he has a point.  In the above five losses, the Tide was outgained on the ground by an average of 151.2 yards to 85.0.  That’s not a huge difference, but it’s obviously a factor.

Another factor is quarterback play.  The most famous example is Stephen Garcia vs. the Tide in 2010.  Garcia, who sports a career completion percentage of 57.7%, torched Bama with a 17-for-20 day and tossed three touchdowns.  In other words, he played like a Heisman trophy candidate.

And speaking of which, in two of the five losses, the Tide opposed the eventual Heisman winner for that season: Cam Newton in 2010 and Johnny Manziel in 2012.  Neither candidate posted obscene numbers against Bama, but they did complete 65.0% and 77.4% of their passes, respectively, along with five touchdown passes and no interceptions.

The other two losses were against LSU and featured the Jarrett Lee / Jordan Jefferson combination.  In the 2010 loss to the Tigers, the two combined for 208 yards passing and a 70.0% completion rate.

In all five losses combined, opposing quarterbacks completed 77 of 108 passes for a 71.3% completion rate, to go along with 969 yards passing, nine touchdowns and three interceptions.

All this, of course, brings us to Notre Dame’s starting quarterback Everett Golson.  The sophomore from South Carolina hasn’t had a bad season: he’s thrown for 2,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions.  He’s passed an average of 25.63 times per game and has completed 58.9% of his throws.

While those aren’t bad statistics, it’s very apparent the Irish haven’t ridden Golson’s arms to it’s 12-0 record.

But based on how teams have beaten Alabama over the last several seasons, he’ll need to step up his game a bit for the Irish to win.  Yes, teams beat Alabama by outrushing them, but more importantly (or, at least as important) is the opposing quarterback’s ability to complete a high percentage of his passes to keep the chains moving and it usually winds up looking like a 16-for-21 night with 200 yards passing and two touchdowns.

The Tide can address this by shutting down the run, especially on first and second down.  That’s been the bread-and-butter of Nick Saban defenses at Alabama.  That translates into longer third down passes for Golson and forces him to take the game onto his shoulders.