Sunday, September 15, 2019

South Carolina Grades

           Alabama’s 47-23 road victory over South Carolina provides quite a lot to write about:

        Win Streaks? Bama has now defeated every other team in the SEC in the most recent games played; in other words, the Tide’s conference winning streak is now an astonishing 27 games. Coach Saban’s undefeated streak in games against his former assistants is now 17-0.

          Individual Records?  Tua set a personal record with a career high 444 passing yards. This was Tua’s eighth career 300+ yard passing performance; the most in Alabama history. By completing five passes for touchdowns, Tua became the first Tide QB to throw for more than 400 yards, and five TDs in the same game. Najee Harris accounted for 87 receiving yards against the Gamecocks; the most by a Tide running back in a single game since Shaun Alexander had 110 receiving yards against Mississippi State in 1998.

         Will Muschamp?   Well you’ve got me here. I’m not a licensed psychotherapist. If ever there was a head coach more in need of having his head shrunk I cannot name him, much less come up with a treatment plan. Maybe the South Carolina training staff could carry a roll of duct tape to wrap Muschamp’s cranium. Then again, maybe that idea has been rejected because of the effect it has on game officials when his head explodes.

          SEC Officials?    I will defer to Our Correspondent From The Tire Store to give this crew the review they justly deserve.

         The Good?      Alabama won its conference opener on the road in a hostile environment. Playing in Williams-Brice Stadium before a crowd of nearly 82,000 is the farthest thing from a road game at Vanderbilt where visiting fans have a 5:1 advantage over the home crowd and the students don’t show up until the second quarter.  The Tide passing game shredded the Gamecock defense, which played with great intensity, is loaded with good athletes, and schemed effectively to neutralize the threat of Jerry Jeudy.

            The Bad?        The offense lacked balance; three games into the season the running game is yet to appear. The defense could not consistently contain the Chicken’s offense. Untimely penalties [some deserved, others not] extended South Carolina drives.

            The Ugly?       The kicking game took a step backwards; a 14 yard punt, a missed PAT. Some worrying injuries might contribute to the existing lack of depth on the defensive line.

Because there is a lot to write about, here is how I grade the game:

Offense:          A-        Alabama gained 571 yards of total offense [only 76 net rushing], earned 25 first downs, converted 8 of 14 possession downs [6 of 12 on third down] and controlled possession of the football for 32:37.

Tua completed 28 of 36 pass attempts for 444 yards, 5 TDs, and threw no interceptions. He was sacked twice. Mack Jones was a perfect 3 of 3 passing, for 51 yards. DeVonta Smith was the Tide’s leading receiver with 136 yards on 8 receptions. He scored 2 TDs. Henry Ruggs, III caught 6 passes for 122 yards and a TD. His longest reception covered 81 yards and resulted in his touchdown. Najee Harris was highly effective catching passes out of the backfield; he caught 5 passes for 87 yards and scored 2 of the Tide’s passing TDs. His longest play [41 yds]  came on a slant route across the middle, where he threw a linebacker to the ground, leaped over the corner, and broke an attempted tackle by the safety on his way into the end zone. Jerry Jeudy, although double covered most of the day, still managed to catch 6 passes for 68 yards. Nine different players caught passes.

Najee Harris led all running backs with 36 net yards on 7 attempts. Brian Robinson, Jr. added 33 yards on 8 carries, and true freshman Keilan Robinson ran the ball 4 times for 12 yards. Mac Jones scored the Tide’s lone rushing touchdown with a QB keeper on 4th and goal. Alabama attempted only 22 running plays. The two sacks and an intentional knee on the final play of the game accounted for (-13) lost yards charged against the rushing statistics. In my opinion, we need to run the ball more, and to do that we must have better play along the offensive line.

The Tide offense mounted eight drives gaining 40 or more yards [65, 96, 70, 65, 75, 50, 40, 80] that achieved 6 TDs and 2 FGs].

Defense:         B-                    Alabama surrendered 459 total yards [135 net rushing] to the Gamecock offense, allowing 31 first downs. Four of the Chickens’ drives were extended by penalties on the defense. South Carolina was able to convert 10 of 22 possession downs [8 of 18 on third down, 2 of 4 on 4th down]. 

Xavier McKinney was the Tide’s leading tackler with 9 total stops [5 solo]. Patrick Surtain, Josh Jobe, and Shane Lee each recorded 8 tackles. Tide defenders made 7 tackles for lost yardage [3 sacks], forced [Anfernee Jennings] and recovered [DJ Dale] a fumble, and intercepted a pass [McKinney]. The defense also gets credit for a turnover on downs when South Carolina came up a yard short on 4th and goal at the end of the first half. In all honesty, Muschamp should be credited with an assist due to his incompetent play calling and clock mismanagement.

The turnovers justify raising the defensive grade out of the C range, but readers of this blog should take no comfort from the Stop Troops’ performance against a good-but-not-great South Carolina. Coach Saban told reporters after the game the Tide defense could not afford to be on the field for 80+ defensive plays in future games and expect to come away with a win.

Special Teams:

Punting:           F                      Jaylen Waddle returned one punt for 18 yards. That effort, as good as it is, cannot overcome Skyler DeLong’s 14 yard punt; the only punt the Tide attempted in the game.

Kickoffs:          A+                   Will Reichard averaged 64 yards per kick on his 9 kickoffs, five of which were touchbacks. On the four kicks South Carolina returned, the coverage team limited the Gamecocks to only 62 yards [13 yds avg] and tackled the return man at the SC 14, 20, 19 and 14. That amounts to +29 yards of favorable field position for the Tide defense.

Place Kicking:     C-                   Reichard attempted 3 field goals. He was good from 23 and 21 yards. He missed from 37 and he missed one PAT.

Coaching       B-                      A road win in the conference ought to be an automatic B. The minus however reflects the penalties [11 for 92 yds], one of which was a substitution infraction that allowed South Carolina to extend a drive.  The participation report lists 58 players who saw action in the game.

           Around the league there is also much to write about.

       Kentucky’s win streak over Florida ended at 1. Climate computer models suggest the next Wildcats victory over the Gators will come only if the entire planet achieves zero carbon emissions for at least a decade.

          Up on Rocky Top, Phil Fulmer’s press conference announcing his return as Tennessee’s head coach has been delayed for at least one week by the Vols beating Chattanooga 45-0. Can you imagine what the negotiations between Fulmer as AD and Fulmer as aspiring head football coach are like? Do you think he conducts them by looking into a mirror, or does he use some Super Agent as a facilitator? I guest time, and a few conference losses, will tell.  

         Mississippi State lost to Kansas State 24-31. Neither team is very good. State had as many turnovers [3] as touchdowns. Ole Miss beat Southeast Louisiana 40—29 but allowed 309 yards of passing. It could well be that Southern Miss is the best college football team in the State of Mississippi. We will find out this coming Saturday when the Tide plays The Most Important Game of the Season So Far.  The Golden Eagles average over 260 yards per game passing, and 103 yards per game rushing.  They always bring their best when they come to Tuscaloosa.

            On a slightly different topic: let me give a shout out to three entertaining and informative fan sites available on social media: SEC Shorts, Jermaine Funnymaine Johnson, and The Unofficial Assistant Coaches. Treat yourself to some good laughs, it's a welcome respite from the typical Alabama fan's favorite pastime: fretting about things we cannot control.

Roll Tide, Y’all!

The Commissioner    


Tuesday, September 10, 2019

New Mexico State Aftermath

Thanks for your efforts in the unpleasant heat of early September, Commissioner.  An interesting report of a game where the imperatives beyond winning the game, of course, did not include things like “revenge” or “conference standings” and instead focused on things like “don’t let anyone get hurt”.

New Mexico State was clearly physically overmatched, but not intimidated.  The offensive line continued to struggle, though those struggles were mostly in the run game and in part can be attributed to shifting roles on the line.  We also note that D. Brown is still out serving a suspension related to (we read in the papers) a PED.  Six games seems like a lot for that, but four games of that suspension are now served.  Whether he works his way back to the starting line up is a question, but if he is as effective at run blocking on his return as he was last year, we’d expect him to be in the game(s).

The first defensive unit played a solid game and the youngsters there seem to be learning quickly on the job.  We will see about that as the quality of competition goes up.  The 2s and 3s on defense, well, we expect film review was noisy and unpleasant.

We are still cheering every time a kick off goes through the end zone. Even more encouraging were two field goals of nearly 50 yards each which got up quickly, sailed high, had several yards to spare, and split the uprights like an A+ answer on a geometry problem. We are still at 50% on field goals for the season, but they have all been longish and we are hoping the trend continues in the positive direction.  All of our PATs (and there have been plenty) have been true enough that we may go back to watching them instead of sitting with our eyes shut. 

Otherwise we don’t know that there is much else to say about this game.  Credit to the training staff that despite the triple digit temperatures on the field, we only noticed one player coming out for treatment of cramps.  That was probably pretty amazing by itself.

Speaking of, we are inclined to weigh in a little bit on the Athletic Director’s very public complaint to the SEC about Alabama’s repeated day time scheduling in September. 

We won’t try to repeat all the particulars, but you can look them up.  The bottom line is that over the last several years, Alabama and its fans have been subjected to more day time starts in September than any other SEC team.  And it continues.  Alabama will have the 11 a.m. start against Southern Mississippi a week from Saturday.  And no, it is not the “quality of the competition”.  Stretching well back into last century all of the SEC teams played at least two and maybe three “tune up” games at the beginning of the season.  That really only changed somewhat when Coach Saban started trying to organize a marquee opening game at a neutral site every year to open up the season.  Saying "Alabama should play harder games and it will get better timing" is just reinforcing how unfair things are. 

Part of the issue is television ratings.  If you’ve never done it, take a gander at the ratings when Alabama is on television.  Those are routinely highly-rated broadcasts; in fact, is not unusual for the Alabama game to be the highest rated game of the weekend.  ABC/ESPN/SECN, in particular, knows that the 11 a.m. start is a stinker. It reassures advertisers that Alabama fans will be tuning in to see those ads, I mean the game.  Also, in this particular case, they also know that Alabama fans tend to be football fans in general.  They were NOT, under any circumstances, going to schedule Alabama’s game opposite Notre Dame vs. Georgia.  To some extent, we are victims of our own enthusiasm.  This reminds us of when everyone in the conference managed to schedule the week before Alabama against OPEN.  The difference here is that CBS and ESPN were willing to report on that issue and embarrassed the conference into doing something.  That will not be the case here.

Speaking of victims, however, we have lost track of how many people were treated for heat-related issues at the stadium last Saturday.  We understand that many fans retreated to the shade of the concourses to try to beat the heat.  This is to say nothing of the players on the field who are enduring even higher temperatures in full gear.   Without a lucky rainstorm, this weekend’s contest in South Carolina will not be better.  Kickoff forecast is for 93 degrees.  

Tuscaloosa merchants are also victims here.  Tourism related to Alabama football is a driver of the Tuscaloosa city and county economies.  If a game begins at 11 a.m. few people arrive before dinner time on Friday night if they are traveling from out of town.  In fact, we’d bet most people get up way too early and fight the traffic to get to town.  They skip tailgating entirely and head straight to the stadium, because they basically have no other choice.  What food and drink they buy is in the stadium.  Leaving, they do not return to their cars, fetch their gear, and set up on the Quad before spending the night in Tuscaloosa, of course.  They trudge back to their cars, often before the game ends, and head back home because: 1. They are broiling in the sun; and 2. The issue has long since been decided.  I wonder if anyone has done the economic comparison of the difference in an 11 a.m. kickoff and a 6 p.m. kickoff in Tuscaloosa.

Recruiting suffers because recruits are also experiencing what they will be subjected to as an Alabama player.  People arrive late because of traffic and leave early because of the same reason plus the heat.  A half empty wok-like stadium is not a good look for recruits.  The head coach gets testy about this.  However, we expect he’s pretty realistic about what this experience is like for, say, a family who has had to jump through this many hoops to please the TV and Conference Overlords.

The primary beneficiary of this has been LSU, which claims a “tradition” of playing at night and therefore gets their wish.  For example, LSU started the season with Georgia Southern, kick off at 6:30.  This Saturday LSU plays Northwestern State, kick off at 6:30.  I guess scheduling that sort of superior competition lands you evening kickoffs in Baton Rouge.  (At least we can name Southern Mississippi's mascot.)  Reminds us of the Mississippi State “tradition” of ringing those stupid cowbells but if any of their opponents show up with artificial noise makers, they can be ejected.  The standard is apparently: “If you can describe it as a tradition, the SEC will give you an unfair advantage against other teams.”

Most worrisome for us, is that the Athletic Director decided to go public with his complaint.  This indicates a few things, we think.  First, it indicates that people are complaining and he’s hearing it.  That’s probably fans, players, the head coach, etc. and more than a few of them.  People are going to start staying home for a lot of very valid reasons.  Second, it means he has approached the conference privately and he’s either been ignored or politely told to “shut up.” Third, it means nothing is changing any time soon.  Our guess is maybe Mr. Sankey will manage to arrange for one Alabama game next September to be at night.  He’ll claim the conference cares about Alabama and its fans, and we’ll promptly go back to business as usual after that.

I guess we can just pray that it’ll pour down rain on Saturdays in September; that’s a better option.  Right?

Roll Tide.  Beat the Gamecocks.