Monday, January 5, 2015

Standing on the edge of history, Alabama fell off

clip_image001On January 1 in the Sugar Bowl, Alabama fell off the cliff. Slipped into the Dark Side. Blew it.

Wile E. Coyote style.

You may recall this post from December, in which I explained how the Crimson Tide could make history while sticking a thumb in the eye of the talking heads who were incensed over Alabama’s rematch against LSU a coupla years ago.

You might also remember this post from November, where I expressed discomfort over Alabama’s apparent attempts to match speed and tempo of teams that play basketball on grass.

But my discomfort actually goes all the way back to January 2014, where I first lamented the exasperating tendency of trying the up-tempo style against teams that are designed for it.’s Senior Editor JessN picks up on what happens when a team tries to do what it was never recruited or designed to do:

4. Offensive playcalling got too cute by half. Alabama fell in love with the pass early, likely because defensive scouting told the coaches to do it. Ohio State’s presumed defensive soft spot was a secondary that was short on experience, albeit long on turnover-forcing ability. Alabama got to see too much of the latter. Alabama never tried Tyren Jones at running back, and didn’t use T.J. Yeldon enough even though he appeared reasonably healthy. Derrick Henry only got 13 carries. As talked about in the preview, OSU DE Steve Miller was extremely vulnerable to the run and Alabama had good success going at him, but Kiffin didn’t do it enough. And when Blake Sims did make a mistake throwing the football, Ohio State made him pay, unlike so many other teams before. …

5. Turnovers again come up big. It was touched on above, but this was the season’s real pink elephant and it showed up again in the Sugar Bowl. Blake Sims was picked off three times and the second one was arguably even more damaging than the first, which went for an Ohio State defensive touchdown. Alabama finished the season on the wrong side of the turnover margin, which speaks both to the more chance-taking nature of Kiffin’s offense and the inability of the defense to force turnovers, particularly in the passing game. Cyrus Jones also missed the ability to possibly pick-six Cardale Jones but dropped the pass. For 2015, Alabama has to figure out what went wrong here in 2014, on both sides, and fix both.

When Blake Sims got rattled, he either made a play with his feet, or he tossed an interception. It seemed that there was no willingness to simply throw the ball away, something QB’s have been doing since the inception of the forward pass. I appreciate his competitive spirit and desire to make something out of nothing, but sometimes, you just have to give up on a play and try again.

But you don’t do that 10 seconds after the ball is set and the down marker is flipped. Jess is right—the playcalling was too cute and it was costly. He also correctly points out that some of our most effective offensive weapons watched much of the game from the sidelines. How does Derrick “The Hammer” Henry only get 13 carries? Why is TJ Yeldon watching?

Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson must have been watching that game, shaking their heads in some truly sore WTF moments.

Another point along my line of thinking that this is not Alabama Football: Against Auburn in the Iron Bowl, Alabama had a time of possession of 26:06 versus Auburn’s 33:54. Against Mizzou in the SECCG, it was 23:17 to 36:43. And against Ohio State, it was 28:14 to 31:19. Those numbers mean something—and what they mean to me is that slowing down and playing smashmouth football produces more wins than not. We went 2-1 in those games, but I’m not comfortable seeing my team’s offense on the sidelines more than the other team’s offense. That’s… well… just not right.

Jess however is right—changes need to be made, and my opinion is that the changes need to include a serious examination of what has made Alabama such a dominant program in the conference and in the country, and see if that style of play can be implemented as successfully as it was beginning with Saban’s first step on the campus in Tuscaloosa.

As far as I’m concerned, Alabama had a great season. Blake Sims  turned out much better than many people expected. Amari Cooper deserved the invitation to New York. Landon Collins proved equal to the hype. Lane Kiffin turned out to be a gifted—even if aggressive—playcaller and QB coach.

In 2014, the Tide got yet another SEC Title and had yet another shot at the Crystal. We’ve got a great team coming back in 2015 by any measure.

But it could have been better, and it could have been historic.