Sunday, September 23, 2018

Texas A&M Grades

Vol Calls:

Bill:     Travis from Crossville, you’re on Vol Calls, keep it clean brother…

Travis: [Bleep] you Bill. Quit acting like you care about UT.

Bill:     Fine, Travis, do you have a question or comment?

Travis:  Yeah, I’ve got a question. Is Nick Saban some kind of evil alien super villain like that guy in the Avengers movie, Thanos? Is Saban really Thanos? Because that would explain a lot.

Bill:     Like what?

Travis:    Think about it:  Dave Hart. Derrick Dooley. Jeremy Pruitt. What do they all have in common?  Not to mention Butch Jones.

Bill:    Butch  Jones?

Travis:   Yes. Bill. Butch [bleep] Jones. Just when we are about to get the last [bleep] brick in the wall; get all the trash taken out; retire the [bleep] trophy for champions of Life, Saban hires him away.

Bill:    Uh….Travis….Butch Jones was actually fired, but…..

Travis:   Who cares? I want to know why UT doesn’t hire Lane Kiffen instead of Jeremy Saban Pruitt.

Bill:   Travis, don’t you remember 2010? You set all your furniture on fire. You burned up your apartment. You wrecked your four-wheeler, ended up in a psych hospital, and got banned from this show for an entire season. And while we’re at it, Lane Kiffen worked for Nick Saban as OC for three seasons.

Travis:   So what’s your [bleep] point? Why not hire Jimbo Fisher?

Bill:   Worked for Saban at LSU.

Travis: [bleep] [sound of dog yelping]

Bill:  Travis, did you just kick your dog?

Travis: Kirby Smart?

Bill:  Saban.

Travis: Jim McElwain?

Bill: Saban.

Travis: [dog yelping]

Bill: Travis … we need to change the subject, bro.

Travis:  OK. What about why don’t they change the fumble rule?

Bill: You mean the rule about fumbling through the end zone results in a touchback?

Travis: No. The rule that lets the other team recover every [bleep] time UT fumbles.

Bill:  OK, now you’re making sense …..

Callers to the shows covering Alabama were not as sped up as Travis. The Tide beat a good A&M team by more than three touchdowns. But somehow that 45-23 victory left a sense of unfinished business. Alabama ought to have scored more than 50. The Aggies ought not to have outplayed the Tide in the fourth quarter. Bama’s varsity kicking game ought to be at least as good as the campus-wide intermural flag football league. 

Because everyone needs to perform to a standard, here is how I grade the game:

Offense:          A-           Alabama gained 524 total offensive yards [109 rushing] earned 24 first downs, converted 4 of 10 third downs, and suffered no turnovers. Tua played deep into the third quarter. He completed 22 of 30 pass attempts gaining 387 yards and scoring 4 TDs. Jalen Hurts completed each of his three pass attempts for 28 yards.

Jerry Jeudy led all receivers with 6 receptions gaining 78 yards. For the first time this season, Jeudy did not have a TD reception. Irv Smith, Jr. gained 74 yards on 4 receptions. DeVonta Smith gained 56 yards and scored a TD on 4 receptions. Henry Ruggs, III caught a TD pass and gained 84 yards on 3 receptions. Hale Hentgens caught 2 pass, both for TDs and gained 29 yards. Eight individual receivers caught passes.

The run game was stymied all night. Damien Harris averaged 7.4 yards per rush on 7 carries [35 yards]. Najee Harris ran the ball 8 times for 43 net yards. Josh Jacobs scored a rushing TD and gained 11 net yards on 6 runs. Tua also scored a rushing TD and gained 10 yards on 4 carries.

The offense put together five drives gaining at least 40 yards [75, 75, 75, 80, 92] each culminating in a touchdown. Every Alabama offensive possession ended with a kicking play: 6 PATs, 6 punts, 1 FG.

The lack of production in the running game appeared to be the result of several factors; running backs were needed to provide TUA with protection from the Aggie pass rush; the O Line was never able to get a consistent push to open running lanes in the TAMU defensive front; and the passing game was so potent the it was hard to justify running the ball. In the final analysis, however, four games into the season, the O Line has not shown it can assert its will over a quality defense.

Defense:        A-          The defense made two interceptions [Mack Wilson, Patrick Surtain], 10 tackles for lost yardage [7 sacks]; broke up 5 passes and hurried the Aggie QB 12 times. Those sorts of stats clearly justify the A, but surrendering 130 net rushing yards, 22 first downs, 393 total offensive yards and allowing two drives of more than 85 yards each [99, 88]. Back on the plus side, however, the defense forced the Aggies to punt 5 times on possessions of 3 and out, and TAMU only converted 3 of 12 third downs.

 Dylan Moses led all defenders with 9 tackles. Xavier McKinney and Isaiah Buggs each made 7 stops. Treyvon Diggs was credited with 6 tackles. Buggs had a career night. Of his 7 tackles, 3 were sacks for a total of 12 yards.

Special Teams:

Punting:           C-          Skylar DeLong did not have a good game.  He punted 6 times for a net average of only 36 yards per punt. He had 2 punts that travelled more than 50 yards, and one was downed inside the Aggies’ one yard line! So do the math. In order to average in the mid 30’s DeLong shanked two attempted rugby style kicks that barely flew a dozen yards before sailing out of bounds. Jaylen Waddle returned 2 punts for 25 yards, but both plays were nullified by blocking penalties.

Kickoffs:          B            Joseph Bulovas averaged 52.4 yards per kick. One kick went out of bounds. A&M only mounted one return gaining 15 yards. The Aggies never gave Alabama a chance to return a kick.

Place Kicking:    A.             Bulovas was good from 47 yards on his lone FG attempt, and was perfect on 6 PATs.

Coaching:         B-               Alabama was penalized 9 times for 82 yards. The participation report lists 52 players who saw action in the game. The punting strategy was incomprehensible.  The Tide did not dominate this game. Coach Saban said as much at his post-game presser, where he also coached up the media; no more rat poison, give him some press clippings he can use to keep thing real with the players. “Look what they wrote about you, man. You need to get better.”

Week Four is now in the books, and things around the SEC are starting to come into focus. Arkansas is not a good football team. Auburn proved it winning 34-3 in the Village. [Our spy in Lee County confirms optimistic Tiger fans were buying out the toilet paper stock at Publix in the hours before kickoff.] Auburn is good, but not good enough to avoid at least two more regular season losses.

LSU may have had a bit of a hangover following the victory over Auburn in week three. The Bayou Bengals let La-Tech hang around but eventually put them away 38-21. Coach O has his team playing good football. The LSU-Alabama game will decide the SEC West.

Georgia is clearly the class of the SEC East. The Dawgs dispatched Missouri 43-29 on the road. I have not been able to determine whether the precipitous drop in undergraduate enrollment has produced empty seats in the Mizzou student section.

Kentucky is the surprise of the East. The Cats certainly surprised the Puppies from Mississippi State 28-7. Either UK is better than expected or MSU is not as good as advertised. Both could be true. Time will tell.

Ole Miss has now scored 168 points so far this season; an average of 42 points per game. The Totties still managed to score only 7 points against Alabama, so there’s that not-so-Hottie data point.

Tennessee will not be the betting favorite in any of its remaining conference games until, perhaps Vanderbilt. The Vols lost 4 fumbles, 2 interceptions, 2 turnovers on downs, and lost to Florida….again…..47-21. UT has not won an SEC game since November 2016. Jeremy Pruitt is a good person, and a fine football coach. Does he ever has his work cut out for him in Knoxville!

Alabama hosts “The University of Louisiana” in week five. The CBS Sports app still identifies them as “Louisiana-Lafayette”. Here at The Commissioner’s Blog, we identify them as the Most Important Game of the Year so Far!

Early kickoff this coming Saturday. Plan you week accordingly.

Roll Tide, Y’all.

The Commissioner    


Monday, September 17, 2018

Tire Store Report -- Mississippi

Over the last two seasons, Alabama has beaten the University of Mississippi’s football team by a total score of  128 - 10.  Said another way, the universe is once again spinning in greased grooves.  Thanks for the analysis, Commissioner. The whole team had a pretty impressive evening and we seem to have gotten through without any (new) major injuries.

Offense:  That was a thrilling performance.  Did you know that it is legal in American college football to throw a forward pass to the tight end? You did, huh?  If we did, we’d forgotten it.  It’s a very effective weapon.  And as it turns out, you can even throw to two different tight ends in the same game -- they don’t have to report to the officials as eligible receivers or anything.  Sort of a trick play, I guess. 

Let’s not kid ourselves here.  Mississippi’s defense is, well, awful.  In fact, you might not even choose a well-defined term like “defense” and instead go with “the players who are on the field for Mississippi when the other team is on offense”.  Often when things are this bad for your team, you can at least fill your time with some analysis of what, exactly, is wrong.  In some cases, the answer is an issue with the defensive schemes and recognition; in other cases, it is a player personnel issue.  Said the other way, is it the X’s and O’s or the Jimmies and Joes?

After Saturday evening, we’d have to say it is choice C, All of the Above.  There were plays where inexplicably Mississippi had players reading keys that had them running away from the point of attack -- or maybe they had just seen enough of Harris #1 and Harris #2 running people over like so many ninepins.  On other plays, it seemed as if the player assigned to the play just didn’t have the physical ability necessary to do what was called for.  Case in point, on Jeudy’s touchdown, I don’t think that the defenders could have caught Jerry if he had had to run all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.

With that said, it is hard to understate the dominance of Alabama’s offense.  (Do let that sink in for a minute -- savor it.  How many times have we all thought exactly that sentence, just substituting the word “defense” for “offense”?)  These guys had rolled up 248 yards passing and 170 yards rushing (418 total) by the end of the first half.  This was while the Mississippi defense was presumably fresh.

And yes, intellectually, we know you win with class.  You don’t run up a score just to embarrass your (hapless) opponent.  The guys who are third on the depth chart work hard and deserve a chance to show what they can do in an actual game, especially a conference game.  They need experience for the future. Coach Saban, in particular, is sensitive to his teams’ impact on his brothers in the coaching fraternity, blah, blah, blah.  But we have to admit, somewhere, deep down in the dirty bottom corner of the grease pit of our heart, we’d like to see our first string offense just turned loose to see how much havoc they could wreak.  Our guess is that when Tua Tagovailoa’s career is done, he will leave with the thanks of a grateful university, but also one that wishes it could have seen him run just a few more plays….  It’s kind of like that time the guy came in because he had gone through a set of brakes on his Maserati in less than 3000 miles and left it overnight for us to fix.  When it came time for the road test, well, maybe that is a story best saved for another day.


The defense played its best game against its best competition this year.  Make no mistake, as poor as the Mississippi defense is, the offense could be outstanding.  Their quarterback, at least three of their receivers, and the center are all future NFL players.  The Alabama defense will not see another set of receivers this good this season, well, except every week in practice.

Let us give credit where credit is due -- the opening 73-yard pass play was a thing of beauty for them.  The ball was perfectly placed to hit the receiver in stride and he used every inch of his giant frame to haul it in, while keeping his balance.  Comments from the head coach and a couple of the players after the game made it sound as if Smith was expecting to have help from a safety that didn’t materialize.  So, that got fixed.  Want proof?  Mississippi had more passing yards on that one play than it had for the entire rest of the game.  In fact, aside from that completion Ta’amu threw for fewers than 60 yards on 21 tries.  The Mississippi offense did not snap a single play in the red zone.  In fact, on its last nine possessions, Mississippi didn’t manage to cross the 50-yard line.   We could go on, but regular readers of this space saw it for themselves.  Well, they saw it if they have ESPN Double Secret Channel 18453.

Some individuals acquitted themselves particularly well.  All of the DBs seemed to have solid games and freshman Patrick Surtain was in on a lot of plays.  Anfernee Jennings seems to be playing faster.  We expect that is a combination of confidence, recovery from surgery, and the fact that Mississippi’s play-calling did require him to play quite as much laterally.  Valiant Mack Wilson continues to play through his injury.  We are not clear whether this is something that rest would help or if it is going to require some sort of repair and a long recovery period.  Quinnen Williams will be making regular appearances in the nightmares of various Mississippi players for some weeks to come.

If this defense is able to develop into an elite group (and aside from injuries we don’t know why they won’t) this team will be very formidable, indeed.

Special Teams:

We hope problems on special teams are straightening out.  Of course, we don’t think any team is likely to actually punt the football anywhere near Jaylen Waddle for the rest of this season, at least not on purpose.  The same is likely now true for Jacobs on kickoffs (not that we are receiving a heck of a lot of kickoffs).  Our kickoffs are having a satisfactory rate of people fair catching them, returning them to short of the 25, or sailing through the dadgum end zone, which is how we like it. 

The rest of the kicking game still worries us.  Punting is not great.  We’d like to just forgive Skyler DeLong for short punts Saturday night in Oxford because it was so long between warm ups and his actual participation.  That ignores the same issues he had the first two games.  He seems to have developed some sort of hitch in his giddyup as he prepares to punt.  We get that the great J.K. Scott has come and gone and comparisons to him aren’t really fair.  Quick, name the player that took Michael Jordan’s spot with the Bulls after he retired.  Still, we wish the punts would get off a little quicker, go up a little higher, and travel a little farther.  PATs appear to have, ahem,  straightened themselves out with Bulovas taking over.  Now, there is something just wrong with having something that needs to be straightened out about PATs, but we’ll leave that alone hoping that we don’t have to think about it again this year.  Field goals.  Well, just think happy thoughts about going for it on 4th and 2 at the opponents’ 34-yard line -- not to mention this team’s third down conversion rate which is spectacular.

Texas A&M and new (to them) Coach Jimbo Fisher come to town on Saturday.  This team played a great game against Clemson a week ago.  We will need to be ready.

Roll Tide, beat the Aggies.