"The bye week is like a pit stop," defensive lineman Damion Square said. "You tune your car up so you can finish the race as strong as you can possibly finish it. Hopefully, we will be tuned up and ready to go for the rest of the season."
"It's not that we're playing bad, but I think we know we're capable of more than what we've put up so far," the star senior center said Wednesday. So what does the offense need to do to improve? "The main thing is execution," Jones said. "Execution is where most of our mistakes have come. Communication has actually been pretty good. "We've done a lot of things well but we just need to clean up details. You guys are probably tired of hearing that but that's really the truth. We're just sloppy in a few areas."
Running game sluggishness The surplus has vanished. Two of the four running backs who carried the ball at least eight times in the Crimson Tide’s season-opening romp over Michigan are out for the season because of knee injuries. The concerning part is that the losses of Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart aren’t the only problems with the Alabama running attack, which ranks sixth in the SEC and 42nd in the country with an average of 188.2 yards per game. Since 2008, Alabama has averaged no fewer than 215 rushing yards per game. The two remaining options in the backfield, Eddie Lacy and Yeldon, are averaging 4.9 and 5.8 yards per carry, respectively, and each has one, 100-yard game this season. The rushing attack hasn’t been bad, but it hasn’t been what Alabama has come to expect. "It's important that you establish the run no matter how many people are in the box," center Barrett Jones said. "That's always been our mentality around here."
Kevin Norwood (foot/ankle) took it easy while his fellow wide receivers ran routes. It isn't clear if it's a foot or leg issue this time. He caught six passes for 145 yards and two touchdowns in Alabama’s first two games (Michigan and Western Kentucky). In three games since then (Arkansas, Florida Atlantic and Ole Miss), he has caught only three passes for 34 yards.
"I spoke with those guys after the game as fast as I could, and I told them that somehow in this situation, they’ve got to embrace the moment," Square said Wednesday. "You can’t really turn back the hands of time. Unfortunately we just can’t do that. "It’s like, things happen that come with the game: injuries. And you’ve got to somehow embrace this moment and get better. There’s other things you can work on. There’s other things besides football that we do. Maybe they can get better in those aspects of their lives while they get their knee back right to get back with their team. It’s a bad moment, but it can be a good moment if they do things the right way."
Alabama scored 33 points on the Rebels, but one touchdown came on a kickoff return, and the other two TDs were scored after Ole Miss turnovers. The rest of the game Alabama was held in check by a disciplined defensive strategy: keep them in front. The usually proficient rushing game got stalled by linebackers staying home, filling the gaps opened by blockers and not over-pursuing. In the passing game, McCarron was allowed to find receivers open on short routes, but defenders were quickly on top of them before they could gain yardage after the catch. Ole Miss only rushed four defensive linemen for most of the game, too, because – again – Alabama has the best O-line in the country. Why bother?
As for the defense, ESPN analyst David Pollack -- a former Georgia defensive star who is horrified by what he's seeing -- said on a podcast this week he believes NCAA rules reducing the number of contact periods in preseason camp, as well as coaches' preferences to cut down on hitting to minimize injuries, have led to an epidemic of poor tackling. It's true, you do see a lot of missed tackles when you watch a full day of games on TV like I did last Saturday. Even last Thursday's Washington-Stanford game was essentially decided by two Cardinal missed tackles. But I don't believe defenses as a whole are unequivocally worse than they were a decade ago, it's more that high-powered offenses like West Virginia's or Oklahoma State's make average-to-mediocre defenses look worse. Defenders often have to play far more snaps, and are thus put in one-on-one situations far more frequently. This only increases the odds of an eventual busted tackle and, in turn, a long touchdown. And that's exactly what offenses like Oregon's are trying to achieve.
Will it be LSU? The Tigers haven't looked the part in their last two outings, but stopping the Gators in the swamp would go a long way to rejuvenate this team. If LSU can put together its most complete game of the season, the Tigers should top Florida and regain some of that lost luster. That means getting more production from quarterback Zach Mettenberger and his receivers. LSU then takes on South Carolina at home and Texas A&M on the road before hosting Alabama after a bye week.
Amazingly enough, the two musicians had crossed paths just once before. "I had met T.I. back in 2004, we were both writing songs for The Passion of The Christ: Songs Inspired By soundtrack and we had briefly interacted there and knew what each looked like," he revealed. "We'd talked about being fans of Alabama." "It's ironic — he walked in, and I found out later it was the only room left in the hotel and he came in off the street and came out, and as I'm laying on the ledge, blood fell to [T.I.'s] feet and he looked up and he had an Alabama hat on. I said, 'roll tide,' and then he looked at me and put two and two together and really saved my life."