A few initial impressions from the Ole Miss game:
Mark Ingram had an incredible day all the way around. He ran over 170 yards on the ground, and had a big catch out of the backfield for a first down. He's really turning himself into a complete back with his pass blocking abilities and his ability to catch the football out of the backfield. Honestly, the only real problem was that he just didn't get the ball enough. The 28 carries is really deceptive when showing how we used him, because so many of those carries came very late when we were running the clock.
- First and foremost, this is a big victory for the Tide. I know that some of the luster was taken off this game with Ole Miss' loss against South Carolina a couple of weeks back, but even so this game received lots of national attention yesterday, and it was the game that the pundits had circled all year long. To come out and win this type of game, on the road, is a big victory.
- Aside from the fact that it was a big victory, everything becomes more impressive in context. We beat a top 20 SEC team, on the road, 22-3 -- a pretty good shellacking in its own right -- and truthfully the game shouldn't have been that close. As good as we have been, we continue to be unable to fire on all cylinders, and we left a lot of points on the board yesterday afternoon. It was a 22-3 game that, truth be told, should have been even more lopsided. No doubt about it... we absolutely trashed this Ole Miss team physically. It was like watching a heavyweight fight where one fighter is destroying his opponent, but cannot quite get the knock-out blow he wants until the late rounds.
- The strength of the defense carried the day once again, and it's literally impossible to overstate the efforts those guys displayed. We got after Snead, completely shut down the running game, playing very tight coverage, and fought like hell for the football on every snap. If you were a coach putting on a clinic about how defense should be played, this is the game film you would put on as an example. I said this in the game thread yesterday, and in the sober reality of the day after I will reiterate here... this was the best defensive performance I've seen by an Alabama team since January 1st, 1993.
- Offensively, well, that was another story, particularly with regard to offensive playcalling. It just never made any sense whatsoever to me, or just about anyone else for that matter, and it's just entirely too much to get into with an initial impressions piece. I'm going to have a full column up on this later this week, probably around Wednesday.
Greg McElroy easily had his worst day in crimson to date. I do think he was hampered a bit by poor play-calling, but even so he played poorly. He never looked comfortable in the pocket -- though the protection was probably about as good as you could expect against a front four like Ole Miss has -- and the way that he forced the ball to Julio Jones at times was almost laughable. He just looked like a completely different quarterback than we've seen to date. He honestly reminded me of John Parker Wilson circa 2006 or 2007 yesterday. I hate to be so negative about the kid, but... 43% completion percentage, 4.3 yards per attempt... all the crimson Kool-Aid in the world doesn't make that look good. It goes without saying that McElroy needs to play a lot better moving forward.
- That said, it just shows you good of an overall team we have when we can have such, um, shall we say "questionable" play-calling and quarterback play, and still win in a romp over a quality SEC team on the road. Teams that could do this are very much few and far between.
Cory Reamer had a career day, easily his best day in crimson. He looked a lot better at strongside linebacker, and he was a special teams standout with two huge plays. Likewise, Kareem Jackson had easily his best day to date. He looked like a legitimate shutdown corner yesterday, and that is the best performance we've had from a corner in ages.
Robby Green is getting almost no publicity, but he is doing an outstanding job at safety. He forced a turnover on a well-timed safety blitz, and he continues to have a knack forcing big incompletions downfield by ripping the ball out. He isn't getting much attention, but he is playing a lot of snaps and is making some big plays. He has quickly turned into a fine player. Glad we have him for three more years.
Is there a more underrated player in the conference than Lorenzo Washington? He starts on a defense where the starter designation alone more than justifies your plate at the table, and he's playing damn well. He's tough against the run, and he's probably our most underrated pass rusher. He was just punishing Ole Miss offensive linemen yesterday. You've got to love Lo', no doubt about it. He spurned in-state Georgia for us way back in 2004, barely eight months after the Mike Price strip club fiasco, fought all through the Shula era, overcame injuries, played out of position in 2007, watched himself become demoted to a back-up with the rise of Terrence Cody, and somehow overcame it all. The young man bleeds crimson, simply put, and someone should recognize what he has done. At the very least, I bet he has some NFL scouts watching.
Give credit to our defense, Ole Miss did everything they could to get McCluster involved, and we made him a total non-factor. Nine touches for 37 yards and a big fumble. Goodness.
Jevan Snead yesterday... 11-34 for 140 yards, 0 touchdowns, 4 interceptions, sacked twice. That's a completion percentage of only 32%, averaging 4.11 yards per attempt, and a 43.4 QB rating. I know Snead is overrated, like I've said for ages, but still... that is one damn fine defense. He isn't anywhere near that bad.
I hated the fake punt call. Not because of the ball, but because we absolutely wasted a good, converted fake punt. You pick up a big fake punt, and four plays later Fitzgerald is punting it out of the back of the end zone. It was a huge risk that basically got us nothing. Hate to see that.
The Trent Richardson fumble late was disappointing, but I'm not complaining. It was a good strip by the Ole Miss defender, and in all fairness it was a good run too. He's played fine at tailback this year, and he'll overcome it. Besides, the kid can definitely pass block, always a rarity for a true freshman, and he may very well be our best player on the kick coverage unit. He blows people up left and right.
After the early drop, Julio played very well. The production wasn't there, but again it wasn't his fault. He faced double coverage all day, and most of the throws in his direction were just terrible decisions by McElroy. Besides, he got hosed on at least one pass interference call. He's not 100%, but he's still unreal good.
Emmanuel Stephens played a fine game for Ole Miss today. We couldn't block him off the edge. And he's a back-up, which ought to tell you how good the rest of the Ole Miss defensive end rotation is. Thank goodness he's a senior.
Speaking of senior Ole Miss defensive ends, thank God Greg Hardy is finally gone. After three years, our long crimson nightmare is finally over. And the scary thing is, he's that tough to stop and clearly not 100%. If he ever gets completely healthy, he'll fill a graveyard with quarterbacks.
Lots of odd stuff today from 'Bama, play-calling aside. Why was there so little Terrence Cody? He was there, and he played damn well when he was in, but he barely played. He generally wasn't even in the game in obvious run situations, which is his specialty. I have no clue there. And what about Roy Upchurch, where was he? As much as we threw the ball, you would think he would get some time considering he is our best pass blocking back and our best receiver out of the backfield, but he never got off the bench. All in all, lots of odd stuff in Oxford.
Colin Peek... great catch early, but it went south quickly. He dropped a big touchdown pass, and cost us about 50 yards of field position on a holding on an Arenas' kick return. He's played great at times, but poorly at times too. If nothing else, he leads the team with dropped touchdown passes with three.
We are the kinds of pre-snap penalties on offense. I'm serious, we ought to get a trophy created for ourselves. Nothing gets you beat like pre-snap penalties on offense, and we are addicted to them.
Along those same lines, the red zone efficiency is terrible. Or better yet, I should say that red zone efficiency is decent. We do fine inside the 20, it's inside the 10 that we decide we're going to do everything in our power to keep from getting in the end zone.
P.J. Fitzgerald has looked much better this year on the whole, but he is still killing us with his inability to pin teams up deep. He's the king of hitting a 48-yard punt from the opponent 42-yard line. Unless Fitzgerald can do a lot better soon in this regard, we need to get a lot more aggressive in terms of going for it on fourth down. These punts netting 15 or 20 yards are killing us.
Big day from Leigh Tiffin today. I'm traditionally a big critic of Tiffin -- and I think rightly so -- but he did a good job today. He went 5-5 today, and while several weren't pretty, they got the job done. He came up big today, and if he had struggled, we would have been in a world of hurt. Kudos, Leigh.
Dear Pat Patterson and Bobby Massie, do you still feel good about picking Ole Miss? I hope you now understand why five-star recruits generally don't choose schools that haven't won their conference since the week after JFK got shot.
And speaking of Ole Miss' future, this team is going to be an absolute shell of its current self when it returns to Tuscaloosa next year. Snead returns, but from my count they are going to lose something like 14 starters. Jerry, Hodge, McCluster, Tillman, Hardy, Trahan, Green, Vaughn, and Lewis will all be gone, plus a lot of other starters on the offensive line. Anything can happen in any game, of course, but we've beat Ole Miss six straight years now, and this was clearly their best chance to get us for quite a few years. The Orgeron talent is quickly going away, and the recruiting hasn't been at a high enough level to not have a drop-off in the coming years. This was this their year -- both for beating us, and getting to Atlanta -- and we roughed 'em up good.
All in all, we still haven't played a complete game to yet. We're beating ourselves with dumb penalties, poor decision-making, and leaving points on the board. Nevertheless, we legitimately look this good even when not firing on all cylinders? All you can say is that we are one hell of a team, period. And if we ever can truly get it all together, we are absolutely going to smoke people.