No SEC Preview this week, because I didn't feel like it, and frankly DawgSports does a good job of it without me. Heck, I don't even really know who's playing this week. Let me go check. Hmm.. Kentucky vs. Georgia could be interesting. Other than that, nada.
I did a quick Q&A with Todd from Roll Bama Roll this week. They should be publishing my responses to their questions some time today. Here are my questions and Todd's answers:
1. Do you think that Bama really is one of the 2 or 3 best teams in the country? Or are they a team that just hasn't lost? Or do you not catch my meaning. What I'm getting at is, if you weren't "resume ranking" but going strictly by "who you'd pick to win at a neutral site", do you think you'd rank Alabama in the top 2 or 3?
I really would, and that's based on the efficiency of the offense and the stellar play of the defense. If you look at the other top contenders, only Florida can make similar claims. Penn State has been very impressive on offense so far, at least until they ran into a team with a respectable defense (tOSU). If not for Pryor's fumble early in the fourth that set them up for a 38 yard TD drive (and then aided them with a 15 yard penalty to make it a 14 yard drive one play later), there was a better than average shot that the Buckeyes (who were up 6-3 at that point) could have ground out the win with their running game and defense. Same for Texas Tech; they've played pretty decent defense and allowed their offense to outpace people, but Nebraska (you know, that one) took them to OT and they were a dropped INT away from losing to Texas after completely dominating the first half. I know that Alabama has the knock that it "struggled" at times this season, most notably against Tulane and Kentucky, but anyone that actually watched those games instead of looking at the scoreboard would probably agree that the Tide was in absolutely no danger of losing them and dominated both opponents statistically AND physically. So yeah, I think Alabama could hang with (and beat) both Penn State and Texas Tech on a neutral site, and I'm reasonably certain we could hang with Florida because of the defense (and will be watching how SC's D handles them this weekend to get an even better feel).
2. Will Terrance Cody be back at 100%? What would his absence (or sub-optimal health) mean to your defense?
I don't know that he'll be 100%, but he's expected to start and hasn't shown any signs that he isn't 100% in practice all week. If he isn't, though, it probably won't make that much of a difference for the defense. Josh Chapman has filled in admirably, and even though he isn't quite the load that Cody is, he's reputedly the strongest guy on the team and is still pretty darn big at around 310 lbs. The biggest issue with Cody being out is depth. We've got plenty of ends to rotate in, but as far as NG goes, it's Cody, Chapman, and then a significant drop off. Lorenzo Washington played backup the last two weeks and is on stranger to that position (he started at NG last year, but moved to DE in the spring), and the staff got creative with the line rotation and how best to confuse the blocking schemes in his absence (DE Bobby Greenwood would line up at NG, then stunt around to the end once the ball was snapped for example), but knowing that we have both him and Chapman simply mauling up front is a considerable comfort, especially since Scott is a very solid interior runner and our entire rushing D is built around taking that away and forcing everything outside.
3. LSU has famously struggled to stop the pass. How is Alabama positioned to exploit this weakness?
Two things: Wilson is at his best in a hostile environment, and Julio Jones.
My conspiracy theory on why John Parker Wilson seems brilliant on the road and mediocre at best in Tuscaloosa is that all of our home games have all been teams that we could pretty well just pound the ball against and not worry too much about mistakes if the staff decided to air it out and use them as "scrimmages" to work on the passing game and putting in different looks and plays for the offense. Against Arkansas State we were throwing early and often and kept the starters in 'til the last drive to keep working on the passing game, and I'm sure that was preparation for this week. Wilson is certainly not the best QB in the conference, but he's developed into a smart game manager that can do just enough with his arm to keep the defense honest and avoid the kinds of mistakes and turnovers that have plagued him the last few years. Against UGA, the only other BIG road game (I'm discounting Clemson because, well, Clemson, and because half the stadium was wearing Crimson) he was a brilliant 13 of 16 for 205 yards and a TD, and that was after all week long we kept hearing about how this was a game that was going to be decided by the QBs and that Wilson was no Matthew Stafford. As for Julio, well, the kid is a beast, and he and Wilson have developed a solid QB/WR relationship over the course of the year. If you man up on him, he'll beat you, if you go to zone coverage, he'll find the holes, and if you double cover him, Mike McCoy and Nick Walker are somewhere else waiting on the ball.
4. This is a vague and open-ended question, but how is Alabama doing this? What impact has Nick Saban had on the psyche of this team to get basically the same group of people to play at so much higher of a level than they did last year and the year before?
First of all, just having some guys graduate (and arrested) helped a great deal. There wasn't a lot of team unity last season, and it really showed when things weren't going Alabama's way. Saban has managed to get these guys to believe that what happened last year was because everyone wasn't doing their jobs on every play, and if they can get that through their heads and go out and execute no matter what the game situation, they can be a dominant football team. And it's worked. No one is visibly taking plays off anymore, all you hear from the players is "what's best for the team" and "we're just focused on this week's opponent right now" and etc, and that's the kind of mindest that he wants from the team. Even better, they are playing like they mean it, and that's been the biggest key so far.
As for the biggest impact Saban has had on this team, it's really getting guys who were little known and used backups to buy into his system and give it everything they have to get on the field. Javier Arenas is the perfect example of this. His only other 1A offer besides Alabama was Florida International, and even then the Shula regime recruited him as a return man and had no intention of using him as a DB. He was so frustrated at the thought that he would never get to show what he could do as a corner that he almost quit the team, but Saban talked him into staying by essentially telling him that if he worked hard, learned the schemes, and proved that he could be a starter, he would be, and he saw a lot of time in nickel sets last year because of it and has now turned into a solid cover corner. There are plenty of other examples of this, too. Justin Woodall was going to be the next great Alabmaa safety under Joe Kines, but barely saw the field last year because he didn't learn the schemes. Now he's a starter. Ali Sharieff was buried on the depth chart at RB, and now he's getting all kinds of time on passing downs as an extra DB and is a likely candidate to fill Rashad Johnson's shoes next year. Drew Davis solidified the RT spot in the spring when everyone figured a true freshman would be starting there. Corey Reamer moved up to OLB from safety after injuries slowed him a step, and he's been starting there ever since the spring. Roy Upchruch was completely written off as a never was, and now he's part of the three headed running back monster and the hero of the Tennessee game. I'm sure I could think of other examples if I tried, but we'll stop there.
5. Where do you go from here? Do you think the 2009 Alabama outlook is as bright as this year's has turned out to be?
Probably not, actually. We lose a senior starter at QB, two NFL draft picks on the OL, an All-SEC Safety, and a ton of experience and depth due to graduation after this season, and it will be hard to fill all of those shoes. I have a feeling we'll still be pretty good and at least a contender for the West like we are this year, but it probably won't be quite the same.
6. Do you see anything inherently wrong with a sign that says "trespassing is not allowed", which I saw at Bruno's today. It seems to me that the word "trespassing" includes within itself "without permission" which means it's not allowed, so the sentiment "trespassing is not allowed" is a tautology. What say you?
7. Have you ever read Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" series? I personally think it's awesome and would throw hot coals in the face of anyone who had a bad word to say about it. But then again, I'm a nerd with a mean streak.
I read the Preludes and Nocturnes collection a while back, but it was at a time when my interest in comics was pretty much done and even though I enjoyed and planned to continute on with it, I just never got around to it. Maybe when I retire.
Richard's Response: For shame! Preludes and Nocturnes is the first, but it is actually probably the weakest collection. It was really before Neil Gaiman found the voice of the character and the story. It's kind of straight horror, where the rest of the series is more lyrical and more complex, character-wise. The very last story in Preludes and Nocturnes, with Dream and Death hanging around in the park and chatting is probably the first story that actually feels like the rest of the series feels. It's kind of a throw-away story where nothing much really happens, but its tone is right. Gaiman was still a young writer, and still finding his way with the story, and that issue begins the series, while the rest of Preludes and Nocturnes is more epilogue than anything else.
8. We have a lot of offensive weapons, from our running backs, to our tight end, on through our 2nd, 3rd, and 4th wideouts. Which of these weapons do you think has the best chance to hurt you?
Not to sound arrogant, but I just don't know. We've been very solid in passing defense and are getting more and more smothering with man coverage over the past few weeks, whlie hardly anyone has been able to run on us, and the linebackers are really doing well in coverage as well. Probably the biggest key for any of them will be the combination of all of them, with the receivers being the biggest danger. We're very aggressive in pass coverage, so if the receivers can start making our DBs break the wrong way (confound that cursed fade-stop!), there's plenty of success to be had.
9. I happen to think this is one of the best matchups of D-line versus O-line in the country with your DL going against our OL.
I'm glad that you do. Actually, this is going to be a pretty good test of our front seven. We're going to come after Lee (or Jefferson) in every situation and try to set up camp in the backfield, but LSU is second in the leage in sacks against (only ten, compared to Alabama's 13) and are doing a pretty solid job of opening up running lanes (4.9 ypc and 186.1 ypg, both 3rd in the SEC, ain't too shabby), while our defense is holding teams to only 2.6 ypc and 65.6 ypg and has had 18 sacks. Not to get all cliched here, but what happens on the line is really going to deteremine how this game goes for both teams.
10. That's all.