Another weekend and another win for the Tide. A few initial impressions from the aftermath:
And our wide receivers played great last night, for the record. They held their own against a good South Carolina defensive backfield, and they absolutely saved this game for us by bailing out McElroy's terrible throws. Julio Jones had to commit offensive pass interference to do it, but he broke up a certain interception that was heaved into double coverage, and he also did an incredible job forcing a fumble (that we recovered) on another interception. Likewise, Marquis Maze wrestled away yet another certain interception from a South Carolina DB. Had those guys not made those three plays, we probably lose this football game. Blame someone if you want, but don't blame the receivers.
Furthermore, we should all praise Julio Jones. He's a superstar wide receiver, and yet somehow we cannot get him the football. And despite the fact that we live in an era where any wide receiver with even an ounce of talent suddenly turns into a bigger diva than Madonna, we cannot get a superstar wide receiver the football, and our superstar wide receiver never complains one bit. You know what he does? He goes out with a great attitude and works his ass off doing the dirty, blue-collar work, and he does a damn fine job of it at that. He kills DB's in run blocking, works as the scratch returner, and probably already holds the unofficial record for most interceptions broken up by a wide receiver. It's nothing short of a damn shame, and keep in mind that Julio Jones is a three-year player. His tour of duty is now officially more than half over, and in fourteen months he will be preparing for the NFL Draft, so our time with him is quickly fleeting. Harsh reality here, folks, we're wasting a once-in-a-generation player.
Mark Ingram... cannot say enough about him. I highly doubt he wins the Heisman -- and honestly I'm really torn on that subject anyway, so I'm not crying regardless -- but honestly he deserves it. Either way, enjoy him while we have him. He's another three-year player, and barring a major injury, his tour of duty is also more than half over. He has NFL tailback written all over him in every single way possible.
Marquis Johnson played the game of his life tonight, and he silenced critics left and right. Kudos to him. He's a fine young man who has worked his butt off and overcame a lot of very undeserved criticism. He played well, he's a solid player, and I'm glad to see him finally getting the recognition he rightfully deserves. He's earned every bit of it.
As good as Rolando McClain played with Dont'a Hightower alongside, he just took his game to the next level when Hightower went down.
Jerrell Harris... did not play a single snap in this game. He's eligible, but didn't play on defense nor did he play on special teams. Nico Johnson got the start and had tackles on two of the first three plays, but pretty much went incognito after that.
- Ugly win last night, and I mean ugly. Any time you average 4.6 yards per passing attempt, have over 100 yards of penalties, miss a kick, and turn it over four times, your performance has all of the aesthetic appeal of a Roseanne swimsuit calendar. Thankfully, though, the defense was impenetrable as usual and Mark Ingram took over the game, carrying us to victory. Had either one of those two slipped up any last night, we would probably be lamenting our first loss of the season.
- Another bad night for the offense. I know South Carolina is generally considered to have a good defense -- and in all fairness Lorenzo Ward and Ellis Johnson had them prepared -- but they are not that good. Thirteen points on the night offensively, and our previously unstoppable offensive juggernaut has put up all of two touchdowns in nine quarters.
- The extremely frustrating part of our offense's overall performance was that South Carolina never really stopped us. We averaged over 6.0 yards per play, and only punted three times all night long. On six of our drives, we moved the football at least 30 yards, so again, South Carolina never really stopped us. We moved the ball well, but as usually is the case, we continued to beat ourselves. Leigh Tiffin missed a field goal, we failed to convert touchdowns in two first-half red zone opportunities, and we turned the football over four times. We only had 10 possessions in this game -- short game last night, mind you -- and when you are so inefficient that literally half of your possessions end in missed field goals and turnovers, you simply aren't going to score many points. It's just frustrating as hell... opposing teams aren't stopping us, but we continue to stop ourselves. We are our own worst enemies.
Greg McElroy was the biggest problem offensively, and his performance just gets worse and worse with each passing week. Again I know South Carolina played well defensively last night, but that still doesn't change the fact that McElroy was ungodly terrible. He couldn't hit a wide receiver if his life depended on it, and our "passing game" -- and I say "passing game" loosely because in all actuality we had no passing game whatsoever -- consisted of dump-off passes to the tailbacks. He threw two interceptions as it was, and had it not been for great wide receiver play (see next bullet), he would have probably thrown at least three more. The stat line says it all... 10-20 for 92 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 interceptions. I do not say this lightly, but I nevertheless stand by the following statement... for all intents and purposes, we had Spencer Pennington at quarterback last night, and quite frankly Pennington rarely played worse than McElroy did last night (and in terms of QB rating, I don't know if Pennington ever had a rating this low). I don't remember the last time we had a quarterback play this poorly.
Josh Chapman didn't play last night. He dressed but was apparently being held out with some sort of an issue. I don't know if he was banged up slightly or what, but he didn't play. Hopefully he'll be back next week.
In Chapman's place, Kerry Murphy came into the game and played the nose, and did very well. Murphy has a bright future ahead of him.
Big hat tip goes to Tyrone King, a walk-on. With Arenas out, he played a lot as the nickel and dime corner, and he played well. It ust goes to show you what he can do at this level with a lot of dedication and hard work. He's a fifth-year walk-on getting a ton of meaningful playing time in a close conference game, and in the process he's keeping a five-star kid on the bench, plus he's also allowing us to keep a redshirt on another five-star cornerback (Burton Scott).
Safety play has really came a long way this year. We have a three-man rotation there between Woodall, Barron, and Green, and all three have played really well as of late. In particular, Barron looks to be turning into the player we thought he would be when he came out of high school as a five-star recruit.
Great night as a whole tonight for the defense, and those guys are just doing more than you could ever reasonably expect out of your defense, no matter how good of a unit you have. We continue to put them in bad situations time and time again thanks to special teams breakdowns and offensive struggles, but they answer the bell every single time. Last night they only gave up 3.8 yards per play, six points, and actually on net with Barron's pick six generated one point for our cause. Again, doing more than anyone could ever reasonably expect.
The pass rush continued to look good against the Gamecocks. Their offensive line was grabbing our rushers all night long -- not many holding penalties, though, I'm afraid -- and we still racked up five sacks on 46 passing attempts. This looks to be our best pass rush since 2002.
Special teams... just ungodly terrible, period. We cannot return kicks or punts without getting penalties, we cannot cover kicks, we are still inconsistent kicking field goals, etc. We just have one of the worst special teams unit in the country, I'm afraid.
All in all, ugly performance tonight, but sometimes you have to win ugly. We are currently beaten to a pulp right now, and we need an off week in the worst way. We have played seven weeks, with four straight conference games -- all against teams that will make bowl games -- and it is really starting to show. We've got to suck it up another week, though, and fight through against Tennessee. Those guys have had their usual week off, and they'll come to Tuscaloosa ready to play. We're now the #1 team in the country, but we're going to need a lot better performance next week or we will be in yet another nailbiter.