Alabama’s secondary replaced three starters, and even with the blowout over Michigan and back-to-back shutouts since then, Crimson Tide head coach Nick Saban said that unit has a lot of improving to do. "I don’t know that we’ve been challenged down the field with a real vertical passing game," Saban said this week. "We gave up a few big plays in the first game. We’re going to see a lot better quarterbacks and a lot better skill guys down the road. I think the players need to prepare for it, the various things that we’re going to see and we need to improve the way we do it."
Safeties Vinnie Sunseri and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix have limited experience as well, although Sunseri played more extensively near the end of the 2011 season. Sunseri credited the secondary's veterans -- fifth-year senior safety Robert Lester and junior cornerback Dee Milliner -- for their assistance with the younger players. "We look up to Robert, and Dee, and having them back there is really helping us out, being able to make plays," Sunseri said. "We're just trying to do the best we can to contribute to this team." Sunseri and Clinton-Dix have 16 tackles between then this season, and each made their first career interception Saturday at Arkansas. Clinton-Dix plays in nickel and dime sets for the Crimson Tide, and said he has learned a great deal in UA's wins over Michigan, Western Kentucky and Arkansas. "I think we've been tested. We've played against good teams. The first three teams were pretty good. We just work hard in practice, and it shows during the game," Clinton-Dix said. "It hasn't been easy at all. It took practice during the week to get ready for those teams."
The speedy cornerback made a good first impression, taking an interception back for a touchdown during the Crimson Tide's first spring scrimmage, and hasn't looked back. He's started all three games this season and will likely do that again Saturday against Florida Atlantic. "It's just a thing of just staying humble and just paying attention to details and just gave me that extra step coming in," Belue said Tuesday. "It worked out for the best."
When the SEC honored Alabama’s Chance Warmack as the league’s offensive lineman of the week, it marked another bit of recognition for the Tide guard. He has made a bundle of preseason All-SEC and All-America squads. For Saban, it’s about time somebody noticed Warmack’s work. "He’s been overlooked for a long time, and I think people are starting to realize that he’s probably one for the best players at his position in the country," Saban said.
Asked how long Alabama's offensive line would ideally prefer to stave away would-be threats to quarterback AJ McCarron, left guard Chance Warmack provided reporters with the group's lofty standards. "Shoot, an hour if it's possible," Warmack said with a smile. "We're taught to hold the block as long as it takes until you see the receiver catch the ball. That's the standard around here. You try to uphold the standard."
In an interview with the Palm Beach Post, Henry was asked what stands out about Alabama. "They ain’t what people think," Henry told the newspaper. "They’re good and everything but they can beat, too. They just execute well. They just execute and beat you." The Post pointed out FAU has beaten only one FBS team in its last 17 attempts. "We got speed against them," he said. "You got speed you can win."
For the second consecutive week, FAU will face a top-10 opponent from the SEC. The Owls hung tough with Georgia last week, having tied the game 14-14 in the second quarter, but the Bulldogs pulled away from there to post a 56-20 victory. "I was confident coming into the game, you could see signs all week in practice," head coach Carl Pelini said. "The speed, execution, the assignments -- the mistakes are going away. We can be pretty good. I think our offense made a jump this week."
I think there's an overreaction to Alabama right now. They beat a depleted Michigan team and depleted Arkansas team. Alabama has not been tested yet, even though people want to act like these were statement games. At Missouri won't be easy. At LSU. At Tennessee. Those aren't easy games. I think Alabama is a little overrated. I hate to say that, because Nick Saban is one of the best coaches out there.
With junior Jalston Fowler out after undergoing knee surgery last week, Drake might see an increased role behind Eddie Lacy and Yeldon and perhaps along with redshirt freshman Dee Hart. "He's done a good job, and we need to continue to have him progress and mature as a player," Alabama coach Nick Saban said Monday. "There is more to being a good running back than just carrying the ball. There is a time you have to block and there is a time you have to understand things in the passing game and do things correctly. Young players have to realize the importance of that."
Along with some inconsistency on kickoffs, Foster, who attempts most of Alabama’s field goals from beyond 40 yards, made just two of his nine attempts. Three of his misses came in Alabama’s 9-6 overtime loss to LSU during the regular season. He never made another kick in 2011, sending him into the offseason with plenty to address and something to prove. Increased time with strength and conditioning coach Scott Cochran, extensive film analysis and a modified technique sent Foster into spring football with a fresh approach and clear mind. "I just had to show (coach Nick Saban) since spring football," Foster said. "He's not going to put us in a situation we're not prepared for. Since I've been doing it in practice, I feel like it's something that he sees."
Despite the overmatched opponent that awaits Alabama on Saturday, there hasn't been a lack of focus and attention at practice this week. And that makes Saban a happy man. - "The big point of emphasis we tried to make made today is, you've got to develop those kinds of habits so you can finish the things the way you want to finish them and we can finish practice, finish games, play with more discipline and focus for a longer period of time. I asked the players, 'Did you come here to make the team, or did you come here to make the team better? Are you just here to contribute to yourself or are you here to contribute to everybody else?'"
It's entirely possible Alabama and LSU are indeed the cream of the crop again. The Tide have outscored their first three opponents (including two preseason top-10 teams) 128-14, and a purportedly inexperienced defense has pitched consecutive shutouts. I'm certainly not picking against them anytime soon. Meanwhile, the Tigers have won their first three games by a margin of 145-31, but I'd like to see them play someone better than Washington, which has the look of a 6-6 team, before fully jumping on board. This week's opponent, Auburn, might not be any better. That brings up a different point. One reason to feel confident in Alabama and LSU running the table outside of their head-to-head meeting is the rest of the SEC West, which doesn't look nearly as imposing as it did before the season. In fact, it's pretty darn bad. On the other hand, the East may produce a champion this year (possibly Georgia) with an actual chance of winning in Atlanta. Finally, at the risk of looking stupid again, I'd be willing to bet three months of Andy Staples' barbeque expenses that voters will not allow another SEC rematch this year. There was too much backlash to last year's game, and even though it's not voters' fault the second game was lopsided (Alabama may well have beaten a different opponent by far more than 21 points), the dissatisfaction is still going to factor into their thought process this time.
"Football is football," said linebacker Adrian Hubbard. "You can't control helmet-to-helmet contact. It's going to happen. If it happens, you take your penalty and keep it moving." Alabama hasn't had a player suspended, although linebacker Nico Johnson was flagged for roughing the passer in the Crimson Tide's win over Michigan. "We had one in the first game that I thought was just a good old football hit. The guy didn't really hit the guy in the head, but he almost hit him in the head," Saban said. "So they called a foul. They didn't suspend him, it wasn't flagrant or anything, but players understand (to avoid helmet-to-helmet contact)."
Maybe the time, finally, has come? A lot of Heisman Trophy voters may be thinking that way come December, especially if some of the early favorites stumble — like Southern Cal quarterback Matt Barkley did in the Trojans' 21-14 loss to Stanford last week. Barrett Jones probably won’t carry the football, throw it or catch a pass in 2012. But he very well could be the best player in college football during the past few years. But is that Heisman worthy? Give this a quick thought. If not Jones, then who deserves consideration more?
The SEC’s deal will likely be more expensive because SEC football games are considered the most valuable regular-season property in college sports. But sources say it’s a step the conference has to take to build its live game inventory. Those 14 football games, even if they are the least attractive games on the schedule, plus close to 100 basketball games, will be critical to the new channel’s programming. The network also will need the baseball, softball, volleyball, soccer and other nonrevenue sports that have to be acquired from the rights holders.
The Crimson Tide was ranked highly to begin the year, but it's hard not to make the assessment that the team's outlook has improved over the past three weeks. Before the season, there were idiot pundits trying to draw parallels with the 2010 team that lost three games and finished fourth in the West. Now? Bama is comfortably in the catbird seat and looking particularly murderous.
The university that prides itself on tradition — the Irish Guard, the "Notre Dame Victory March," the alma mater after the final whistle — has thus far eschewed Jumbotrons and other high-technology glitz to get fans fired up. But the school where ushers have warned fans about being too loud — yes, too loud — has also started to take a few steps aimed toward moving the fan experience into the 21st century, or at least the late 20th. Last year, it began pumping a little Dropkick Murphys and classic rock into Notre Dame Stadium for the first time. And the university is trying to find other ways to make the venue a little less hospitable for opponents, with good reason.