Initial Impressions from the Georgia Southern Game

A few initial impressions from the immediate aftermath of Alabama's 45-21 win over Georgia Southern:

From the outset the performance yesterday afternoon against Georgia Southern was anything but aesthetically pleasing, and at times it was downright bad, but even so it makes no real difference at this point. With Oklahoma State, Oregon, and Oklahoma all falling hard this weekend, 'Bama has once again seized control of its own destiny, and any complaints regarding the performance against Georgia Southern are largely irrelevant at this point, especially in light of the fact that most of the problems stemmed from a triple-option attack that Alabama won't face again any time soon. We'll hit the high points as follows below, but for the most part all attention now turns to Auburn and the BCS.

Remember all of those criticisms made of Steve Spurrier after he ground Marcus Lattimore into a fine powder against the likes of Navy? Um, yes, we should probably retract those now after Trent Richardson saw 33 touches against Georgia Southern. Not that those 33 touches were unnecessary by any stretch, mind you, and to the contrary 'Bama needed a big day from Richardson yesterday afternoon to avoid a much closer game, but that heavy workload has to be a big concern, especially given that it comes a week after getting 34 touches against Mississippi State. Probably no one will benefit more from the down time between the regular season finale and the bowl game than Trent Richardson.

Heavy workload or not, though, Richardson delivered as usual yesterday afternoon and if nothing else he helped boost his Heisman Trophy chances with 179 yards to go along with three touchdowns. With 'Bama now firmly back in the national championship race, Richarson is arguably the Heisman frontrunner at this point, and with a big showing against Auburn he could seal the deal. As a tailback on a team in title contention with 1700+ yards from scrimmage and 22 touchdowns, at the very least Richardson would figure to lose in a close battle to a big-name quarterback such as Andrew Luck. Either way, if 'Bama reaches New Orleans, as far as I'm concerned it can just be FedEx'ed to Waco courtesy of Robert Griffin III while we focus on crystal footballs. 

And yes, we'll acknowledge that Richardson said in the postgame that he had another year in Tuscaloosa, alluding to the fact that he was returning for his senior season. I still wouldn't expect it to happen and for the record it should not happen -- go get paid, son, tailbacks in the NFL have the shelf life of week old milk and the economic value of a bachelor's degree these days has almost fallen to minimum wage levels -- but nevertheless the comment is duly noted by the RBR junta.

AJ McCarron posted an impressive final stat line, which was comprised of his usual assortment of screens and other short throws that didn't travel more than five yards beyond the line of scrimmage. He made some throws down field later in the game, but the fact that Jim McElwain chose to run the football directly into the line of scrimmage on 3rd and 8 deep in Georgia Southern territory on the opening drive of the game likely speaks volumes about the staff's confidence in McCarron, regardless of what they may say publicly. Either way, that's all irrelevant at this point; McCarron simply is who he is and 'Bama is going to sink or swim with him at the helm.

We've come to expect nothing but sheer dominance from this Alabama defense, but sometimes you simply have to admit that the opposition got the better of you on a given day, and to that end a big tip of the hat to the Georgia Southern triple-option attack. They averaged almost 7.5 yards per play yesterday afternoon, didn't commit a single turnover, and in general our defense simply had nothing for the triple option. The dive worked with great success all afternoon, we consistently misplayed the pitch and at key times we were hit over the top in the passing game. I warned in the preview that preparing for an attack like this on short notice would be very difficult and unfortunately that came to fruition. Georgia Southern only punted twice yesterday afternoon, and the most positive thing that can be said about the defensive performance yesterday was that two key red zone stops kept this from turning into a much closer game.

Arguably the biggest problem that the Alabama defense had yesterday, beyond simple preparation for the triple-option, was all of the attrition along the defensive interior. Josh Chapman was held out with a knee injury, Jesse Williams missed nearly all of the game with illness, and Nick Gentry was suspended for a violation of team rules. That meant that players like Brandon Ivory, Undra Billingsley, and Jeoffrey Pagan -- players who are normally relegated to mop-up duty -- were playing key roles consistently on meaningful downs, and Georgia Southern took advantage of that to their great benefit. In particular, on Dominique Swope's 82-yard touchdown run, Pagan apparently forget that touching your opponent is allowed in this sport. 'Bama absolutely must have Chapman, Williams, and Gentry back before it boards the buses bound for Harvey's Corner.

Some bad long-term news from yesterday afternoon: Will Lowery is likely done for the year with a serious right knee injury. That knee had been bothering him recently and in response he had been wearing a brace, but he injured the knee further on a kick-off yesterday and went directly to the locker room on crutches. Nick Saban was not specific in his postgame press conference, but he did say that Lowery is scheduled for an MRI today and that "it doesn't look good." Hope for the best, of course, but it sounds like torn ligaments for the junior from Hoover. Expect Phelon Jones and perhaps Ha'Sean Clinton-Dix to see increased playing time in his absence.

As I wrote on Friday afternoon, the rationale behind scheduling this game was likely that facing a team with an offense that relies on an offensive strategy predicated upon misdirection in the running game would help Alabama prepare for Gus Malzahn and his attack (helping recruiting in Georgia would probably be a secondary justification). Perhaps this did help 'Bama prepare for Auburn, which will certainly pay big dividends in due time if true, but even so I think you have to consider this on the whole as a scheduling mistake. Playing a very good FCS team is really the worst-case scheduling scenario and the preparation problems posed by the triple-option made this far more interesting than any Alabama fan would have hoped. Would have been nice to have had Western Kentucky yesterday afternoon instead.

In other quick thoughts, Alabama did not punt the football a single time yesterday. Several pre-snap penalties for the Tide, which must be addressed; ask an Oklahoma fan this afternoon about how costly those can be. The 'Bama defense still leads the nation in practically every major defensive category, despite a relatively sub-par performance yesterday. Great respect for Georgia Southern, they fought with all they had until the clock read 00:00, and for what it's worth they would probably take Ole Miss and Kentucky behind the woodshed. Christion Jones was deep returning kicks yesterday. Eddie Lacy was limited again yesterday with the turf toe injury. Neither Barrett Jones or Darius Hanks played, though both should be back for Auburn. The blocked field goal returned for a touchdown was key, and with a successful conversion there for the Eagles the game would have been tied 17-17 at halftime. Brad Smelley had a strong showing yesterday on Senior Day. No word on what caused the one-game suspensions for Nick Gentry and DeAndrew White, both of whom are generally regarded as good kids and hard workers. Vinny Sunseri was back in action this week after a scary concussion sustained against Mississippi State. Alfred McCullough and William Vlachos were the only two offensive linemen without penalties yesterday.

All in all, again, not the best performance by any stretch of the imagination, but it's nothing more than a historical blip at this point. The concerns regarding style points turned out to be totally unfounded when Hell froze over late last night, and on the national sports broadcasts all that was shown was the blocked field goal try and the Trent Richardson touchdowns, so in the end a win is a win is a win. Forget Georgia Southern and the triple-option, 'Bama now controls its own destiny once again, and the Iron Bowl now looms a mere six days away.

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