Well....I'm glad THAT'S over.
After what was a stress-filled Saturday evening in the previous week, our beloved Crimson Tide gets a chance to cool the jets and possibly develop a little young talent against the Underdog of underdogs, Colorado State. Certainly, the Rams will seem a much more mild opponent a week after staring down the barrel of a gun in College Station. I won't insult your intelligence by selling the claim that Colorado State could beat us this week, as such would be patronizing and condescending. No, this week, feel free to let your Gump flag fly, as a win is all but assured against this Mountain West opponent.
I would be Force-choked by Our Dark Lord for even saying this, but I don't think we have a great deal to worry about this week. Respect your opponent and all that....but seriously, the zombie apocalypse (and I mean fast zombies, not those lethargic ones) would have to intervene to keep Bama from winning this game. Quite honestly, the Rams are on a different level in terms of their football program, and we can view this for what it is: a payday for a lower-tier school and bro-hug for second year head coach Jim McIlwain. CSU has neither the personnel nor talent level to beat Bama, and such should be evident to even the most uninformed fan of the game.
But to say that this week's game is somehow less important would also be folly. For one, at the end of the season, this will represent one game...and will carry the same weight in the win/ loss column as any other game (at least in theory). It is one more step upon which all future steps will depend, and regardless of the opponent, The Process © marches on without knowing who or what has been processed. The end result is the important part, and in terms of the season and this team's aspirations, one game is just as valid as any other. For evidence, I'll reference the off-quoted Coach Gene Stallings saying that, "If you don't think a game like this isn't important, just try losing it and see."
Instead of focusing on any realistic possibility that we drop this game to Colorado State, let us instead turn the scope inwards and look at ways in which the Crimson Tide can improve itself in this week's content. For as treacherous as last week's cliff was to climb, the remainder of the path to the top is fraught with far more dangerous precipices.
- The defensive back rotation will most likely swell like an over-inflated inner tube this weekend, as Bama tries to get some of its young defensive back talent ready for battles to come. If last week taught us anything, it's that we don't have a physically dominant Dee Milliner or Dre Kirkpatrick in our defensive backfield this season. Usually, the defensive backs are the adhesive that holds the entire unit together, and when CB play in particular is sub-optimal, the rest of the defense begins to feel pressure as well. Deion Belue will most likely sit this one out after sustaining a supposed turf-toe issue in last week's contest. Fortunately, it doesn't appear that the defensive backs will be thrown into the fire this week, as Colorado State QB Garrett Grayson plays the role out of default. McIlwain is a great developer of quarterback talent, but he had a three-way competition for the position going into the season. It's not so much that Grayson won the job, but that he was the most viable prospect. His production has been hurt by the loss of both of his first string play-maker wide receivers, but CSU has gotten good production thus far out of freshman WR Jordan Vaden. Vaden, while decidedly not Mike Evans, will present a mismatch against our defensive backs at 6'3", and a game-savvy play-caller like McIlwain will probably try to exploit the Tide's short-comings in the secondary. Most likely, we will see playing time for newcomers Eddie Jackson and Maurice Smith, as Saban has said this week that there are ample opportunities for the young players to make an impression this week. With Belue on the bench and Geno Smith still languishing in Our Dark Lord's lake of fire, we will likely see some depth in the defensive backfield. Such experience is nothing but good for the Tide, as the CB corps at this point is a silk purse sewn from a sow's ear. Expect improvement, and expect it to come at the hands of poor CSU.
- The offensive line showed a great deal of progress against the Aggi after struggling with the Hokie front 7 in week one. What's the difference? VT's unit is statistically top 5 nationally, while aTm's is a good bit lower on that totem pole. While the execution was better for the offensive line in both the passing and running games, there are still come unacceptable errors that can stall drives and cost yardage. Though Cyrus Kouandjio played much of last week's game like the NFL prospect that he is, he was still responsible for two procedure calls. That is simply not something ODL, and assumedly, Mario Cristobal, can sit with, so CyKo is going to have to hammer out that defect pretty quickly. RG Anthony Steen is emerging as the leader of a young line, and his play last week was stellar. This week will give the Tide a chance to get some back-ups like gigantor Alphonse Taylor on the field, and other offensive line second teamers like the mysterious Leon Brown may get quality second half reps as well.
- Let's not forget that the strength of the Rams' team this year is probably their defense, as they field a veteran unit with an experienced front 7. The defense returns 6 starters from last year's 4-8 team, and the bulk of those players are in the front 7. They run a 3-4 system and have the huge nose guard it takes to do so in 330 lb Calvin Tonga. While not up to the standards of the SEC, the defensive front for the Rams will provide more learning opportunities for the line, and the ability to run well against the Rams will be a nice indicator that last week's play was not a fluke at the expense of the putrid Aggi defense.
- While CSU struggles mightily in the passing game due to the above-mentioned injuries, their running game is fairly sound. They use a three back rotation, with most sets being run with either one or two backs on the field at a time. The trio of Chris Nwoke, Kapri "My mama didn't like me" Bibbs (seriously...who names their boy-child Kapri...with a K) and Donnell Alexander have been the backbone of the Ram offensive attack, with Nwoke and Bibbs averaging over 5 yards per carry. This comes in part due to a CSU line that is loaded with veterans. Four of the five linemen are seniors, and three of them are returning starters. This will represent a nice scrimmage for the Tide D line and linebacking corps, as this line, while lacking flash, should not be a total pushover.
- Alabama will need to maintain a high-degree of mental focus this week to avoid the let-down. The Tide has been known to show a let-down following a huge game in the previous week, and such could be the case against CSU. Though a drop-off against the Rams would still likely not produce a Tide loss due to the disparity in talent, this will be a mental test that will reveal much about the Tide's ability to refocus after trying key match-ups on the schedule. A let-down this week won't be lethal, but against a greater opponent on the Tide's schedule, such apathy could result in a L.
- The Alabama deluge will most certainly affect this game, if the weather forecasts are correct. Rain chances for Saturday are vacillating between 70-80% depending on who you consult, and as we all know, anything can happen on a muddy field. Injuries abound, wet pigskin becomes an industrial lubricant, passing attacks are grounded and offensive linemen go from usually solid ground to something akin to walking a tight rope. Then there are fumbles. If anything can change the complexion of a prospective pedestrian game, it's a good, prolonged rain storm. Between the potential for injuries and turnovers, the rain may be the most feared opponent the Tide faces this weekend.
While this week's opponent is less potent that those we'll encounter in the coming weeks, the opportunities presented in this game will be crucial as Alabama embarks on a historic title run in 2013. Two games into the season, we still don't know a tremendous amount about the team, but we do know this offense has a chance to be once-a-generation good. Our defense is a bit of a question mark against the pass, but fortunately, the team will not face any more Johnny Footballs prior to a possible appearance in the BCSCG. Things still have to fall in place for the Tide, but a path has been swathed and the road is mostly clear.
A perfect game for Alabama would mean a W (of course), plenty of time for second/ third stringers as we develop our depth and talent, quality reps for the offensive line and defensive backs against better-than-tackling-dummy opposition, and a healthy Tide team when the final buzzer sounds Saturday night. If all goes as stated, we can count ourselves lucky and focus on the upstart Rebel Black Bear Akbars next week.
However, an injury to a key starter, a struggling O line, a torched secondary...these are the things that put stumbling blocks in our way. If any of these events transpire, the path will get rockier for the Tide as it begins its ascension to the mountaintop.
Football gods willing, we'll emerge healthy and happy, with that all important check mark in the W column.
Hope for the best...