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By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Oct. 13, 2012
Missouri’s 41-20 loss to Georgia on Sept. 8 might have been the official start to the Tigers’ SEC membership, but Alabama’s 45-10 victory was when the hazing started.
For all the argument over the speed and excitement of a spread-style offense, American football in general and SEC football specifically is about controlling the trenches and hammering the other side until it quits. Because when a spread offense doesn’t work – as it didn’t for Missouri on Saturday, or for media darling West Virginia against Texas Tech earlier in the day – the results are as ugly as a body-painted Mizzou student after four hours of rain, smuggled-in adult beverages and grass end zone seating.
Once again, Alabama’s defense kept the opposition out of the end zone completely. Missouri’s kicking game netted a field goal, and a bust on kickoff coverage let the Tigers get a cheap touchdown. But the Missouri offense never threatened Alabama’s defense, and an offensive line badly depleted by injuries left Gary Pinkel and his staff with few playcalling options.
Even though Missouri was the opponent, Alabama’s storyline for this game – and perhaps the entire season up to this point – has been one of injuries. Against Missouri, Alabama continued to do battle with the demon, losing WR Christion Jones to a minor ankle injury. But when QB A.J. McCarron went down with a twisted knee late in the third quarter, the oxygen content in the atmosphere above the state of Alabama dropped by a few percentage points, thanks to the collective gasp.
Fortunately, it appears McCarron will be OK, and Alabama will head into Tennessee losing no further players – with the possible exception of reserve DT LaMichael Fanning, who perfectly executed a belly-to-back suplex on a Missouri running back and might face league disciplinary action because of it.
In time, Missouri will develop into a good SEC program and contend for division titles. There is too much money and support surrounding the program for it not to be so. But for now, Missouri is a AAA baseball team thrown into the American League East, and will continue to take hard lumps until it rebuilds its program in the image of Alabama, LSU or some other physical SEC team.
And now, on to the Five-Point Breakdown:
1. The difference was the DL. Alabama’s defensive line already had a fairly easy road in front of it, thanks to multiple injuries among the Missouri offensive line. But Alabama sealed the deal by showing up in a bad humor and playing extremely aggressively up front, perhaps more so than usual. Nosetackle Jesse Williams has been a force all year, but Alabama was also able to get something extra from Damion Square, Ed Stinson and Jeoffrey Pagan, the latter of whom was an instant mismatch whenever he entered the game. Zone-read teams often get a good positive push thanks to slant blocking schemes, but it rarely happened against Alabama, and the Missouri coaches compounded the problem by stubbornly trying to run laterally. With the DL moving the line of scrimmage back on nearly every snap, it freed up linebackers C.J. Mosley, Nico Johnson and Trey DePriest to cause trouble in the backfield.
2. Back-to-basics running game helps OL. Alabama’s offensive line has been very good in 2012, but it’s not unfair to say that it hasn’t fully lived up to the expectations of best in the country. There’s been too much contact on QB A.J. McCarron, and the running game had been fairly erratic up to this point. But Alabama rushed for 355 yards against Missouri and was stuffed very few times on the day. On the other side of the matchup, Missouri’s defensive line held up fairly well after giving up Eddie Lacy’s opening 73-yard run – until the fourth quarter, where a lack of depth and the constant pounding from Alabama’s OL opened the floodgates. Missouri suffered a similar fate against Georgia, which should point Missouri coaches in the direction they need to go to be competitive in this league.
3. Special teams revert to 2011 form. The loss of Dee Hart would be big, as we noted in this space after the Ole Miss game, and not just because of his running skills. Losing Hart and DeAndrew White opened up two slots on Alabama’s kickoff coverage squad, and the replacements weren’t up to the challenge. Alabama’s kickers had a tough day thanks to the rain and swirling winds, whether it was Cade Foster’s short kickoffs or Cody Mandell dropping a perfect punt snap. But the real dagger was a lack of lane discipline on Marcus Murphy’s 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown late in the second quarter. More than one player appeared to switch lanes too soon and Murphy ended up with a selection of holes to run through for his score. Alabama hasn’t seen the last good kick returner it will face in 2012, so it will be imperative to fix the coverage issue soon.
4. There’s no question anymore; Blake Sims is the backup QB – and he’s good. When A.J. McCarron limped off the Missouri turf in the third quarter, it provided Alabama coaches the first opportunity they’ve had to make a definitive statement on whether Blake Sims or Phillip Ely is the true backup quarterback. It was Sims who readied to enter the game, only to be waved off by McCarron at the last minute. But when Sims finally entered the game late in the fourth quarter, he continued to show himself as a weapon in a zone-read package of plays that led to Alabama’s final touchdown. Sims hasn’t been asked to pass much this year, and likely won’t be unless McCarron is knocked out of a game earlier. But he has looked improved in his limited opportunities, and he runs the zone-read option better than any quarterback Alabama has had since the end of the wishbone days.
5. Alabama continues to focus well in road games. Bad news here for both Tennessee and LSU – Alabama tends to come out swinging in road games. Alabama’s first-quarter openings against Michigan, Arkansas and Missouri reveal a team well-prepared for hostile (or at least, against Michigan, unfamiliar) environments. The only caveat is how Alabama has responded to halftime adjustments. Alabama’s scoring is split 161/82, first half to second half. The Tide has looked flat on several occasions after the intermission – or, in the case of this game, after the late-second-quarter rain delay, as the teams had only a 5-minute break between the second and third quarters. But that’s what Alabama has left us to do after such an impressive start, nitpick.
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