Thanks for filling in for your father and legator in his absence. A splendid job. He will be proud of you and your efforts.
OK, we might as well get this out of the way at the beginning. We said last week that Matt Austin's sorry officiating crew was considered one of the better ones in the SEC. Saturday night was evidence of the fact that that distinction is sort of like being the highest scoring player on the Washington Generals basketball team.
Alabama finally had an opponent called for holding on the offensive line. It took a full-on MMA style take down effort to get the flag, but it did happen. We suspect it wasn't that Arkansas was holding any worse than, say, Mississippi or Texas A&M, it is just that various media members were talking about it publicly and (we hope) University officials were discussing it privately with the Conference office. That doesn't mean that the game was well-called. For the second time in two weeks a very questionable pass reception by the other team did not merit a review. Which is ok, if the new rule is that we aren't going to look at as many plays as we have. Though they then have to explain why a catch by Ridley (correctly called on the field and confirmed by the replay booth) was reviewed for several minutes. Perhaps close play reviews that might benefit Alabama just aren't allowed now.
The Umpire in Saturday's game (we do not know his name, we call him Keymaster because he wears a pair of thick black glasses that make him look like the Rick Moranis character in Ghostbusters) nearly lost his life. Look, we understand that the officials have to stand somewhere in the field of play to do their job. However, when the offensive line opens a gaping hole up the middle and #34 starts through it, you probably want to move to one side or the other of his projected path. Instead, it was like Keymaster just froze.
Maybe he was doing one of those hard math calculations -- Mass x Acceleration = Pain. Or maybe his brain just froze like a small furry animal on the railroad tracks while the 7:18 from Tuscaloosa is roaring right at it, horn blowing and lights shining and totally terrifying. Or maybe it is in the Official SEC Officiating Handbook for Dummies (oops, redundant) "In the event a gigantic human being is bearing down on you at a high rate of speed during the course of play, close your eyes, click your heels together three times and say 'there's no place like home.'" Whatever.
Usually we are in the school of not being too critical if we probably couldn't do it any better. But y'all, this happened twice. We might have just stood there and tried not to ruin our fancy white knickers the first time. The second time we'd at least have run towards the sideline a step or two, trying not to scream like Mr. Poole did that time the 2-inch hose blew on the hydraulic lift while he was in the grease pit. Enough being funny. That zebra gets his posterior out of the way and we think Harris and Alabama have another touchdown. Maybe next time Harris should just truck him and we'll see if his replacement has any better reflexes.
People say that Alabama fans are paranoid. Maybe. Even paranoids have real enemies. If the various officiating crews in the SEC cannot fairly be characterized as Alabama's enemies, let us hope we don't ever make any.
The A grade for the defense was well-deserved. This bunch is getting better week by week. Isaiah Buggs (who we hope is ok) is filling in nicely for Da'Shawn Hand. LaBryan Ray has gotten quality snaps. Josh Frazier is making an impact at nose. So overall, the depth along the defensive line should be coming up to standard. Former walkon Levi Wallace (note: apparently you have to say it that way every time, as CBS and ESPN insist on doing) has quietly become a national leader at his position. Despite missing three key defensive starters from opening day, it just never felt like the Razorback offense was much of a threat. If their offensive line keeps playing like it did Saturday, they are going to need 275-pound quarterbacks, just to take the pounding. The play of our defensive front is a compliment to our recruiting, coaching, and the hard work of the individual players to realize their potential.
We agree that watching the offense can be frustrating. Hurts threw two roll out passes that were just beautiful. Never even tried it again. The offensive line, especially on the left side, continues to open holes so wide you could push, not drive, a Dodge Dart through them. Pass blocking is still a work in progress, especially along the right side. And the play-calling, well, it seems to us like even though we are headed for the eighth game of the season we are still using actual games to experiment with different plays on offense. I guess it's good if you can get away with it. We agree with you, CS&H, it can make for very frustrating viewing. Saban himself described it as "vanilla".
Minkah Fitzpatrick, who could arguably be named All-SEC at about three different positions, got included in a nifty little ESPN graphic about the Heisman, though we don't know why they insist on using the same format for it that the local news uses to show the four guys being sought in connection with the liquor store hold up. Perhaps he will get the courtesy defensive player invitation to New York. We hope so. What we cannot figure out is why Damien Harris is never mentioned. All the TV talking heads want to say that the award is Saquon Barkley's to lose. We agree he is an exciting athlete -- so far this season he has 102 carries for 649 yards and 6 TDs. Very impressive. Harris has 68 carries for 625 yards and 9 TDs. Maybe he just doesn't play enough. Can you imagine the numbers if Harris was not on a team with four or five other quality running backs? Anyway, it just struck us that perhaps, just perhaps, there are other pretty good players out there that aren't getting enough attention.
Although the question wasn't very artfully worded, Saban did give a response at his press conference about the punt muffs. Apparently a technique error noted by the staff needs to be remedied. Namely, the players are coached to get their fingertips up at eye level so that there isn't a blind spot before they catch the ball. Sounds fairly detailed. We guess the real issue is the pressure-inducing decision-making process -- do I run? Fair catch? Let it bounce? This just has to get cleaned up. Our punter gives us the chance to flip the field on every exchange of punts -- but not if we ricochet the ball off our chests towards 11 on-rushing players from the other team every time. Sheesh.
One other thing on special teams. We agree that the kicking game is important and therefore using your best players for it makes sense. Given Harris's value to the over all effort though, we are not sure that someone else couldn't handle his spot on punt coverage. We saw a little whiff of just how bad that could turn out Saturday night. Would an opposing punt player consider taking a shot at one of the best running backs in college football?
With that said, we are happy to say that our place kicking seems to be settling down. For fear of jinxing it before the rest of the season, we'll just tap gently on the wooden counter top and say no more.
On to Tennessee. Yes, it's been over 4000 days. Yes, their program appears to be a mess. Yes, we saw last year's game. We still owe these guys. We owe them big. We expect the coaches will be focused on reminding the players to play up to Alabama's standards, not just meeting the level of the competition. There's lots of speculation that this will be Butch "Sgt. Carter" Jones's last visit to Tuscaloosa as the head coach at Tennessee. We hope Alabama turns in the sort of performance that makes him happy he doesn't have to return in 2019. They low down, they dirty....
Roll Tide, everyone.
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