Editor's Note: This will be the first installment in a four-piece series that will give an in-depth preview of the individual unit match-ups, as well as a special teams preview, and finally ending on Friday with a final wrap-up before the two teams face off on Saturday night.
The Virginia Tech Defense
It goes without saying that the reputation of the "Lunch Pail Defense" precedes itself. Few programs in all of college football can boast a defense that has been as consistently successful as the Hokies have been over such a long period of time. No consultation of the statistical indexes is needed to understand that Virginia Tech is annually one of the best defensive units in the country, and the accomplishments of that group are highly impressive over the years. It's a unit that is generally near the top of the country in terms of scoring defense and total defense each and every year, consistently producing big plays, and with over 30 players drafted under the leadership of defensive coordinator Bud Foster, it's fair to say that there is a solid pipeline running straight from the Hokie defense to the NFL. Perhaps even more impressive, during Foster's era in Blacksburg, there has been at least one defensive player each and every year to earn All-American honors.
And, of course, the backbone of the Hokie defense is the aforementioned Bud Foster, the long time Tech defensive coordinator. It goes without saying that this is not an attempt to undermine Frank Beamer in any way, but nevertheless the Hokies have won a lot of games this decade, and it generally hasn't been a prolific offense leading them to victory. No, it's been an outstanding defense, and Foster is at the center of that. The 50-year old Murray State alum became defensive coordinator in 1995, at the ripe old age of 36, and has been an institution in Blacksburg ever since. The Broyles Award is given annually to the top assistant coach in the country, with Foster winning it in 2006, and no other assistant coach in the country has been chosen as a finalist as many times as he has. With such a long reputation of success, Foster could have easily had his pick of many good head coaching jobs, but he has opted to stay at Virginia Tech, and in all fairness he may very well be the best pure defensive coordinator in the country.
As a unit, the Hokies are a very aggressive defense, and Foster himself is very open and honest about wanting to dictate the flow of the game to the offense instead of vice versa. Underlying this aggressive defense is a unit that is built on speed, and one that not so secretly sacrifices size for speed. If you look at the Virginia Tech defensive line, it's a small unit. Many of their defensive ends are 250 pounds and under, and some of their interior players are 280 pounds and under. Likewise, the linebacker corps is light as well, with more than a few players barely hovering above the 200 pound limit. All told, the average size of the defensive line is around 267 pounds and the average size of the linebacker corps is around 220 pounds. By comparison, the Alabama defensive line averages around 300 pounds, and the linebackers almost 250. Tech defensive ends would be playing Jack linebacker at Alabama, and Rolando McClain, if he transferred to Virginia Tech, would instantly be a defensive end. To be sure, some of those disparities are a result in the different type of player needed for the 4-3 and the 3-4, but that alone doesn't explain the disparity in its entirety. Again, it's a unit that is built on speed, and one that openly sacrifices size for speed in the front seven.
The end result of a defense so heavily reliant on speed is about what you would expect. They are very quick, and running east and west on this unit isn't easy. Moreover, because of the overall speed -- and the general level of hustle consistently displayed by this group -- they tend to pursue well downfield, and the short-yardage quickness does allow them to make more than their fair share of tackles for loss in the running game. Moreover, it goes without saying that the speed first approach means that they are particularly a dangerous team rushing the quarterback off the edge. On the other hand, though, the lack of size does have it's drawbacks, particularly against big, powerful teams who -- when playing technically sound football up front -- can then generally have their way with the relatively light Hokies.
Also, before moving any further, a couple of position specific points should be addressed with regard to their impact on the Hokie defense, and these positions are, in Foster's parlance, the Whip linebacker, the rover, and the boundary corner. The Whip linebacker is an outside linebacker that functions in many ways like Nick Saban's Jack linebacker, playing to the wide side of the field -- the "field" side in Foster's terminology. The Whip linebacker generally plays zone coverage against the pass, but Foster loves to get creative with him and use him as an edge rusher against the passer, and also as a key player in run blitzes. The boundary corner plays to the short side of the field and is almost always locked in man coverage -- as opposed to the field corner, who plays the wide side and is more zone oriented -- and that position has a bit of a special place in Foster's lore because of the quality of players who have been given that designation. Finally, the rover is a hybrid safety player who is generally given a good bit of free reign, and one that has large responsibilities against both the pass and the run.
The Hokie Defense: A Critical Look
That glowing description of the Hokie defense notwithstanding, no defensive unit is perfect, and the Hokies are no different. Every defensive unit has flaws and weaknesses, and the same thing goes for this group as well. On the surface the Virginia Tech defense was outstanding last year, just looking at the major statistical categories, but if you dig deeper you begin to see that there is more than initially meets the eye.
In the passing game, the Hokies finished last year a solid 28th in the country in passing efficiency defense, but as is usually the case, things aren't necessarily so simple. The entire QB rating statistic has many detractors, shortcomings, and legitimate criticisms, and by analyzing the quality of pass defense based solely on opponent QB rating allows those statistical shortcomings to bleed through, and you can make a valid case that that happens when you look at the Hokies' defense.
Looking beyond the 28th placed ranking in passing efficiency defense, things quickly aren't so rosy. Truth be told, passing effiency defense isn't the best way to analyze the quality of a pass defense, the best way to do that is to look at yards per passing attempt (the favored pass defense statistic of many defensive gurus), and by that metric the Hokies really struggled a year ago, allowing roughly 7.14 yards per passing attempt. That number, in fact, put the Hokies at only 77th in the nation. And things were actually even much worse when you consider yards per completion. By that metric, the Hokies allowed 13.54 yards per completion, "good" for only 111th in the country out of 119 Division 1-A teams.
And much of the same criticism can be made of the Virginia Tech run defense as well. It, too, looks good based on the fact that the Hokies finished 14th in the country in rushing defense, but again it becomes a bit suspect the closer you look. The Hokies were a great pass rushing team a year ago (more on that later), and of course yardage and attempts lost as a result of sacks are, thanks to the methodology currently used, counted towards rushing statistics, even though they are really passes. For a great pass rushing team like that Hokies, that arbitrarily makes the run defense look more impressive than it really is. If you factor out the sacks, however, the Hokies 1735 yards on 416 carries, thus allowing about 4.1 yards per carry, not an overly impressive number. Moreover, the Hokies were great at stopping running games behind the line, posting 65 tackles for loss on running downs, and when you factor out those numbers, suddenly the average jumps to about 5.2 yards per carry. Bottom line, when the Hokies were not able to use their outstanding quickness to shoot the gaps and make a tackle in the backfield, their lack of size in the defensive front seven generally meant that their opponents were able to have their way in the running game.
Furthermore, just looking at the data, the Hokies were a team that was generally pretty good at limiting the run to a degree, but not a very good one at stopping the run outright. Even leaving the sack totals into the raw rushing statistics -- which again arbitrarily inflates the quality of their actual run defense -- eight teams rushed for over 100 yards against the Hokies last year, and only three times did the Hokies keep an opponent under 60 rushing yards (and one of those times came against Division 1-AA Furman). By comparison, only two teams cracked the 100 yard barrier against the Tide (one of which was national champion Florida), and Alabama held eight teams to 60 yards or fewer.
What all of this describes is a defense that was generally a good one, but one that became far too reliant on the big play. As mentioned earlier, the Hokies rushed the passer with great success by generating 35 sacks on only 343 passing attempts, giving them an adjusted sack rate of 10.3%, one of the highest in the country. Likewise, by racking up 65 tackles for loss on only 416 carries, Tech averaged a tackle for a loss on about 15.6% of all running downs, a number right on par with what the Alabama run defense posted. Furthermore, even more impressive, by snagging 20 interceptions on only 343 passing attempts, the Hokies were #1 in the country last year in interception rate at 5.81%. And, again, in a sense that's really the problem, they were far too reliant on those big plays. Yes they were generating sacks, tackles for loss, and interceptions in great numbers, but when they weren't doing that they were really struggling as a unit. When they didn't stop tailbacks behind the line, they were giving up well over five yards per pop. And when they weren't able to sack the quarterback or snag an interception, they were giving up over seven yards per passing attempt, and almost more yardage per completion than just about any other team in the country.
And that's the Virginia Tech defense in a nutshell. They are a fine coached unit that is very fast and that plays very hard. They can use their speed to kill you in more ways than one, and they have generally been successful. On the other hand, they are a unit that relies heavily on the big play, and if you as an offense can limit those big defensive plays, you suddenly find yourself facing a unit that you can have a good deal of success against.
The Alabama Offense
No one could have imagined the impact that Jim McElwain would have on the Alabama offense when he arrived a year ago from Fresno State. Most people liked what he had done in the valley, but no one expected that he could come in and immediately turn the Tide's offense into one of the most productive seen in Tuscaloosa in ages. But, of course, football is a constantly renewing game, and each team and each opponent is different from year-to-year, so you must constantly re-prove your merits, and in real terms that means that the accomplishments of 2008 for the Alabama offense are, for all intents and purposes, ancient history. Despite the return of the coaching staff, this is a new offensive unit, and many key faces are missing from a year ago. And considering that in the post-Bryant era, Alabama offenses have rarely been anything particularly special, it indeed is something that we will have to prove all over again in 2009.
And, oddly enough, as much as we would probably like to think we know the generalities of McElwain and the method to his madness, there is in all actuality a high degree of uncertainty with regard to this offense. In all honesty, who are we? What are we going to do, and exactly how are we going to put points on the board? Can anyone here legitimately answer those questions? I, for one, cannot. And if you think you can, I suggest you head to Vegas.
I know who Bud Foster is, and I know what the Virginia Tech defense is about. Foster as a coordinator has a particular scheme in place that, while obviously changing in some regards, in many ways remains the same. In a sense he and his defense are known commodities. We know the type of player he is looking for, and we generally know how he likes to use particular players and skill sets. We know, generally speaking, what they need to do in order to be successful within their system, and we generally know how they are trying to go about playing winning football. But we know none of those things, really, when it comes to McElwain, aside from the absolute rudimentary basics.
Of course the easy answer -- and in all fairness, perhaps even the correct answer for 2009 -- is that we will try to replicate the basic strategy employed a year ago: physically dominate our opponents in the trenches in the running game, run it right down their throats, and only throw the football when and where we want to. But the problem with that is that there is no guarantee that the pre-requisites needed to be in place in order to do that will once again be there in 2009. Again, teams change, and many of the key faces that powered such an attack no longer reside in Tuscaloosa. Furthermore, it's almost impossible to overstate how difficult it is to consistently execute such an attack, and how little we threw the football last year... we probably threw the football fewer times last year than any non-option-based SEC team has seen in ages. Thus, even though that's the easy answer, that's not necessarily to say the correct answer.
And making matters more intriguing is McElwain himself and the way the team has conducted itself thus far. With regard to McElwain, In 2007 at Fresno State, his offensive attack operated generally out of the shotgun and threw the football heavily. And back when he was offensive coordinator at Montana State in the mid-1990's, he threw the ball all over the place there too. One way or the other, as a former quarterback, it's hard to say that McElwain is, at his core, anything over than a guy who generally likes to air it out. And moreover, regarding the team thus far, in the A-Day game we operated heavily out of the shotgun and threw the football a great deal. Likewise, in the two scrimmages this Fall, we have relied heavily on the passing attack. Sure the passing game generally needs more work in scrimmages, and yes coaches like to use it more because it can help cut down on injuries a bit, but at some point you have to say that we are working so heavily on the passing game because we actually want to throw the football more.
Moreover, you can just get ready for it, sooner or later the Alabama offense is changing. Nick Saban, sitting on his proverbial throne at 100 Bryant Drive, wants a balanced attack, and it's only a matter of time before we get that balanced attack. And regardless of how productive last year's unit was, it was the antithesis of balanced, so that way of life won't last much longer (if any longer). Rest assured, we aren't recruiting elite pocket passer quarterbacks and high-end receivers galore just so we can suddenly channel our inner Woody Hayes come Saturday afternoon. Ultimately, this isn't even a question of debate, it's a question of the particular specifics of an evolutionary timeframe. We were a very run-heavy attack last year, but we will eventually be a balanced attack. Period. The only question is just how far we will be along our evolutionary path in 2009.
And, again, it could mean that our offensive attack in 2009 could be different than what many expect. It may very well not be as run heavy as many think. The passing game may very well play a more enhanced role. Furthermore, going away from the conservative route, with end arounds to Maze, hand-offs to Julio, and talk of Trent Richardson running the Wildcat, we are seemingly looking to find unique ways within the offense in order to get the ball into the hands of the ever growing amount of high-end athletes that roam Tuscaloosa. And, consider the resurgence of Terry Grant. Most had him set to transfer after going incognito last year, but he returned and has done so well that he's now listed as the #2 tailback on the depth chart. Given his lack of power and size, Grant had no real place in last year's power-driven, smashmouth offense, so what does his resurgence tell us? Among other things, it indicates that the offense itself is changing... he wasn't the right type of physical player last year to get a spot, and if things were staying the same he should be riding the pine this year too, yet obviously he has found at least some role. All the more evidence to think that the scheme is changing.
Either way, things are changing in Tuscaloosa, we just don't know by how much just yet. So, who are we as an offense? I really cannot answer that.
The 'Bama Offense: A Critical Look
While we cannot say exactly what the Alabama offense will be like in 2009, what we can do is analyze the more specific components of the offense and find our their strengths and weaknesses. And with many starters returning from last year's offense, much of the individual components of the offense are fairly well known commodities coming into the season. Mark Ingram should be a slight upgrade over what he was a year ago... a power runner with good speed, and improved pass blocking abilities. Julio Jones, if healthy, will be almost a lock for the All-America teams. Mike Johnson should continue to be a high-end guard, and Drew Davis should continue to be an adequate right tackle. Colin Peek, despite having never played for the Tide, is an experienced player and should be an above average tight end if he can remain healthy. Players like Mike McCoy, Earl Alexander, Brad Smelley, Marquis Maze, and others were all solid players a year ago, and they should continue to develop accordingly as their respective careers progress. Again, those players are relatively well known commodities at this point.
The real question is regarding the replacement players for those now gone from the 2008 team that looked to be replaced by new faces. Specifically, that means the loss of Andre Smith, Antoine Caldwell, Marlon Davis, and John Parker Wilson. And by this point, at least, we know who those replacements will be -- respectively, James Carpenter, William Vlachos, Barrett Jones, and Greg McElroy -- so we can at least get a pretty good idea of exactly what to expect in regard to their performance.
James Carpenter will probably play at a pretty high level at left tackle. He has the prototypical frame of a left tackle, good athleticism, considerable time in the system now, and he was a highly pursued recruit by two of the national powers looking for him to start immediately (Oklahoma being the other). He won't be Andre Smith, but he should be a pretty high quality left tackle in his own right, and likely the best we've had in a while not named Andre Smith. And, to a lesser extent, the same likely goes for William Vlachos at center. He's not a superstar, but his lack of height makes it almost impossible to get underneath him, and that combined with his strength makes him a great drive-blocker which is really what Saban apparently wants in a center in the first place. The real linchpin of it all, though, is Barrett Jones at right guard, and frankly any projection on him is going to be nothing more than an outright guess at this point.
It should be noted that the offensive line, in particular, remains a major concern moving forward into 2009. For all of our smashmouth abilities last year in the running game, we still really struggled to protect the passer. Our adjusted sack rate was near the bottom of the SEC again, and edge rushers still gave us lots of problems even with Andre Smith in the lineup. It's hard to see that really improving in 2009 with Smith in Cincinnati, and if the 2009 line loses the ability to consistently manhandle opposing defensive lines in the running game -- something that can easily go away with just one weak link in the line -- then the line as a whole may very well turn into a net liability for the Tide, dragging the entire offense down with it.
Greg McElroy, obviously, remains the x-factor that will have the biggest impact on the Tide. The hope, of course, is that McElroy turns out to be a great player who plays well regardless of what is surrounding him. Unfortunately, that's unlikely to be the case, and McElroy's performance, more than anything else, will likely be a function of the performance of the supporting cast surrounding him. That could be either good news or bad news, depending on how the rest of the team develops. Moreover, questions remain about McElroy's ability to not beat ourselves. John Parker Wilson did that last year -- though in all fairness, he had a bit of luck helping him on the way, as some opponents dropped a couple of relatively easy, potentially game-changing interceptions -- but only time will tell if McElroy can do that this year. It goes without saying that avoiding really bad plays is effectively the same as making really good plays.
Now, in all fairness, when you put it all together, it's hard to see this Alabama offense being a bad one, based on the individual components. We've got a potential All-American at wide receiver, a backfield loaded with star tailbacks, plenty of other high-end athletes for the skill positions, an above average tight end, and at least three or perhaps four good, quality offensive linemen. That's enough to score more than a few points, but again it becomes a question of degree determined by the performances of the new faces. You can take that core group, add good contributions from the newcomers, and get a very good offense. On the other hand, you can take that core group and add some struggles from the newcomers, and suddenly you find yourself with a very middling offense. That distinction alone can easily be the difference between an 11-1 team and an 8-4 team.
And that is really all that we can safely say about or offense moving into this year. Unlike the Foster defense, or the Alabama defense for that matter, the Alabama offense doesn't really fit nicely into a little predictive blurb. We do not know how good it will ultimately be, nor do we really know what form it will take.
What To Look For
So, all things considered, how do things look to play out on Saturday night?
First and foremost, Bud Foster has a bit of an old school mindset as a defensive coordinator, one that places a great emphasis on stopping the run. Mix that with his very open intent to dictate the flow of the game to the offense -- and not the other way around -- and I think you can fairly expect Foster to make his first order of business stopping the Alabama running game. In this game a year ago, Alabama controlled the line of scrimmage from the opening kick-off with a power running game. The Hokies, though, won't let us go easily into that good night for a second year in a row. Their defense is again a small one, built on speed at the expense of size, so if we can get a helmet on a helmet, that's a match-up we ought to win more often than not. Thus, expect Foster to really dial up the run blitzes early, especially with Whip linebacker Cody Grimm, and to also keep the rover near the line of scrimmage for help in run support.
And, of course, if the Hokies can have some success stopping the Alabama running game on early downs, thus getting the Tide into some obvious passing situations, you know Foster and company have to be dying to find out what Greg McElroy is made of. The Hokie defense itself is largely built to take advantage of teams facing obvious passing situations, but the pressure will be even more so for McElroy, especially with the new faces on the offensive line. As mentioned earlier, the Virginia Tech defense is one that has come to rely heavily on the big play, and you know that McElroy is an inexperienced quarterback to whom the Hokies will be doing everything in their power to force him into making a big, negative play.
On the other hand, this approach by Foster and the Virginia Tech defense does present more than a few opportunities for the Tide, particularly in the early stages of the game. If you can say that Virginia Tech will bring the rover near the line of scrimmage and that they will want to -- and perhaps have to -- dial up a high dosage of run blitzes on early downs in order to shut down the Alabama running game, that correspondingly opens up opportunities for big plays in the passing game. Receivers will then likely see a lot of man coverage with little safety help on the outside, and likewise a good tight end like Colin Peek can also have a big day under such circumstances, particularly with play action. Now, to be sure, it goes without saying that doing this will be a very high risk/ high reward strategy, and one that could just as easily backfire on the Tide. Running the ball straight into the line and playing it safe may very well be the smart thing to do -- yes it will likely result in some three and outs, but with the quality of our defense, trading punts isn't necessarily a bad thing -- and avoiding big, negative plays is arguably priority #1 for the Crimson Tide offense. Nevertheless, this preview would be incomplete if it was not mentioned that the possibility exists for the 'Bama coaching staff to try to make some big plays early in the passing game.
Man coverage down field with no safety help spells M-A-Z-E-T-D.
The Virginia Tech boundary corner position also needs to be kept in mind. As opposed to the "field" corner, which is generally stashed on the far side of field with more help from the safety -- and with the quarterback having to make longer throws in his direction -- the Tech boundary corner position spends most of his time in man coverage with little or no safety help, and the position always features the Hokies best corner. And the position has produced a long line of future NFL players, going back to DeAngelo Hall, Jimmy Williams, Brandon Flowers, and most recently Macho Harris. With Harris now in the NFL, that job will fall to senior Stephan Virgin in 2009, and he looks to continue the Hokies' history of high play at the position. Nevertheless, though, it does create the possibility for Alabama to make some plays in the passing game. I doubt Julio Jones will see man coverage -- they'll probably combo him most of the time, and despite general thinking to the contrary, the defense's #1 cornerback generally does not cover the offense's #1 wide receiver anywhere near as much as you would probably expect -- but some Alabama receiver will, and with the Tide's depth at the position, someone will be getting an opportunity to make some big plays in space.
At the end of the day, the biggest single match-up in this game, however, will be Alabama offensive line versus the Virginia Tech front seven, and whichever side wins the majority of those battles will probably have an edge when the clock reads 0:00. And in terms of protecting the passer, this really is not what the Tide wanted to see. Again, we struggled to protect the passer last year, and with three linemen gone, it's a major concern. And now we start the year against a team with great edge rushing abilities and a lot of small, speed pass rushers, so it's far from an ideal scenario. Defensive end Jason Worilds will be playing in the NFL next year, and at 6'2 and around 260 pounds, he's a dangerous player. He has the speed and quickness to beat people on the outside, but he uses his hands well and his fluid hip movement allows him to quickly change direction in route to the quarterback. Starting opposite Worilds is Nekos Brown, and while Brown isn't the caliber of player that Worilds is, by tipping the scales at only about 235 pounds, he's a player with great quickness who will be tough to handle off the edge, if nothing else. Likewise, the same thing goes for the back-ups, Chris Drager and Stephen Friday, both weighing in the 240 pound range. It all presents a daunting task for the Tide, and one that will definitely require very solid play in pass protection by backs and the tight ends.
Finding a way to neutralize the Whip linebacker will also be key. As mentioned earlier, Foster loves to use him as a rusher, and keeping him out of the backfield will be an absolute necessity for the Tide. Normally the Hokies have co-starters at the Whip position, but injuries have made that a bit more difficult. The two normal co-starters at the position are Cam Martin and Cody Grimm -- Grimm was second in the ACC last year in tackles for loss, trailing only teammate Jason Worilds -- but Martin has been slowed by a knee injury. He underwent knee surgery at the end of last season to, in part, repair a torn PCL, and that caused him to miss all of Spring practice. He is back this Fall, but the knee has not healed completely, and it has turned into a lingering issue that has caused him to miss some time this Fall as well. Bud Foster said last Friday, eight days ago, that, "Right now, Cam Martin is not full-speed. He’s getting better. Right now, if we can get 15 good plays out of him a game early, that would be great for us." So it looks like while Martin will play some, he won't play much, and he'll be far from 100% when he does. That will help the Tide in a sense that it gets redshirt freshman Jeron Gouveia-Winslow on the field a bit more -- a player Foster opently stated was still a year away where from he needed to be physically -- but even so you're still going to have to find a way to stop Grimm. As mentioned earlier, the Alabama backs and tight ends are going to have to pass block especially well to help neutralize a player like Grimm, and the Whip position in general.
That said, worries in the passing game notwithstanding, the opportunities are there aplenty in the running game if we can just get things opened up slightly. John Graves (6'3 and 277) and Cordarrow Thompson (6'1 and 301) start on the interior defensive line, and they are smaller players who Alabama's interior offensive line -- in particular Mike Johnson -- should do well against. Likewise, there are some other new faces in the Hokie linebacker corps in Barquell Rivers and Jake Johnson, and again you have to like how we match up there. Again, if we can consistently get a helmet on a helmet, we have an advantage in the running game, one that we shouldn't have any great deal of difficulty exploiting with the number of high-end tailbacks on the roster.
The real problem in the running game, however, will be getting to that point. At the risk of sounding repetitive, Foster will not just give us the run, we're going to have to earn it. He'll use numbers and run blitzes to shut us down on the ground. And in real terms that means Greg McElroy will eventually have to make some plays in the passing game to open things up -- and in so doing the Alabama offensive line will have to keep him upright and out from under duress. If McElroy can consistently hit some good gains in the passing game, without making the big negative plays, the Hokies will have to retreat and the Alabama offensive line will largely be able to have their way with the Hokie front seven, thus leading to a lot of production in the running game. On the other hand, if McElroy struggles to throw the football -- and, if worse, makes some big mistakes -- the Hokies will keep the Alabama running game in check with numbers and run blitzes, and it will be a long night in Atlanta for the Tide.
And that is the match-up in a nutshell. 'Bama should be able to run the ball well against the Hokies, but Foster will bring numbers and dial-up the run blitzes to stop it. That, mixed with his players quickness, will likely most the Tide's running game not very productive. To counter that, the Tide will have to make some plays in the passing game, and we'll have to get the job done keeping the Hokies furious pass rush at bay. If we do that the running game will come to life, and it will be a big night for the 'Bama offense, mixed with a very likely victory. On the other hand, if we struggle in the passing game, Tech will take away the run, and the Hokie faithful will be having plenty to cheer about with the Tide struggling to move the football all night long. And Alabama will be left having to hope that the Crimson Tide defense is every bit as good as it has been billed to be in order to salvage hopes of pulling out the victory.