In all fairness, no one could have seen what was coming against Clemson. Oh sure, we all knew that Clemson probably was not that good, and were likely a team that benefited from a laughably weak ACC more than anything else. But total domination? Complete and utter control of the opposition? No one could have rationally seen that coming. Only the most maniacal of diehards could have ever envisioned such a scenario as being a legitimate possibility. But, nevertheless, that is just what happened.
Offensively, Clemson had no real response for anything we did. And we were conservative as hell to boot. The overwhelming majority of our plays resulted in a hand-off to either Coffee or Ingram who would immediately hit either the A or the B gap, or some type of short route to the tight end or one of the backs. We barely even threw the football to the receivers, and even when we did it was generally short and underneath routes. We had all of two "deep" throws all night, one of which was on a play that never actually happened due to an illegal formation penalty, and both of which Wilson misfired badly on. And remember the trick play discussion from RBR radio last week? Far from trick plays, the most imaginative play we had all night was a wide receiver screen to Julio after we sent him across the formation in motion on the first series of the game. So much for trick plays.
The truth of the matter was we had no need for any theatrics. The offensive gameplan effectively came straight out of the 1960's... just run the football down their throats and keep the chains moving with short throws that will most likely result in completions. Again, nothing else was needed. When you can move the football up and down the field with ease, even when using the most conservative of gameplans, why bother with anything else? That was essentially the philosophy of Jim McElwain on Saturday night in Atlanta. Don't think that we've seen all that his offense has to offer, mind you, we've just seen all that needed to pound Clemson, which wasn't much. You will most definitely see something different emerge over the course of the season.
Defensively, the Clemson offense could not garner any production. Terrance Cody plugged the middle effectively, and he has deservedly gotten much hype for it, but the rest of the defensive linemen were very stout against the run as well, and the linebackers effectively played their gaps with a high degree of consistency all night long. It was a great effort by the entire front seven, and we dramatically limited both Spiller and Davis early in the game. And after limiting them early, our offense was rolling up so many points that Clemson quickly found themselves in such a hole that running the football was simply a luxury they could not afford. Being down three touchdowns before halftime meant that the Tigers had to become pass happy and abandon the running game. For all intents and purposes, the early performance of the Alabama offense and defensive front seven essentially meant that Spiller and Davis might as well have stayed at home.
When Clemson did have to throw the football, Cullen Harper and Aaron Kelly were largely exposed for what they were all along... players who ranged from solid-to-good, but players not of the elite caliber needed to carry a team on their backs. Harper actually played relatively well -- and given his circumstances, many quarterbacks would have played much worse -- but Kelly was a non-factor, as was everyone else, even though one of Alabama's most important players (Rashad Johnson) had a bad night. Offensively, it was just a disaster for Clemson all night long. The three "big" plays for Clemson all night were actually the result of Alabama mistakes (two fifteen yard penalties and terrible coverage on the slant to Jacoby Ford). Aside from that, it was nothing short of a disaster. Zero touchdowns. Three total points. Fewer than 200 yards of total offense. Zero yards rushing. One of nine on third down. Three and out on five separate occasions. For Tommy Bowden, it was the nightmare that turned out to be all too real.
And don't let the scoreboard deceive you. If anything, the game probably should have been much worse. Though we moved the ball well all night long, we did have to settle for five field goal tries, and had we been able to convert a bit better in Clemson territory, those who bleed purple and orange would all be wishing the game were only a 24-point margin. As big as the blowout was, it could have been much bigger, and in all honesty the final tally on the scoreboard does not do justice to the actual domination that took place on the field.
For Clemson, though, it's not all bad. They do have a lot of talent, and a great amount of overall team speed to boot. In all fairness, they are likely still the favorite to win the ACC. Clemson obviously isn't very good, but it's not like they have to be either; the ACC is laughable at best. Virginia Tech was beaten by East Carolina. North Carolina squeaked by tiny Division 1-AA McNeese State. The same goes for Maryland with Division 1-AA Delaware. North Carolina State was annihilated by South Carolina. You get the idea. The harsh truth of the matter is that -- as long as programs like Miami and Florida State continue to struggle -- the ACC will be a bad conference simply because programs like Clemson, Virginia Tech, and others aren't the caliber of programs needed to carry the conference at the highest levels. They cannot carry the ACC any more than programs like Arkansas and South Carolina can carry the SEC, it's just the harsh reality of the matter. Being brutally honest, at this point, you have to assume that either Clemson or Wake Forest will end up winning the ACC and will get the BCS bid that comes with it. Again, as embarrassing of a performance as it was for the Tigers, things aren't all bad, they still have a great chance at a BCS game.
And for Alabama, it's not a utopia yet either. People feel good after the Clemson game, and rightly so, but we still have many obstacles before us. The truth of the matter is that you can guarantee us playing at least three teams better than Clemson, and probably several more. We shouldn't have any problems the next few weeks, but from there it will get very tough. Georgia will be tough, Ole Miss looks to be decent, Kentucky looks better than expected, and you know both LSU and Auburn will give us lots of trouble, which is to speak nothing of a Tennessee team whose head coach may very well find his head firmly within the reaches of the guillotine by the time we head to Knoxville. Even Arkansas State -- a game Todd openly worried about earlier in the year -- is going to be tough; they went into College Station in week one and beat Texas A&M. Bottom line, we still have a long ways to go, and to echo the sentiments from last week's radio show, I just hope we can handle the victory. As gratifying as the domination of Clemson was, it's not the end-all be-all of everything, and we still have many obstacles to overcome. Surely, we will need to improve further to overcome those obstacles. Hopefully the team understands that and works towards that end.
Moving immediately forward to Tulane, the Green Wave shouldn't present us any real problems. The entire offense from a year ago -- and it wasn't very good as it was -- rested solely upon the production of Matt Forte, but he's a Chicago Bear now. The new quarterback, Kevin Moore, is a big kid with a decent arm, but he's immobile and frankly there is a reason that he was a third-stringer at Tulane last year. The offensive line and wide receiver corps is relatively decent by Conference USA standards, but nothing special. The defensive front seven has to replace several key members from a year ago, and the secondary is one of the worst in the country. Making matters even worse is that the Tulane special teams units are laughably bad when it comes to kick and punt coverage. Bottom line, it's a team composed of players that no one else wanted, and it shows in the on-field product.
For Alabama, we should drill the Green Wave with ease. The key word, of course, is should. Alabama fans ought to be well familiar with that word by this point. Should have drilled Louisiana Tech. Should have drilled Northern Illinois. Should have drilled Louisiana-Monroe. Obviously, should isn't quite what you think of it at times. So, should drill Tulane, no two ways about it. We have much better overall talent, depth, experience, and coaching. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how well we play. As I mentioned last night on the radio show, we are our own worst enemy. We are not playing Tulane, per se, we are playing ourselves; just like when Tiger Woods takes the green he is not playing against other golfers, per se, he's playing against himself. If we even play remotely near the level we should, we will win this game in a route. If not, well then... maybe, just maybe...
It's been a great week, no two ways about it. We are all very pleased, and rightly so. However, last year showed us very well that you can go from the proverbial penthouse to the outhouse in the blink of an eye, but thankfully it seems the team is well aware of that now. Going into this game, we have two major goals: win, and stay healthy. There is a connection between the two. If we go out and rack up a big lead early on like we should, we can get the starters out of the game and get the back-ups plenty of playing time.
In other words, it's been a great week, let's just all hope we can cap it off with a boring and uneventful night in Bryant-Denny Stadium.