As you have probably noticed, substantive material has been somewhat light here at RBR the past couple of weeks with regard to the BCS National Championship Game. Real world issues and time constraints notwithstanding, I have honestly found it quite hard to write anything that I feel to be particularly insightful about this game simply because everything is so self-explanatory. This is the national championship game, in Pasadena, against Texas? What more can you legitimately add to that? At some point, you are simply wasting everyone's time by repeating the obvious.
Nevertheless, I did want to add a few thoughts, so here goes a quick primer:
From the outset, we all know that Texas has played a weak schedule this year, but no one should read too much into that point. Even with the easy schedule, no one really gave Texas a serious scare in the regular season -- they did not trail after halftime a single time in the regular season, and nine of their regular season victories came by 24 points or more -- and beyond that, team quality and strength of schedule do not necessarily go hand-in-hand. You can play a cupcake schedule and still be a great team. Remember a year ago that Utah had one of the easiest schedules in the country.
Now, Mack Brown and his team may be trying to use the underdog role to their advantage, but to consider them as such is simply absurd and I would be shocked if our players were buying into the talk. They are a national powerhouse, have only lost once in the past two years, are a team that we've never beaten, they have the number one run defense in the country, and their quarterback is the winningest quarterback in the history of college football... and they are supposedly the David to our Goliath? Such an analogy isn't so much inapplicable as it is just plain stupid.
I do know one thing, though, after watching Nebraska annihilate a solid Arizona team in their bowl game, you certainly cannot hold that close contest in the Big XII Championship Game against them. Nebraska is a fine team in their own right, and at this point there are few teams in the country playing better than they are. There is no shame to be found in playing them a close game.
For Alabama, at the risk of stating the obvious, the biggest thing for us is to simply play well. I know that is so obvious that it borderlines on being completely pointless to even write, but it nevertheless should be reiterated. No one knows exactly how good Texas is, but rest assured that if they were good enough to go 13-0 in the Big XII, they are more than good enough to beat us if we don't play like we should. Again, it's obvious as hell, but nevertheless you are going to have to play well in a game of this caliber if you legitimately expect us to win.
And I'll be brutally honest, I don't believe that Texas is as good as Florida. If given a choice between the two, I would choose to play Texas every single time and I mean that literally. Nevertheless, though, that heaps praise on Florida more than it takes away anything from Texas, and once again the point remains that we will have to play really well to knock off the 'Horns. We may not need to play as well as we did against the Gators, but even so we will still have to play at a high level.
I do know that it is clear that the biggest concern for Coach Saban right now is tackling on defense. That really hurt us a year ago in the Sugar Bowl, and he has done everything within his power this year to make sure that we remain in playing shape over the long lay-off. He has a good right to be concerned, too. Any time you face a spread team you must be able to tackle in space, and if you cannot do that then you are in for a long night. Surely that will be the case against Texas, too. We have changed the preparations a bit this year, and hopefully that will pay dividends on Thursday night.
Marcell Dareus needs to have a big game against the Longhorns. He is our best pass rusher and he will be the one in the best position to take advantage of a potentially weak Texas offensive line. As a more general point, however, our defensive line must keep contain all night long. That was a focal point against Florida, and it will be of even greater importance against Texas. Tebow is a physical runner who can use his legs to move the chains, but McCoy is more of a dynamic runner in the open field who can create bigger plays. If your defensive linemen sell out trying to rush the passer and break contain, McCoy can and will make you pay.
McCoy notwithstanding, however, Texas has struggled to run the football this year, and we need to be able to shut down their running attack in Pasadena on Thursday night. Making them one-dimensional could make our lives much easier. However, remember back to last year in the Sugar Bowl, where Utah completely (and voluntarily) abandoned the run from the outset and still had a lot of success offensively. Texas could very well choose to do the same thing against us. Remember, stopping the run is only part of the defensive equation, and that is even more true when you are facing spread teams that move the football via the passing game.
Defensively, Texas does sport the number one run defense in the country, and if we don't get the job done they will shut our running game down. The Texas run defense may not be as good as the raw statistics indicate -- namely because they are playing in a pass happy conference and because they have played with big leads all year -- but if nothing else it is better than anything we saw out of Arkansas or Auburn, both of which we struggled to run the football against. Again, I think it's a function of our performance more than anything else.
As a whole, I imagine the Texas strategy defensively will be to stop / limit the run and force Greg McElroy to beat them in the passing game. As well as McElroy played in Atlanta, he has struggled a lot at times this year, and objectively speaking he is still probably viewed by opposing defensive coordinators as the weak link of our offense. That is not a criticism of him, mind you, as much as it is just a realistic observation. And much like has been the case all year, McElroy will have to make plays in Pasadena for our offense to perform like we will need it to. He will once again have to shed the game manager label against the Longhorns.If not, it is likely to be a relatively long and unproductive night in Pasadena.
The receivers, too, must have a big game. In particular, Marquis Maze needs to step up and play well. I said after the SEC Championship Game that he was really the one that made our passing attack go, and I still think that applies. Julio Jones should be the best he has been all year -- he will be healthier than he has at any point in the season -- but even so Marquis Maze and company will have to make some plays to open things up. Otherwise, if they go incognito, opposing teams will bracket Jones like they have all year and our passing attack will be reduced to dink and dunks to the backs and tight ends.
In any event, I'll be honest, bowl games drive me nuts. They are really such odd deals because of the circumstances surrounding them -- the long layoffs for the players, the massive amount of preparation time the coaches get, all of the goofy stuff going on throughout the week, the guys looking forward to the NFL, etc. -- that they are inherently difficult to predict, even more so than the typical game. Almost anything can happen in bowl games and frankly that just drives you nuts if you are trying to take an analytical look at a game.
And finally, I'll close by saying that it will never get any bigger than this, and I say that with a straight face. Again, this is the national championship game against a fellow powerhouse in Pasadena... this game will be remembered in 2110. If you win it will be the highest of the highs, and if you lose it will be the lowest of the lows. To come this close and to lose would be nothing short of devastating. To both players and fans alike, you don't just lose a game like this, you take it to the grave. I just hope it all works out well for our beloved Tide. It has been a long, hard road to get back here, and this is literally a golden opportunity. I just pray we do not let this one slip through our fingers.