Monday, September 21, 2020

Hurrah. Football is here at last.

Well, that was a weird off season.  We hope this email finds you and yours healthy and happy.  In the face of so very many things changing for so very many people we are happy to have some things that stay everlastingly the same.  One of those is the commitment to excellence and will to win (and to prepare to do so) evidenced by so many of the young men who play football for the Alabama Crimson Tide. 

 

Just this week we saw a quote from Joshua McMillon.  Josh, you may recall, is a linebacker who patiently waited his turn in Alabama’s always-crowded-with-talent linebacking squad.  As a fifth year senior he was poised to be a starter on last year’s defense -- until he badly injured his knee in practice in August.  He has already earned his engineering degree and no one could have blamed the young man for hanging up his cleats especially going into his sixth year of the grueling work that it takes to stay in shape at this level.  Instead, he petitioned the NCAA for another year of eligibility.  A reporter asked him about his decision to return as a graduate student to play this year.  Josh said:

 

“It wasn't much going into the decision.  It was just a bad taste left in my mouth, from the past year. Going 11-2, I don't want to end my college career on a bad note like that…  It didn’t feel right leaving.” 

 

Hurray for you Josh.  We hope you love every minute of it.  So long as we have that sort of character, judgment, and appreciation for whether 11-2 is a satisfactory season or not, we are in good hands.  We are confident that attitude will make us proud of you without regard to what you do on the gridiron.

 

For those of you who may have joined late, the Commissioner indulges us each year in sending around the following work from the immortal Lewis Grizzard.  Enjoy.

 

I was walking behind a friend and his wife as we entered the Louisiana Superdome in New Orleans on January 1, 1981, to watch Georgia play Notre Dame in the Sugar Bowl.  If Georgia won, the Bulldogs would be the 1980 national collegiate football champions.

 

My friend, a fellow Georgia alumnus, was fraught with anticipation.  He was pale.  He was nervous.  He was perspiring profusely.

 

***

 

His wife, noticing his condition said, “Calm down sweetheart.  It’s just a football game.”

 

He stopped dead.  He turned to his wife -- who had not gone to Georgia, and went to Bulldog games with her husband because she thought of it as her wifely duty -- looked her squarely in the eyes and said: “It is not just a football game.  It’s our way of life against theirs.”

 

He meant that.  I knew the man well enough to know he did, in fact, mean that.

 

It had something to do with Southerners against Northerners.  Maybe it even had something to with his Methodist upbringing and the pope.

 

Whatever, it was clearly Us versus Them.  Us won that  day, tailback Herschel Walker leading Georgia to the national title….

 

You can go into all that stuff about the pageantry of college football, the fact the players are unspoiled kids and not a bunch of millionaires, and it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon and evening with friends.

 

But with me and mine, and with a lot of others, college football offers us an opportunity to circle our wagons and fight and kick and scream for our side against their side.

 

I suppose that’s also possible in politics and various cultural disagreements, but all that can get a little cloudy at times.

 

College football and allegiances are clear as an October Saturday afternoon.  We haven’t had a war in 50 years that wasn’t tangled up in dissent and questionable motives….  But when Georgia meets Florida, when Auburn plays Alabama, when Ohio State gathers against Michigan, there are no such nagging annoyances.

 

Our way of life against theirs; clear as a bell.

 

And there is the opportunity to feel proud of something. Congress can waste your money, the president can lie to you, and your kid can wear an earring and watch MTV, but if your alma mater is 8-0, who’s sweating the small stuff?

 

And probably more than anything else, it also offers the opportunity to share in what is believed to be a noble cause, and such breeds friendships that can endure all else….

 

College football season is the best time I live.  I once risked my life because of college football. 

 

In late August of 1985 following two weeks in the Soviet Union, I found myself in a hospital in London with a deadly infection of the artificial aortic valve in my heart.  The British doctor said it would probably be necessary for me to remain there for six weeks’ treatment.

 

Georgia was to open its football season on Labor Day night a week later against Alabama in Athens.  I slipped out of the hospital, caught a cab to Gatwick Airport and flew back to Atlanta. 

 

When asked later why I would risk my life in such a manner, I said, “I wasn’t about to stay in no foreign country during college football season.”

 

Us could win them all this year, or Us could lose a few.  But, right or wrong, win or lose, always Us.

 

And Them can go to hell.  Is there any part of that that isn’t absolutely clear?

 

This should be an exciting season.  We have many returning starters at key positions, promising newcomers, a reconfigured coaching staff, and (we hope) a burning desire for  a championship.  Just like last year.  I know, because I said almost the exact same thing last year at this point.

 

For those of you lucky enough to be traveling to Orlando for Saturday’s game (or anywhere else), we wish you Godspeed.  This stands to be an exciting season.  You don’t want to miss any of it.  I’m proud to share in this “noble cause” with you, my friends.

 

RIP, Lewis.  We miss you.  Roll Tide, everyone.  Beat Missouri.

 

 

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Sunday, December 1, 2019

Iron Bowl Grades



Discipline. 

According to Coach Saban, the central importance of discipline is the lesson to be learned from the bitter end of the 2019 Alabama football season. How having it is the key to being successful, and how the lack of it is an infection that will eventually contaminate all around you.

Lack of football discipline manifests itself statistically in penalties. The Tide’s lack of discipline was on full display in Alabama’s 45-48 loss to Auburn. Bama was penalized 13 times for a collective loss of 96 yards. Five Auburn first downs resulted from Alabama penalties, the most galling of which has to be the illegal substitution penalty at the end of the game allowing Auburn to retain possession instead of punting from its own 26 yard line.

That penalty kept Alabama from having one last chance to score and maybe win the game. But a much earlier penalty on Bama's first possession of the game-offensive holding on Alex Leatherwood-negated what would have been a 37 yard touchdown pass from Mac Jones to Henry Ruggs, III. The drive ended with a field goal, so the penalty cost Alabama four points in a game it lost by three.

So, how does the 2019 Crimson Tide stack up to its most recent predecessors in this critical measure of discipline?

Over the twelve games of this season, Alabama has been penalized 90 times for 830 yards, and has allowed opponents to convert a third down by penalty 31 times [Auburn accounts for 5 of those 31 possession-down conversions]. The 2018 team, over fifteen games was penalized 87 times for 796 yards, and surrendered 29 first down conversion by penalty. The 2017 squad-the last to win a National Championship-was penalized a total of only 69 times for 569 yards, and allowed only 25 first downs by penalty.

Discipline, or the lack thereof, is also reflected in the on-field behavior of team leaders. A disciplined leader separates his teammate from the fray to avoid a penalty. A leader lacking in discipline substitutes himself for the teammate and more often than not draws a penalty.

Yes. Alabama has been riddled with injuries. Yes. Alabama has lost key talent to the NFL [I wrote everything I have to say on that topic last week.] But Alabama lost the 2019 Iron Bowl, and forfeited any chance of returning to the College Football Playoff, because they lacked discipline.

Coach Saban was not referring only to discipline in games. His critique was much broader. He implied Alabama has not disciplined in practice, in the film room, in the weight room. Against teams of lesser talent, an undisciplined effort can still result in victory. Against better competition? Look at the record: the 2019 Crimson Tide was winless against their two best opponents.

What makes the 2019 Iron Bowl result even harder to bear is the undeniable fact Alabama ought to have won the game comfortably. The objective statistics tell the story: Total yards-Alabama 515, AU 354; First Downs-Tide 28, Tigers 23; Time of Possession-Bama 35:52, Barn 24:08; Touchdowns-UA 6, Auburn 5.

Alabama had one non-offensive TD-Jaylen Waddle’s kick return-Auburn had two-interception returns [one from the Auburn end zone]. In other words, Alabama’s offense scored nearly twice as many touchdowns as did Auburn’s offense.

Here are two more stats that tells so much about the course of this game: Squandered Points [scoring opportunities lost to error]: Alabama 11, Auburn 0; Points allowed off turnovers: Alabama 14; Auburn 7.

Because whatever post-season game Alabama is invited to will be meaningless, and the only benefit of an invitation at all is December practice to work on fundamentals, I have a suggestion for a better way to spend the time and reward the fans with a game Alabama is guaranteed to win: Instead of playing Virginia, or Boise State, why not have a December A-Day game? …. But I forget, doing something like that to actually help the team improve will violate multiple NCAA rules; and we all know the NCAA is all about the Best Interests of The Student Athletes.

I will forego any discussion of the extra time out awarded to Auburn at the end of the fist half. Dissecting what laughably passes for “officiating” is the special remit of Our Correspondent From The Tire Store. This post is about grading the performance of the team, and this game is challenging enough, I do not have band width to include a critique of the Zebras.

The statistics tell one story. The result of the game tells another. So, I will grade the game as objectively as possible, then adjust for results. With that in mind, here is how I grade the game:

Offense:                      C+                   I’ve already recited the total yards and first downs. Mac Jones ran the offense quite well, completing 26 of his 39 pass attempts for 335 yards and 4 TDs [Jaylen Waddle (3); Henry Ruggs, III (1)].

Ruggs was Alabama’s leading receiver with 99 yards on 6 catches. Waddle gained 98 yards on 4 receptions. DeVonta Smith caught 5 passes for 80 yards. Jerry Jeudy also caught 5 passes gaining 26 yards. Six different receivers caught passes; officially Mac caught his own pass when one attempt was batted back to him by an on-rushing Auburn defender. I am not including his boomerang catch in the total for all receivers.

Najee Harris was fantastic. He gained 146 net yards rushing on 27 runs. Mac Jones showed his toughness and competitive drive gaining 32 net yards on 8 runs, including a 4th down pick up of 18 yards to give Alabama a chance to tie the game late.

The offense had seven possessions that gained 40 or more yards [55, 75, 62, 74, 63, 90, 52] resulting in 4 TDs, 1 FG, 1 Int, and 1 Missed FG Att.

What would otherwise have been an A+ performance is downgraded to C+ to account for the turnovers. That C+ grade is further adjusted for overall results to: F

Defense:          C                     Auburn gained 354 yards total offense [181 net rushing] and earned 23 first downs. The defense limited Auburn to only three drives of 40 or more yards [50,75, 77] resulting in 2 TDs and 1 FG. From a scoring perspective the Defense allowed Auburn 34 points.

Xavier McKinney was the co-leader among defenders with 8 tackles [7 solo]. Raekwon Davis-returning from injury-also made 8 tackles [7 solo]. Shane Lee made 7 tackles, and Anfernee Jennings made 6. In total, Tide defenders made 4 tackles for lost yardage and forced 3 fumbles. Christian Harris made Bama’s lone fumble recovery.

Auburn’s success in the passing game came, in part, from some outstanding plays by Tiger receivers making one-handed catches in tight coverage. At least three times, Bo Nix was rescued from bad throws by highlight reel catches.

What could have been an A-quality performance by the Defense is downgraded two letter grades for penalties, especially those allowing Auburn to extend drives. On two of Auburn’s three sustained drives, Alabama was flagged for a major infraction [Pass Interference; Roughing the Passer]. Therefore, the performance grade is the stated C. That grade is further adjusted for overall results to: F

Special Teams:

Kickoffs:         A                     Joe Bulovas averaged 47 yards per kick on 8 kickoffs. The coverage team allowed 3 returns for a total of 48 yards. Jaylen Waddle’s 98-yard kick return for a touchdown was spectacular. He and Trevon Diggs combined for a total of 177 yards returning Auburn kicks.

Punting:           C+                   Ty Perine punted 3 times for an average of 45 yards per punt.  Alabama had no opportunity to return an AU punt, and the coverage team allowed Auburn’s Christian Tutt two returns for a total of 47 yards.

Place Kicking:             D         Bulovas was successful on all PAT attempts and was 50% on FG attempts. He kicked the ball into the left upright at the end of the game thereby failing to tie the score at 48.

Special Teams aggregate grade of C is further adjusted for overall results to: F

Coaching:                    F          Play calling inside the red zone, particularly in “and goal” situations was unproductive. Why we do not have a “Jumbo Package” remains a mystery. The coaches have to take responsibility for the 13 penalties, especially number 13 on the day; illegal substitution giving Auburn a first down and the opportunity to kill the clock instead of having to punt from the AU 26. I know there was some malpractice on the part of the officials but the only people in the Western Hemisphere who thought Auburn intended to run a play in that situation were members of the Alabama coaching staff.

Discipline is a good thing. With it, one can achieve a standard of performance from which good results follow. Without it, even one who possesses greater talent must depend on chance or fortune for success. Remember the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. The speedy Hare sprinted ahead of the Tortoise, but lost the race because the Tortoise had the discipline to keep going, while the Hare took a nap.

In football terms, the team with players disciplined to execute their assignments will have the opportunity to defeat a team of more talented players who lack the discipline to play as a team. When Coach Saban arrived in Tuscaloosa in 2007 he famously told reporters at his introductory presser that he wanted Alabama to be the kind of team that “other teams hate to play.” Not because they will be chippy, dirty, or even more talented; but because they will be relentless, and disciplined competitors.

The three-year trend line of penalties indicates the 2019 class has been on a downward arc in discipline. Hopefully, that downward arc hit rock bottom on Pat Dye Field last night. I for one can imagine no loss more dispiriting. I genuinely do not care whether we outscore whatever barely bowl eligible opponent we face on New Year’s Day. The result of that game is meaningless. What matters is whether the men in crimson jerseys play with discipline. Let’s start with that, and let the results take care of themselves.

A return to discipline in The Process is essential. Coach Saban undoubtedly knows this, and anyone listening to his post-game remarks should pay attention. And if you work for Coach Saban, you need to match your personal work habits to the standard of discipline Saban expects from the players. Surrounding oneself with good, hard-working, disciplined people is part of The Process. Getting shed of those who are not, is in The Process as well.

This will be the last edition of The Grades for the 2019 season. I look forward to a final report from The Tire Store.

Until next season, thank you for reading this blog. And thanks to all the Correspondents whose valuable contributions, and willingness to step in when needed, I could not do without.

Roll Tide, Y’all.  



The Commissioner

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