A few initial impressions from the immediate aftermath of Alabama's 42-14 win over Auburn:
If you could choose just one performance to best epitomize this Alabama team, the showing yesterday afternoon against Auburn would be it. The offense scored a lot of points despite getting nothing out of its wide receivers, Trent Richardson dominated, the defense was an immovable object, and on the downside 'Bama could not avoid the big turnover and could not play special teams. If you review the Auburn film from yesterday then in effect you've seen all you need to see on this team.
Trent Richardson, as usual, led the way for the Alabama offense, and aside from three consecutive possessions beginning in the late first quarter he played almost every meaningful snap yesterday afternoon, and as is most always the case he made it clear once again that he was the best player on the field on either side of the football. The continued heavy workload -- 28 touches yesterday -- has to be a concern, but the long break should do him wonders. In any event, he finishes up the regular season with over 1,900 yards from scrimmage and 23 touchdowns, which is probably the most impressive campaign by any 'Bama tailback in UA history.
We were skeptical of his Heisman chances after the LSU debacle, but after strong showings against Mississippi State, Georgia Southern and now Auburn, Richardson is now likely the narrow Heisman favorite, and Andrew Luck's somewhat pedestrian performance yesterday against Notre Dame probably helps Richardson's cause (as did Robert Griffin III missing the second half against Texas Tech, and possibly the season finale against Texas, with a concussion). Also, keep in mind that while Richardson does not play on the final weekend, neither does Luck. This one figures to be a nailbiter that could easily go much like 2009 between Mark Ingram and Toby Gerhart, but the smart money for the time being is seemingly on Richardson.
AJ McCarron had one of his better performances yesterday afternoon against Auburn's porous pass defense, going 18-23 for 184 yards and three touchdowns, and doing so with generally little help outside from his wide receiver corps. He distributed the football well to a variety of targets, and moved nicely through the progressions. Two key mistakes for him on the afternoon: (1) missing a wide open Michael Williams down the seam, and (2) holding onto the football too long backed up against his own goal line which led to a gift Auburn touchdown. We can live with the former, but the latter is precisely the kind of thing that gets you beat against LSU.
Barrett Jones returned to the field yesterday afternoon with a heavy tape-job over his right ankle, but he generally played well, and the one mistake he made -- allowing Corey Lemonier to force the fumble -- was probably more on McCarron. Overall it was a very strong performance by the offensive line, and for their part Auburn's defensive ends were generally neutralized. D.J. Fluker opened the game with a false start, but from there the offensive line plowed the way in the running game, generally gave McCarron plenty of time to throw the football, and did not commit another penalty after the Fluker false start. Jeff Stoutland had more than a few critics after a sluggish start and having his name appear in the Nevin Shapiro scandal, but give him credit for having this unit playing at a very high level.
Strange day outside at wide receiver, with seniors Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks both being non-factors. Maze was almost entirely absent and barely registered on the radar screen outside of a couple of wide receiver screens. Likewise, Hanks played but only sparingly and didn't have a catch. Oddly enough, though, in their place Kenny Bell came out of nowhere to be featured as an every-down player and for his part he played well when called upon. Brandon Gibson had a couple of catches, but outside of him neither Kevin Norwood or DeAndrew White made much of an appearance. It's hard to argue with the final result, of course, but it is disappointing that, outside of Bell's touchdown on the flea flicker, the wide receiver corps compiled only seven catches for 35 yards against one of the worst defensive backfields in the nation on a day when their quarterback generally threw the football well. While you hate to see the careers of Maze and Hanks come to an end, the truth is next year cannot come soon enough for this wide receiver corps.
The key in the passing game was the distribution of the football to the tight ends, and in particular Brad Smelley. The Tuscaloosa native had a career day. Michael Williams played better than the final stat line indicated, and had a strong showing all evening in the running game. We can talk all we want about the shortcomings of Bobby Williams regarding special teams -- and a change there definitely needs to be made, to be certain -- but give the man credit for the work he has done with the tight ends during his time in Tuscaloosa
Another day and another dominant showing by the defense, and in fact their performance yesterday afternoon may be their most impressive to date, especially given that Dont'a Hightower was a non-factor most of the day due to injury and Mark Barron missed almost the entire game with a rib injury. Outside of garbage time this unit didn't even surrender 100 yards of total offense, pitched a shutout and in fact outscored the Auburn offense. Throw in six TFL's, four quarterback hurries, two turnovers, and two sacks and this was the kind of performance you remember for years to come. Only time will tell if this team can bring the crystal ball back to Tuscaloosa, but even considering 1992 it's hard to form a cogent argument that this defense is not the best in modern UA history. Auburn could have played for six months and not put up 42 points on this defense.
DeMarcus Milliner's interception returned for a touchdown touchdown effectively ended the game, and he was just in the right place at the right time to take advantage of a horrendous throw from Clint Moseley. Pressure from Nick Gentry forced the ugly heave, and from there it was really just glorified drill work for Milliner on the interception. Do, though, give him credit for a very impressive return. It is that kind of ability with the football as to why we have him returning kicks, and hopefully in due time he'll be able to do that in the return game as well.
All in all, it was quite frankly ridiculous the game was as close as it was on the scoreboard based on how thoroughly the Tide dominated Auburn. The Tigers' two touchdowns were nothing short of gift-wrapped Christmas presents and despite having fewer than 75 total yards of offense through most of three quarters while allowing 27 points, this was somehow still a competitive game until the third play of the fourth quarter. Obviously you don't nitpick over a 42-14 win in the Iron Bowl, but in all honesty this should have been a bigger blowout than it was. The on-field disparity on display through sixty minutes was far greater yesterday than it was even in 2008 and might be the most lopsided Iron Bowl since the Bryant era.
In other quick thoughts, Eddie Lacy was still limited with only six touches and wasn't particularly effectiveness; the break will probably do him wonders, too. No word yet on the leg injury suffered by C.J. Mosley in the closing minutes. Cody Mandell had a solid day and has looked better in recent weeks. Hopefully that was the first of many Jalston Fowler touchdown runs against Auburn. Does anything scream "Barner!" more than grabbing your leg like you stepped on a land mine, staying down for ten minutes in a glorified prayer vigil, then running off the field and coming back in on the next play? Dear Gary Danielson, it's not really a pick route if the wide receiver totally misses the defender. Trey DePriest was reamed by the coaching staff for his mistake on the kick return for a touchdown, and while he went the wrong way the blame was misplaced; he wouldn't have been in position to make the tackle regardless. Cade Foster and kick-offs, like mixing matches and kerosene cans. Vinny Sunseri played well in place of Will Lowery and Mark Barron.
Finally, with 'Bama knocking off Auburn 42-14, the regular season comes to an end and now all Alabama can do is watch as the remaining events unfold and hope that it is rewarded with a rematch. You play for thirteen weeks and you compile the best resume that you can, and in the end you simply have to hope that convinces enough human voters to earn a rematch with LSU in New Orleans. The best 'Bama could do yesterday was to win big and in dominant fashion, and it did just that on the Plains. For better or for worse, though, it's case closed for the Tide and now it's just seven straight days of nerves before we find out the end result. Hopefully Oklahoma knocks off Oklahoma State in Bedlam because that would guarantee 'Bama a spot in the BCS Championship Game and circumvent all debate and controversy, but alas it's certainly possible the Pokes get the job done and this comes down to the whims of the voters. It is encouraging that there currently seems to be a consensus in the national media that a rematch is inevitable, but in the end this will be decided by the collective decision-making of 59 head coaches and 115 Harris Poll voters which is largely unattached to the opinions of various talking heads in the national media. Hope for the best.