After the beatdown by South Carolina, clearly we've got a lot to talk about this week. There are a lot of topics to address, so instead of doing a bunch of individual posts I'll try to address as much as we can in this one piece.
Not funny, Injury Gods
The broken hand of Julio Jones has gotten most of the attention the past few days, but in time that will likely not be much of an issue. I highly doubt that he will play against either Ole Miss or Tennessee -- and almost certainly not in any meaningful way -- but with the off week the odds are that he should be good to go against LSU. All told, he'll have almost a month to heal before we head to Baton Rouge, and barring a setback there he should still be good to go at least by the Iron Bowl, the second of our must-win games in order to make it to Atlanta.
The injury to D.J. Fluker, however, has more of a long-term concern. Any time you see a player ruled out immediately for the following week, you know that he suffered, to specifically quote Saban on this particular injury, a "pretty severe" injury. It's being called a groin strain for now and will likely be treated like one in the coming days and weeks. The problem, though, is that if that if the injury does not respond to treatment, you're probably looking at surgery to correct a sports hernia. That is usually how most sports hernia injuries come about, and while I figure the medical staff thinks it is worth trying to give it minor treatment in the short-term, given how Saban described the injury I don't think it would be any real surprise if this injury forced Fluker out of the line-up for several weeks, perhaps the rest of the season even. Hopefully he will return for the LSU game, but I'm not sure I would bet on it right now.
For better or for worse, Alfred McCullough becomes the right tackle now. He's a good kid, the coaching staff loves him, and by all accounts a productive player. The question, though, is whether or not a 6'2 kid -- and that may be stretching it -- can play tackle in the modern day SEC. We'll find out soon enough.
Career day? Don't tell Saban
By traditional metrics, Greg McElroy had a career day, completing almost 80% of his passes for over 300 yards with two touchdowns pitted against no turnovers. Yet when the coaching staff gave out player of the week awards, the only offensive player to be recognized for his performance was Julio Jones, with no mention of McElroy. Obviously, the staff takes into consideration a variety of factors that do not necessarily show up in the raw stat line -- play changes at the line of scrimmage, holding onto the football too long, missed reads, etc. -- and by that standard the coaching staff was not particularly pleased with his performance against the Gamecocks.
Same goes for pretty much everyone else on offense, too. Jones notwithstanding, some legitimate complaint and or key mistake can be assigned to almost every member of the offense for this past Saturday, and a 19-point performance against a previously struggling defense will not earn any praise.
After the South Carolina game finished, Steve Spurrier had a little barb directed at our coaching staff about how we apparently fancy ourselves a passing team now, an obvious jab at the lack of carries given to Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson. Now, many people call Steve Spurrier arrogant, but few people ever call him a liar. Having said that, now probably wouldn't be the best time to start either.
The big early deficit, of course, played a role in that, but assigning the entirety of our pass-happy afternoon to that alone is mistaken. Even when the game was within reach, the playcalling was still heavily slanted towards the pass. For example, trailing by ten at the start of the third quarter, five of the eight plays on the opening drive of the second half were passes, including three straight passing plays that failed to move the chains after Mark Ingram picked up a first down with a run on third and short. And obviously we are all well aware of the playcalling after the Will Lowery interception.
Perhaps just as telling, though, was the playcalling to begin the game. We opened the game with three straight passing plays, and six of the eight plays on the opening drive of the game were passes. On the second drive, four of the seven plays were passes, so in the aggregate on the first two drives of the game we only called five runs on fourteen plays. And it's not like the run was not successful early, either, as three of those five runs would be dubbed successes per the RB Success Rate metric. Truth be told, Spurrier had a valid point.
Rex Grossman it was not, for better or for worse
Want a good example of how little we even attempted to stretch the field vertically against South Carolina? Go back and look at the six passing plays on the opening drive of the game. Those plays are as follows:
- Two yard checkdown to Mark Ingram
- Wide receiver screen to Marquis Maze
- Scramble by Greg McElroy
- Halfback screen to Mark Ingram
- Wide receiver screen to Marquis Maze
- Two yard crossing route to Preston Dial
Part of that falls on McElroy and his apparent unwillingness to throw anything down the field. Part, though, also falls on playcalling. Looking back at the film on several plays where there should be a good run-pass balance -- such as 1st and 10, 2nd and 5, etc. -- we would drop back to throw and South Carolina would drop seven or eight into coverage. And when you see that, as a playcaller, all it does is tell you that you made a mistake by not running it right at them when you had the chance.
The stops that weren't...
As I wrote in the Initial Impressions piece, South Carolina effectively had seven possessions in this game. Of those seven, five times they marched down the field and scored touchdowns. The Alabama defense registered only two stops. That sounds bad enough, but in actuality it's really even worse. Truth be told, we never really stopped South Carolina as much as they stopped themselves.
The first "stop" came after the missed field goal by Jeremy Shelley. There South Carolina put themselves in a 2nd and 16 thanks to a holding penalty, and from there Spurrier -- with a 21-3 lead and a defense playing well -- effectively chose to punt. On second down he called for a run right into the line, which netted almost nothing, and on third and a mile they opted for the wide receiver screen. It was a stop generated by a penalty and conservative playcalling.
The second "stop" was more of the same. We forced a 3rd and 3 after Josh Chapman batted a ball down at the line of scrimmage on first down -- that route had Alshon Jeffery beating Dre Kirkpatrick easily on a slant route -- and "only" allowed Ace Sanders seven yards on second down. South Carolina had man coverage with Jeffery on DeMarcus Milliner, and Spurrier called the back shoulder fade. Milliner was beaten, never looked for the ball, and Garcia made a good throw. Fortunately for 'Bama, Jeffery did not catch the ball cleanly with his hands and Milliner swatted it away on the way down. Nice recovery on his part, to be sure, but in the end it was still about us waiting around for South Carolina to make a mistake to stop themselves more than anything else.
Sacks are bad, M'kay?
The issues with the offensive line have more to do with run blocking than in terms of pass protection. We gave up seven sacks on Saturday afternoon, but as Saban noted in his Monday afternoon press conference, five of those were on McElroy for holding the football too long.
There were a couple of breakdowns in protection, but for the most part McElroy had all the time he needed to throw, and in many cases he had an absurd amount of time to find something. Run the stopwatch. For example, on the 3rd and 4 prior to the fake field goal attempt, McElroy was given 5.3 seconds. On the 3rd and 4 prior to the missed field goal by Jeremy Shelley, McElroy was given 6.1 seconds.
And that's the maddening thing about McElroy, really. At times he's far too eager to checkdown, at other times he's just hell bent on holding onto the football forever even when the checkdown is appropriate. On the sack fumble, for example, instead of checking down to Ingram as he should have, he waits on deep routes to develop downfield while South Carolina dials up an overload blitz to the blind side. The end result was not surprising.
Regardless, holding onto the football all afternoon has clear consequences. If he throws it away on the 3rd and 4 before the fake field goal, we likely don't even mess around with the fake, we just line up with the offense and go for it. On 4th and 11, though, that's a bit more difficult. And the injury to Fluker? That was suffered at the tail end of that play trying to preserve even more time for McElroy to throw the football. At some point, the passer must simply throw the football or take off running. All too often on Saturday, McElroy chose to do neither.