This morning we've got a Q&A with the friendly bloggers over at Roll Bama Roll. Be sure to head over there to read their ongoing commentary from the week. Thanks guys!
Todd: What an interesting way to phrase that question. Yeah, it's a shame that the "Saban vs Miles/LSU/Entire state of Louisiana" storyline has been blown so out of proportion. It's an interesting storyline, sure, but it should really only be about as interesting as Spurrier's first game against Florida. It was interesting to see him coach against his former team that was loaded with talent and led by a new big name coach while he was making do with the leftovers from a program that had been left to wither for quite some time, just to see how he could do, but it wasn't a "OMG SPURRIER BOWL I!!!" kind of affair. And this shouldn't be either. I have to wonder if the hype would be as big if Saban had gone somewhere like Mississippi State instead of Alabama, and if that would have been looked on like the Spurrier vs Florida games. Anyway, to your actual question. Nick Saban is worth every penny we're paying him, if only because he's got the team playing a full game instead of collapsing in the fourth quarter, and we finally believe we can win every game we play again. That's not to say we will win every game, but the Tide now has a reasonable chance to go toe to toe with anyone because of who is making the decisions on the sidelines. Instead of looking to your head coach and catching the too familiar deer in the headlights look, we see a man busy talking into his headset and planning the next play, no matter how badly the one preceding it went or how many points we're down (or up, for that matter). That intensity and focus is something this team and program have lacked for a decade now, and we're all starting to remember exactly what it is about Alabama football that made us believers; that will and drive to go out and be the best team on the field, and if you aren't the best, then to at least make the better team look like it isn't.
OTS: I would give him an A-. We had a couple of disappointing games earlier in the year, but he took over a crappy 6-7 team that was overweight and out of shape, and has got them right on the cusp of winning the SEC West. The odds are definitely against us beating the Bayou Bengals, but the point that we are here speaks volumes. The difference in coaching this year and a year ago is simply night and day. A win over LSU and I upgrade him to an A.
2. And do you like him?
Todd: Of course. He restored hope and pride to a team that's been sorely lacking in it. Yeah, he's gruff, doesn't suffer fools lightly, and couldn't give a damn what you think of him or how he does things. Oh wait, you weren't talking about Coach Bryant. Silly me. Yeah, of course we like him. This is finally a guy who's a proven winner and a guy that can recruit like crazy, both players and assistants, so even with all the "hope you guys enjoy it while it lasts, 'cause he's gone in four years" crap just makes us laugh. If he does for us what he did for LSU over the next few years and leaves, we'll salute him as the great rebuilder and wish him well in all his future endeavors. He isn't some coordinator or mid-major coach we got on the cheap that we can cast a skeptical eye on and say "you better win, son, you're at Alabama now." No, this is a guy the we can look at and say "we can win now, 'cause Saban is at Alabama."
OTS: Asking an Alabama fan if he likes Nick Saban is about like asking an LSU fan if he likes Billy Cannon. There may be a grand total of two people in the entire fan base that aren't head over heels for the Nicktator.
3. And do the ladies like him?
Todd: That's between him and Mrs. Saban.
OTS: I suppose so.
4. Did you read Michael Lewis' book The Blind Side? That had some pretty cool stuff about Saban.
Todd: I have not read it. It's one of those books on my Amazon wishlist that I always see and think "oh yeah, I want to read that" but wind up ordering a DVD instead. I have heard good things, though, and fully intend to read it and some point in the future.
OTS: No I didn't. I read Moneyball but not the Blind Side. I wasn't overly impressed with the writing in Moneyball, so didn't take the time to read the Blind Side.
5. That is all.
6. Oh wait, one more: what's different now compared to when Shula roamed the sidelines?
Todd: Yeah, I didn't think that was all. I've gone into this already, but the difference is that the team believes in their coaches now. Joe Kines was respected and loved by his players, no doubt, but by the end even the defensive players were openly questioning Shula's decisions and acting out on the sidelines, something you would have never seen from a Gene Stallings coached football team. The discipline and focus is something that's very evident in this year's model, and you can tell these guys fully trust in the coaches and what they are doing, even if they don't understand it sometimes. When the offense struggled earlier in the season, there was some obvious frustration from some of the receivers, but they kept going back out and doing their jobs like they were supposed to instead of giving up and taking plays off. You can also tell a difference in the team's conditioning and preparedness. A lot of the late game collapses and inability to mount a come from behind effort that marred the Shula years were a direct result from a lack of conditioning and the coaches not getting their team ready for every game. The defense is so limited in depth and talent that they are clearly tired by the end of the game because they're all playing far too many minutes, yet they aren't out their whiffing on tackles and taking plays off like they would have been last year. They're out there going as hard as they can. God I love this new staff.
OTS: The difference is just night and day. I could write for days on the subject, but it was obvious that Shula was an incompetent coach who was clearly in over his head. Saban is just immeasurably better in essentially everything you would want a head coach to do. Shula was terrible and Saban is seemingly great, you do the math.
7. Now to the actual football. So after the crushing loss to Georgia, you guys went out and looked, well, not great against Houston and Ole Miss, and then absolutely pantsed the Vols. (That was great, by the way. I hate Phil Fulmer! And even The Blind Side pointed out how Saban is better in all ways than Fulmer. Well, at least in recognizing window treatments (i.e. drapes).) Anyway, what the hell turned around for you guys in that Vols win?
Todd: The offensive execution finally started clicking. We didn't look too bad offensively against Ole Miss in the first half, but when we were unable to protect JPW in the second half we faltered. These guys finally put together a complete game against the Vols, though, and I'm not sure what switched got flipped in Wilson's head, but he's finally truly grasped the offense and what Applewhite is doing with his playcalling, and it showed against UT. Even Applewhite commented that Wilson turned a corner against Ole Miss in his understanding of the offense, and we have every reason to be confident that his ability to read the defense, check into the right play, and execute is where we expected it to be in the preseason. He's not the second coming of Joe Namath or anything, but the kid is a good, smart QB, and his play up to Ole Miss was nowhere near what the previous season's performance hinted at.
OTS: The Tennessee win was just a lot of things all coming together at once. The offense struggled in the previous weeks, but it is very talented. It was just finally at Tennessee that it congealed and turned into legitimate point production. The defense played its best game of the year as well. Hopefully it was everything coming together and now we've turned a corner, but we'll have to prove this week that it wasn't just a random fluke.
8. After a win like that, did you welcome the bye week or curse its very existence? Do you feel it's a negative for your momentum? (`Cause see, we really needed ours, after those douchebags at Auburn took out Glenn Dorsey's knee.)
Todd: I was pretty indifferent, really. We've got some guys that can use the rest (Bobby Greenwood and Zeke Knight are both troubled by lower leg injuries), so I think the time to heal and rest up is beneficial, but it would have been nice to not have that lull week after such a huge win.
OTS: The bye week didn't hurt. The whole "momentum" thing doesn't mean a whole lot. I look at it like we had a great performance, and then we had an off week to get healthy and fine-tune fundamentals in preparation for an even bigger game. The bye week won't really hurt anything, and it's all what you make of it. And just as you guys needed it to get Dorsey healthy, we needed it to get Zeke Knight healthy.
9. What do you think will be the most important matchup favoring the Tide in this game?
Todd: Well, not to get all ESPN here, but Saban vs Miles. Not because it's old coach vs new, but because, at least on paper, the Tide shouldn't stand a chance in this game. We were a 6-7 team last year with no depth on defense, and LSU is loaded with talent and is the rightful preseason projection for SEC Champions. But here we are, tied for the lead in the west, and it's all because of the decisions being made on the sidelines. I'm not trying to disparage Les Miles here, because I do think he's a good coach, but he's shown a propensity for gambling in games that I think will blow up in his face at some point. Hopefully his hubris will get the best of him as he tries to really stick it to Saban and Alabama, endearing him to the LSU faithful and earning some style points with the poll voters in the process, and the Alabama staff will have just the gameplan in place to take the wind out of his sails.
OTS: D.J. Hall versus whoever covers him. Hall had a huge night against LSU last year, and we'll need him to do the same. I still haven't seen a cornerback in the past three years who could stop him in man coverage, and I doubt that changes against LSU unless you guys double cover him, and that's a good thing for us too as long as the other guys step up.
10. What do you think is your least favorable matchup?
Todd: The LSU ground game vs the Alabama front seven. Hester should be able to pound the ball effectively against them, and we don't pursue laterally all that well, so the speedier backs should have some success bouncing it outside. Actually, that gives me nightmares when thinking about this game.
OTS: Tyson Jackson -- or whatever DE plays opposite him -- against Mike Johnson. Though he's played admirably, Johnson has struggled at times sealing off the right side of the line of scrimmage against athletic pass rushers, and that's a major concern against a team like LSU. Wilson struggles to pick up rushers coming to his right, and if Johnson can't get the job done, that's going to create a lot of big negative plays for us. And that's aside from just in general hurting the overall effectiveness of the passing attack. From a 'Bama perspective, that's a major concern.
11. Finally, what's your prediction for the game?
Todd: I don't think one team will simply dominate the other, but I'm not sure how to read this one as to whether or not it will be a shootout or a defensive battle. Obviously I have to pick the Tide, and with our less than dominant defense I think we'll have to get hot offensively and outshoot you guys like Kentucky did. Let's say Bama 39, LSU 35.
OTS: Though I figure LSU wins it, rationally speaking, I'll be the 'Bama homer and pick us to win 27-24.