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Missouri From The Couch

If you want to stage a real SEC Championship Game at the end of the season, maybe it's time to stop letting the SEC East get involved.

Kevin Liles-USA TODAY Sports

OK, maybe that sub-headline is over-stating the case a bit, as the SEC East is generally not that far behind the West, and sometimes not behind the West at all.  But in 2014, the East was so far behind that it put up a divisional representative that probably could not have been better than 6th place in the West.

Missouri was a decent team, a 10-2 team, but it got to 10-2 without playing a tough team out-of-conference and without playing any of the top 5 teams in the West.  They drew an Alabama team that was ready, focused, and not nearly as inexperienced as it was early in 2014, and the result was a game that was kind of one-sided and at times less than fascinating.  Missouri was blasted off the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball and even a few lucky downfield completions couldn't keep the match competitive.

The result was Alabama's 31st win over a top 25 team in the last 7 seasons.  It was Alabama's third SEC Championship under Nick Saban, allowing the Tide to draw even in Saban conference championships with where it stands in Saban national championships.  Temporarily, at least.

Missouri may have had a chance if it hadn't shot itself in the foot in its passing game early, but at least 5 Tiger drops and open misses early on, combined with the complete inability to get anything going on the ground, spelled their doom.  Even though Missouri completed a few fluky long passes later, the game was over for all intents and purposes when Bama went up 14-0 and Missouri star Shane Ray was ejected, all in one play, early in the 2nd quarter.  You hate to see a star leave early in a big game, but you should tell your star to pay at least some attention to the rules if you don't want to see it happen.

For Bama, it's next stop Ohio State and the opportunity to see how real a thing Cardale Jones is.  Whatever the answer to that may be, Alabama's offense might get kind of real, too after T.J. Yeldon, Amari Cooper and Cam Robinson finally get a couple of weeks to rest their aching wheels.

Quarterback

Take away that one little 2nd-quarter stretch where Sims got oopsie with the ball - fortunately both his fumbles were recovered by Bama - and one 3rd-quarter overthrow of an open DeAndrew White, and Blake Sims was all outstanding all the time.  23 for 27 for 262 yards, with a drop, really ain't that bad.

For the second straight week, Sims hung one out there over 55 yards in the air and dropped it into a moving bucket for a touchdown.  On the other end of the spectrum, he had a nifty jump pass to find Amari Cooper crossing the middle just beyond the scrum on a 3rd-and-5 play late in the first quarter, and threw in a brilliant, spinning 17-yard run in the 4th quarter to get the Tide to the Tigers 26, from where Henry scored on the next play.

There was a spirited dispute on this site last year about whether AJ McCarron was the greatest quarterback to ever play the position at Alabama.  The dispute largely hinged on whether you can statistically compare modern quarterbacks to the Bama greats of the '60s,

But I'll just say this: if AJ McCarron was the greatest quarterback in Alabama history last year, he's #2 now.  Sims is just as good a passer and adds an important extra dimension with his legs.  He has been inconsistent, but beyond doubt the overall curve of his play level has been upward and is currently very high.  Blake solves problems AJ wasn't equipped to deal with.

Running Backs

Yeldon was cutting smoothly into open space early, but he may have dinged something at some point, as his success ended rather abruptly.  After starting out with 32 yards and a TD on his first 5 carries, T.J. picked up only 15 yards on 9 carries for the rest of the game, including back-to-back stumbles leading to Bama's missed field goal, while Henry picked up the bulk of the second-half totes.  There must have been a plan to limit Yeldon's carries coming into the game because Henry got the second Bama run of the game, which isn't the normal rotation at all.

Remember, though, that the next time you see Yeldon he will finally have gotten a few weeks off and should be fully healthy.  T.J. is a different kind of weapon entirely when he is at full speed; unfortunately we haven't seen a lot of that the last two years.

Derrick Henry showed off the home-run hitting against a weakened defense again, but also was called on for significant carries throughout the bulk of the game, and at times punished the smallish Mizzou D-line.  The Tide brain trust often gave Henry the ball starting out East or West, even when he only ran 2 or 3 yards in that direction before cutting upfield, thus allowing him to build up a little speed before contact.

#27 may not be the best at avoiding tacklers early in a run, but with even a little bit of momentum he can sure push a pile.  Even if you take away the 71 yards on two long runs, Henry would have had  77 yards on 18 carries, a respectable 4.3 yards per carry.

It was gratifying to finally see Tyren Jones getting his first carries in competitive situations, and not at all surprising to see him whirling nothing at all into 5 yards on his first tote.  It wouldn't be unexpected if he plays a somewhat larger role in the playoffs - although hopefully a healthy Yeldon will make it less necessary to get as many totes from the backups.

Fowler turned a dump pass into a 14-yard gain on the game's first play, but mostly was present as a blocker.  He got a key downfield block on Henry's 26-yard 4th-quarter touchdown.

Receivers

It's a little odd that Alabama never went up top for Cooper at all, instead actually using him as a decoy to get White open deep, but that was at least mostly a result of the Missouri game plan as there were always multiple Tigers in his vicinity.  Cooper, who played with a wrapped knee, may have never gotten to full speed in the entire game, but he was very effective nevertheless as the go-to guy in the short game.  Missouri managed to stop those quick outs at or near the line a couple of times, but only a couple of times.  Cooper frequently made the first tackler miss and managed to squeeze 5 or 6 or 7 yards out of the play and either pick up the first or leave the Tide in a favorable 2nd-down situation.

DeAndrew White may not have Amari Cooper speed - scratch that, he doesn't - but he was fast enough to run by Missouri's defensive backfield on the way to a 58-yard touchdown snag.  White certainly didn't have that running-in-hip-waders look he had when slowed by injury mid-season and finished with a season-high 101 yards.

Christion Jones had three big catches on the 3rd-quarter drive after Mizzou cut to 8.  The first was off an accurate throw in traffic where he hung on to it despite being hammerer.  Two plays later it was his nifty running that turned a short screen into a 17-yard gain down to almost the goalline.  A false start later, Jones hauled in another flat pass and dove under Missouri tacklers into the end zone to make the lead comfortable to stay.

For the 2nd straight week, O.J. Howard looked good catching a pass.  This time it was the running after the catch that looked good, both shifty and powerful, to set Bama up for a late-2nd-quarter touchdown.

Offensive Line

Yeldon ran between Shepherd and Vogler for 11 on his first carry and Henry did the same thing on the 26-yard TD.  T.J.'s 12-yard run later in the first quarter was straight up the middle and featured good blocks from Ryan Kelly, Arie Kouandjio and Cam Robinson.

Shepherd also made a very nice hustle play to get all the way to the sideline and block for an Amari Cooper first down on a 2nd-quarter quick out.

The 3rd-quarter quarterback draw on a 3rd-and-2 after Missouri had cut it to 21-13 ran through a big hole between Ryan Kelly and Leon Brown.

Twice Arie Kouandjio was supposed to slide to the side and pick up a Missouri lineman and twice he whiffed, once leading to Henry's 5-yard-loss on a 1st-and-15 play on Bama's second possession, ultimately resulting in a 3-and-out.

Both sacks were on Cam Robinson, and #74 also had a goalline false start penalty.  In the 1st quarter, big Cam forced Shane Ray wide and away from the quarterback but then was caught flat-footed when Ray dove back inside and straight at Sims for the sack.  It was a 3rd-down play and was followed by Bama's first punt.  After Missouri's 3rd-quarter touchdown cut the lead to 21-10 and Bama was trying to answer, Robinson let Ray's substitute Charles Harris get around him on a 3rd-down play and force Sims up into the pocket, where he had no room to escape.  While his run-blocking has remained stellar, Robinson has had a little trouble with speed-rushers since his ankle injury and this is a good time for a 26-day break from his perspective.

Other than the two plays where Robinson got burned by speed rushers, the OL did not allow the Missouri speed rush, supposedly the Tigers' strength, to get out of hand.  Arguably, Alabama hadn't seen as quick and nifty an end rush since the Oklahoma game, but this one sure never headed in the direction that one did.

Defensive Line

The fine performance from Blake Sims and the offense wasn't really all needed, thanks to these guys.  The longest gain for a Missouri running back all day was 6 yards: yes, you read that correctly and it's true to boot, 6 yards.  Meanwhile, even though Bama almost never brought more than 4 rushers, Marty Mauk rarely got the chance to get settled.

In particular, Missouri could not keep Xzavier Dickson away from their quarterback.  #47 got excellent pressure off twist moves twice.  On both plays a lineman slid over to take him, but neither guy was able to get square in front of #47, and he bulled right by without slowing down both times.  One of the hurries forced an incomplete and Missouri's first 3-and-out.  He forced a 3rd hurry* by just beating his man off the snap on a straight rush in the first quarter, a 4th that caused an incomplete 3rd-down pass and a field goal on Missouri's first foray into Bama territory in the 2nd quarter, and a 5th causing a 3rd-down incompletion in the 4th quarter.  Dickson also ripped the ball away from Russell Hansbrough on a 2nd-quarter run (although Hansbrough got it back) as part of a sensational day.

A'Shawn Robinson was, if anything, even more impressive.  Clogging the middle of the line, setting the edge, playing off blocks, chasing down running backs from behind and delivering a sack which inexplicably did not make it into the stat line, Robinson was all over the place doing everything.  Robinson had 9 tackles, 3 for loss, which is a pretty fancy stat line for a defensive tackle.

D.J. Pettway is becoming an increasingly disruptive force, and may have had his best game of the season.  A first-quarter penetration forced Hansbrough to swing deep into the backfield to escape, leading to a tackle for loss by Jarran Reed.  He had a couple of quarterback pressures that didn't register on the stat sheet and was physical against the run.

Ryan Anderson showed up to assist Dickson in pressuring Mauk on Missouri's first possession.  Anderson was credited with 3 hurries.

Linebackers

Trey Depriest was only credited with 4 tackles, but that low number is at least partly due to the fact that Missouri only ran 57 plays.  Depriest made some nice plays in the running game, not all of which he was credited with a tackle on, even including cutting the corrner off on Hansbrough more than once.  Trey also defended the 3rd-down pass to force a 3-and-out on Missouri's first possession.  But he was a little slow to read and react on the 3rd-and-10 screen that got the Tigers their initial first down, and missed a tackle on Marcus Murphy leading to a 15-yard-gain on a reverse (although he was in the hole and sticking Murphy at the line when Missouri tried to go straight back to the well on the next play).

Reggie Ragland was only credited with 2 tackles, and wasn't very visible most of the time.  Given the Tide's stingy policy toward giving out injury info, I'm always suspicious when a star turns in noticeably below-par numbers, especially on an extended basis.  Ragland, after recording 68 tackles over the previous 7 games (9.7 per game), has had 4, 3 and 2 tackles, respectively, the last 3 games.  Draw your own conclusions from that, but if it's a health issue hopefully it's one that time can help out with.

Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans each saw a little action, and each chased Mauk out of the pocket once.

Defensive Backs

After the Alabama defensive backfield got torched  last week by giving up way too many deep completions, including several where the receiver was wide open, it has to be a little concerning that the Tide gave up 4 downfield completions for 168 years in this game.

Doesn't it?  No, not really, because there was a qualitative difference in the nature of the completions.  All 4 of the deep completions came because Mauk ran around for a while and then hurled it way downfield with perfect accuracy and dropped it just over the hands of a defensive back - whether it was Geno Smith, Landon Collins, Eddie Jackson or Jabriel Washingon.  Folks, there is just not any way to defend a play like that - especially when the receiver pushes off just before the ball arrives, as clearly happened on two of those passes - and there's no use worrying or crying about it.  If the opponent can do that, they get their yards, period.  As the defense, your job is to stop the plays you can stop, and the Bama defensive backfield did an excellent job of that for the most part.

Eddie Jackson probably got the start because he is a better run-stopper than Bradley Sylve, who has a tougher time dealing with a running back in a one-on-one situation.  Jackson was solid, giving up only a couple of completions in front of him and making nice defensive plays on a short-yardage touchdown attempt on a crossing pattern and an out pattern at the goal line, but for some season Missouri never tested him up top.

Missouri barely even tested Cyrus Jones short.  Jones had Missouri's leading receiver, Bud Sasser, for most of the game, and held him to 31 yards of receptions.  Sasser did score a TD when Jones was blatantly picked out of the play, one that could easily have been called.

Nick Perry didn't have another superstar week but he had another good one.  One play when I saw a blur come streaking out of nowhere to hold Missouri to a 5-yard-gain on a short completion I assumed that it could only have been Landon Collins closing with so much speed and so much force, but no, it was #27.  I tends to think he has actually outplayed Collins in games played since the end of October.

Collins did not have one of his more visible days but was relatively solid in pass coverage and when he jarred the ball loose from J'Mon Moore and then fell on the fumble with 6:26 left, the game was over.

Geno Smith had the hit of the day on a 3rd-quarter run by Ish Whitter, but gave up a few completions.

Special Teams

Kickoff return coverage, which remains a concern, was solid.  Punt return coverage has been that way all year.

I've been ready for the 3-year experiment with Christion Jones as a return man to end, but Jones hasn't fumbled again in the last several games and appears to have ball security a bit more on his mind these days.  He's a reasonably explosive return man when he can hang on to the ball - although, perhaps not coincidentally, he has not broken one lately while seemingly securing the pigskin a bit better.

J.K. Scott had one of his most impressive plays of the year when he managed to whip around and get off a 33-yard flat-footed punt after a low snap dribbled between his legs.  At the time, I assumed that the bobble made Scott fair game for Missouri's rushers, but in fact there is no such rule in the book and roughing should have been called on Markus Golden for taking out Scott's plant foot.

Scott is so NFL-ready.  Thank god for that rule that says he has to stay 3.

With any luck, the time off will allow Adam Griffith to return to the excellent form he flashed in September.  He had plenty of leg in his missed field goal and didn't miss it by much - but two of his extra points barely snuck inside the left upright.

*For the record, I call it a hurry whenever a rusher forces the quarterback to throw before he is ready.  An official "hurry" only happens when a pass is incomplete or intercepted (and furthermore whoever scores these at Bama home games is really stingy with 'em), so you will not always see what I call a "hurry" reflected in the box score.  But it happened; trust me.