By Jess Nicholas, TideFans.com Editor-In-Chief
Sept. 29, 2013
If Ole Miss players were correct in the assertion that the Rebel wide receivers were better than the receivers of Texas A&M, then Eddie Jackson is the greatest defensive back in the history of college football.
Jackson, who got his second consecutive start at cornerback, didn’t play in Alabama’s first two games, which included the trip to College Station. He represented the only change in personnel from Alabama’s record-setting (in a bad way) performance against the Aggies to the defensive dominance of Saturday’s win over the Rebels. While Jackson definitely showed flashes of ability – including an interception on an end-around trick-play pass – the most likely explanation for Ole Miss’ receivers failing to live up to their pregame chatter is that, simply, the Rebels aren’t as good as they thought they were.
Alabama’s win over Ole Miss was no surprise – or at least, shouldn’t have been a surprise, except perhaps to the handful of talking heads who desperately want to find someone that can derail the Crimson Tide and misguidedly believed Ole Miss was the team to do it. But what was a surprise was the way in which Alabama beat Ole Miss. This wasn’t a shootout in the vein of Alabama’s win over Johnny Manziel and Texas A&M. If anything, this was a tip of the hat to the Gene Stallings era at Alabama, right down to the Crimson Tide milking the clock at the 10-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
Of course, Bo Wallace isn’t Johnny Manziel, and although Donte Moncrief and Laquon Treadwell are quality wide receivers, neither one of them is Mike Evans.
And Eddie Jackson isn’t John Fulton. Fulton, a popular senior on the team, never got in the game at cornerback. Four other players played ahead of him, while Fulton’s contributions came solely on special teams. The youth movement at cornerback that most thought would come in 2014 has gotten a head start. Jackson was more than just a placeholder Saturday, showing signs that he can compete with the SEC’s best receivers.
In beating Ole Miss so thoroughly, Alabama’s schedule essentially breaks down into two components: Beat a tough LSU team, which will take everything this Alabama team has, and keep from losing focus against a handful of mediocre teams that have no chance of coming close to upsetting the Crimson Tide unless Alabama lets them do it. If the Crimson Tide accomplishes both goals, it will go back to Atlanta to face, presumably, a Georgia Bulldog team that handed LSU its first conference loss Saturday.
Defensively, this was just what the doctor ordered for Alabama. It shut down a good – but definitely not great – offensive team and sowed doubt in the minds of other HUNH teams who had come to believe their offensive system alone would be enough to defeat Alabama.
Offensively, however, this was a mixed bag. The passing game couldn’t make plays downfield, and the running game only really got on track late in the game, after Ole Miss had become discouraged after being stopped over and over again by Alabama’s defense. Improvement is still needed here.
Alabama gets Georgia State next week, a game Alabama could truly win using only its scout team. That game will tell very little about this team, which is why this week’s Five Point Breakdown might be the only true analysis available for awhile.
- Jackson’s energy at cornerback makes a difference. Unfortunately for John Fulton, this might be the end of the road for meaningful playing time at cornerback. The true freshman Jackson was a revelation in this game. Although Deion Belue is still clearly the team’s best cornerback, Jackson was surprisingly composed in his first start against SEC competition. Not only was his interception off a trick-play pass something you usually get only from an upperclassman, Jackson’s play against the Ole Miss running game showed he is truly ready to play on this level. Given that Jackson, during the recruiting cycle, was projected as a safety by probably as many people who projected him at cornerback, his strong play against the running game was not much of a surprise. His composure, however, was. He looked aggressive and confident whereas some of the other players Alabama has used at the position this season have too frequently played in a tentative fashion. Jackson will still need time to develop, but these initial results are promising.
- Lindsay’s performance at center is encouraging. Losing Ryan Kelly for 2-3 weeks is certainly a blow to depth, but Chad Lindsay gave Alabama a consistent performance off the bench. In fact, he seemed to stabilize the interior run blocking component of Alabama’s attack Saturday, and had a key block on T.J. Yeldon’s long touchdown run. If Lindsay continues to perform at this level, Kelly might have to win his job back. And by the way …
- … the rest of the offensive line needs work. The Texas A&M game, unfortunately, looks like the exception to the rule now. The Aggies appear apt to struggle against any team that can run the ball even halfway effectively. Against Ole Miss, the left side of the Alabama line perfected the “matador block” for most of the first half, simply waving at whatever defender Ole Miss chose to send off the edge. Once Lindsay took over at center and Alabama began to wear down the thin Rebel front, however, the game changed. As in the Virginia Tech game, A.J. McCarron was hassled in the pocket and didn’t have enough time to get the deep passing game going. At the same time, Alabama’s running backs were frequently having to make their first moves 2-3 yards deep in the backfield. Alabama’s tackles simply aren’t playing up to standard at the moment, and there are isolated breakdowns coming from the interior as well. LSU’s quick and powerful defensive line is starting to draw large red circles around the Tigers’ game against Alabama in November.
- The targeting rule has to go – and go now, not next winter. Nick Saban was diplomatic about the bad call (and subsequent reversal) for targeting on Eddie Jackson in the third quarter, but this is the second time Alabama has been victimized by the rule in 2013. Ha’Sean Clinton-Dix was first ejected and then allowed to come back into the Texas A&M game, and Jackson was allowed back onto the field Saturday, but in both cases the 15-yard penalty stayed. If the call was reversed to allow a player to come back into the game, by definition, the call was wrong to begin with and the 15 yards should never have been assessed. The NCAA prefers to handle rule changes over the offseason, but this can’t wait. A hotfix is needed, by which the entire penalty comes off the board if the replay booth determines the defender was innocent of targeting. And this needs to happen tomorrow morning. It should say something when members of both Tom Ritter’s and Hubert Owens’ officiating crews blew this call, given that the SEC considers those two crews to be its best units. The on-field officials have been hamstrung by a poorly written rule that was concocted with lawsuits in mind, not actual gameplay, then told to err on the side of player ejection, which is preposterous. In the process, the NCAA has created a rule that, even when overturned, penalizes a team 15 yards for a clean football hit. Here’s hoping that while Saban is praising the officials publicly, he is on the phone 5 minutes later raising hell with someone at NCAA headquarters. This is perhaps the worst rule to ever infect the NCAA rulebook. Ever.
- Special teams have finally found consistency. It had become a running joke among TideFans.com staff last year that every time something positive was said about Alabama’s special teams, the Tide would find a way to blow it the following week. Not this year. While kickoffs are still not reaching the end zone, Alabama came into the game leading the conference in kickoff coverage and did nothing to ruin its reputation. When Cole Mazza misfired on a snap for the first time in his collegiate career, punter Cody Mandell one-handed it and still got off a 50-yard punt. But the real story on special teams Saturday was the play of placekicker Cade Foster. Foster hit three field goals, including one from 53 yards out, and if he can maintain this level of consistency, the Tide has a weapon on its hands. It’s been awhile since the appearance of Alabama’s special teams didn’t bring forth a mixture of emotions, both good and bad – sometimes including even abject fear – but the 2013 team has a chance to make special teams a key part of its winning strategy, rather than simply hoping to survive the times they’re on the field.