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General Thoughts: Vanderbilt Game

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Well, the Vanderbilt game is in the books. Two weeks in, and we're 2-0. Now, some general thoughts about the game itself:

  • Terry Grant is a stud, no two ways about it. To say that he has the potential to be the best tailback we've had since Shaun Alexander, to me, is a very reasonable statement.
  • John Parker Wilson had a terrible day. The quarterback play today was literally the worst I've seen since Spencer Pennington in 2004. It was just plain bad; he was blowing his progressions left and right, making terrible decisions, missing open receivers, throwing into coverage, etc. He completely only 50% of his passes against one of the, if not the, worst pass defenses in the conference, had an interception, should have had a couple of more, fumbled a snap, and missed two wide open touchdown passes that I would expect a decent high school quarterback to make. All of that is simply unacceptable.
  • The offensive line really took over as the game went on, and that was refreshing to see. We, obviously, didn't have that a year ago, and Vanderbilt has a solid front seven, so that's refreshing to see.
  • The injury to Mike Johnson was very, very scary. Considering it occurred only seconds after I saw a Miami player get his knee grotesquely bent entirely the wrong way, it was quite scary. Having people fall on people's legs is generally some of the biggest concerns you have, and I was afraid that he broke his leg / ankle. Fortunately, it was just a minor thing and he returned to play.
  • Interestingly enough, when Johnson went out, we moved Caldwell to right tackle (ala 2006 Iron Bowl), and put Cardwell in at center, as opposed to just putting B.J. Stabler in at right tackle. I really don't know what to make of that.
  • Glen Coffee looked very good, and the weight that he has dropped has really changed his running style. He's still a tough, physical runner like he was in 2005, but he is noticeably quicker and agile. I just hope he's okay with his shoulder after going in early.
  • Play-calling was quite interesting. We had a lot of third and short-yardage situations, but yet we came out in the shotgun. We may have been many things today, but three yards and a cloud of dust was not one of them.
  • Nick Walker looked good yet again today. His catch on the two-point play was really a great job, that was really nothing more than a very long extended crossing route. We didn't get the ball to him too much because Wilson struggled so much in the passing game, but he is nevertheless a threat. His presence is quite exciting.
  • The pass blocking was pretty good. Marlon Davis blew a block in the first quarter -- he was uncovered and moved inside to help Caldwell with the nose tackle while a linebacker shot through the B-gap on a zone blitz untouched -- but aside from that it was pretty solid. Definitely a lot better than a year ago
  • The defense was really the bright spot of the day. As a whole, it played pretty well, and really limited what could be a pretty productive Vanderbilt offense. To be sure though, Nickson did struggle a lot, and he missed a lot of wide open receivers, and of course the pass interference call on Bennett on the opening play helped. At bottom, we looked good, but we still have a ways to go.
  • For whatever reason, we really struggled defending passes over the middle. Vanderbilt hit some pretty big plays on crossing / in routes, and we just had no one in the area. At first, I thought it was Rolando McClain not getting enough depth when he dropped back to play zone, but on second thought I believe he was staying in as a spy for Nickson, so pass coverage was not his responsibility. We were playing a lot of Cover Three over the top, so perhaps that had something to do with it. With the TV cameras set up as they are, often times it can be very hard to tell exactly what is going on in the defensive backfield.
  • Rolando McClain looked damn good, again. As did Darren Mustin. The only bad thing I can say about either all afternoon was Mustin's offsides penalty.
  • Prince Hall returned today, but didn't really play much. And, truth be told, there's good reason for that, he's just not as good as McClain or Mustin. He had a good year in 2006, but this is a whole new year, and at the moment he looks like nothing more than a substitute player. I don't know if he just didn't get it done in the off-season program or what, but that's basically it. As inside linebackers go, McClain and Mustin are both bigger, more physical, and apparently they grasp the scheme better as well.
  • Rashad Johnson is looking good, he really is. In the past, I worried about his lack of production, but he has played some pretty good football the past couple of weeks and is looking quite nice.
  • Marcus Carter, on the other hand, is still pretty terrible. The way he bit on the simple wheel route in soft zone coverage was inexcusable, at any level, much less in the SEC. You are playing soft coverage against the slot receiver, why in the world are you trying to jump what looks to you like a five yard out route? You have a twenty-one point lead, who cares about a five yard out route? And especially, why are you surprised when you get a double move when you are squatting on short routes?
  • Ali Sharrief is playing pretty well at safety, and made a couple of nice plays today. I really do wonder, if Carter continues to struggle, whether Sharrief gets his starting job before too long.
  • Arenas is a beast in the return game, plain and simple. And I loved how Saban and co. anticipated the roller kicks and moved Arenas forward as an up-man while putting Lowe deep. That's great strategy on their part.
  • Tiffin, all in all, had a pretty good day. He missed a couple of kicks, but any time you have kicks from 48 and beyond, you're going to miss more often than not, particularly when you have a poor snap, like we had on his last miss. The first miss was barely left, and the second miss was dead on the money but the delay in the snap messed up his approach. He looked pretty good, we just have to put him in better situations and give him decent snaps to kick. If you are consistently going your kicker field goal attempts in the neighborhood of 50 yards and then throw in a bad snap to boot, you aren't going to hit too many kicks regardless of who you have.
  • All in all, a good win for the Tide. This was a dangerous game for us, and Vanderbilt is a pretty solid football team. Like I said earlier, this isn't the 1-10 or 2-9 Vandy teams that everyone got used to in the late '90's or the early '00's. They pulled off some upsets a year ago, and probably will again this year. It's a nice building game for us, and now it's on to Arkansas, and that will really tell the tale on the season. A win next week, and eight or nine wins is very much within our grasps.