Happy Friday, everyone. Not much going on this week, as Alabama joins four of the other top seven teams in taking a breather before the home stretch in November. The players ended practice early yesterday and are off until Monday, when game prep for LSU begins in earnest. A few links for your perusing pleasure:
-- Brandon Greene was the right tackle with the first team in Jackson's place. Said Nick Saban on Tuesday about the right tackle situation: "Brandon Greene is the backup right tackle. So he would play right tackle. Pierschbacher could play right tackle or left tackle if we needed him to. Korren Kirven is also a backup tackle. So I would say it would have to come from that group of guys, but Brandon Greene is a guy that we have a lot of confidence in who has been a backup at that position all year. If that were the case, he may not be able to play as much at tight end."
The starting linebacker was Reuben Foster, who missed Wednesday's practice due to personal reasons. It sounds like Brandon Greene starting at right tackle is a real possibility, and truthfully there probably won't be a lot of drop-off. This was one of the most competitive battles in the pre-season, and Greene has acquitted himself well in limited game action. More concerning is that, as Saban notes, Greene would not be available as the blocking TE. This probably means more action for Dakota Ball, who has been somewhat shaky and penalty-prone.
The Tide's frontline depth has enabled Saban and defensive coordinator Kirby Smart to shuffle in pass rush specialists like Tim Williams and Rashaan Evans and even give star linebacker Reggie Ragland a breather at times on third downs.
"We've had some good teams around here before that were good defensive teams that we haven't been able to do that," Saban said. "I think that's important. And it's been very helpful this year in terms of the kind of pass rush that we get and how you've been able to affect the quarterback and have not had to pressure nearly as much as what we've done in the past."" Alabama leads the Southeastern Conference and ranks sixth nationally with an average of 3.38 sacks per game.
Last year's defense ranked 61st with 2.21 sacks per game. In fact, it's the highest sack average for a Saban-led team in 16 years, according to research by STATs.
Saban has always cited sacks as a misleading statistic, and I agree with him to a large degree. "Affecting the quarterback" is always the main goal, whether the result is an errant pass, a throw-away, or a sack. The reason for that high sack number is three-fold: the Tide is obviously very talented and ridiculously deep up front, the secondary is athletic enough to play man-under and take away the short passes without getting beat over the top, and teams have been absolutely unable to run the football which has led to many third-and-long opportunities. Imagine being an opposing QB on 3rd-and-8, knowing that the likes of A'Shawn Robinson, Jarran Reed, and Jonathan Allen have their ears pinned back and are prepared to eat your soul. Yesterday, Travis Reier of BamaOnline tweeted this:
Pressure is key but interesting how secondary played this. Fitzpatrick rolls from star to safety. Versatile group. pic.twitter.com/JUACWnAwjN
— Travis Reier (@travisreier) October 29, 2015
He was highlighting the pre-snap movement that undoubtedly confused Joshua Dobbs, as Minkah Fitzpatrick responded to the motion by dropping into a single-high safety position while Geno Matias-Smith shifted up to cover the motion man, Maurice Smith changed to bump-and-run. and Marlon Humphrey dropped into "off" coverage at the snap. When the secondary is able to shift late without busting coverages, it becomes very difficult for the QB to be sure of his "hot" read and thus limits his ability to get the ball out quickly. Mel Tucker's impact on this group simply can't be overstated.
That said, watch the action of Reuben Foster and A'Shawn Robinson. This is what a simple twist stunt looks like when elite players run it. Foster shoots the right side A-gap and drives the center five yards into the backfield while Robinson shifts over and flushes poor Dobbs from the pocket. Meanwhile Da'shawn Hand is chasing after him like a rabid dog. The talent on this defense is truly extraordinary, and if they can play in sync like this for the rest of the season, the sky is the limit.
When the teams line up in Bryant-Denny Stadium in 11 days, Alabama has a quarterback (Jake Coker) who averages 162.3 ypg. of total offense and is eighth in the SEC in passing efficiency, with 11 TD passes and seven interceptions, and a running back Derrick Henry who's second in the league in rushing averaging 130.5 yards with 14 TDs. LSU has quarterback Brandon Harris, the SEC's second-most efficient passer with nine TDs and no interceptions, running back Leonard Fournette with a nation-leading 193.1 ypg. and 15 TDs, and receivers Malachi Dupre and Travin Dural who have combined for 41 catches for 581 yards and seven TDs in the last three games.
While LSU hasn't played a ton of stout running teams, they were able to completely shut down Florida RB Kelvin Taylor by committing to stuffing the run and forcing backup QB Treon Harris to win the game. You can bet that this will be their strategy against the Tide. Alabama's offense has performed similarly to Florida's this season based on efficiency metrics. The Gators managed 21 offensive points against LSU.
Jim McElwain, Florida: "He's (Fournette) what we call an eraser. He can change the game every time he touches it. Their other 10 guys do an outstanding job. The quarterback has come a long way, so you can't load the box. And they've got some road graders on the offensive line." Fournette (2 games): 336 yards and 4 TDs on 58 carries Henry (1 game): 111 yards rushing on 25 carries and one TD, and 2 receptions for 42 yards.
The 6-3, 242-pound junior is a locomotive, one that can cut on a dime, and weave in and out of traffic. But he's also a monster in the gym. Here he is, casually squatting over 500 pounds after a recent practice.
Leonard Fournette is obviously an other-worldly talent, but Derrick Henry is a great back in his own right. The difference in their stats is largely driven by a three-game stretch against Auburn, Syracuse, and Eastern Michigan where Fournette exceeded 9.0 YPC in each and amassed a total of 703 yards. Florida and Mississippi State were able to limit him to a much more manageable 5.8 and 5.7 respectively. Alabama's front seven has a great chance to hold him below 5.0, which would go a long way toward a Tide victory.
Before the season began, LSU was a bit of an afterthought in the SEC. Ranked fourth in its conference in the Preseason AP Top 25 -- behind Alabama, Auburn and Georgia -- the Tigers were thought to be good, just not good enough. Even our experts did not see much coming from LSU. But as it goes, the chips fall where they may. Alabama was throttled at home by Ole Miss, Auburn is a disaster, and Georgia was not only a bit overrated but also lost its star, running back Nick Chubb. Who's left from the SEC? None other than the Mad Hatter himself, Les Miles.
I would welcome LSU getting that #1 label slapped on them on the Tuesday before they come to Tuscaloosa, and it just might happen.
Go back to the start of the 2008 season, the year Nick Saban really got Alabama rolling. From there, SEC teams are 21-25 when they play a game the week after meeting the Crimson Tide. Teams that took an open date after playing Alabama are 6-2 in their next game.
This is a major concern for Alabama fans. Should the Tide win next Saturday, they will need LSU to go on and knock off an Ole Miss squad that looked rejuvenated last week.
The official accident report was not provided to AL.com. A spokesperson for the Mississippi Highway Patrol cited legal reasons for not providing the report, and instead offered a summary that concluded neither alcohol nor drugs was a factor in the crash. The accident investigators typically do not determine speed in one vehicle accident, but a spokesperson said it appeared Tenpenny was traveling above the posted speed limit of 55 miles per hour.
Friends and family told AL.com they believe he fell asleep while driving on the way back to Little Rock, Ark. Mississippi Highway Patrol corporal Tony Dunn told AL.com that assessment is "very much possible."
Great to hear that alcohol and drugs weren't a factor in a tragic accident. Indications are that Altee was heading home to leave football behind for good and try and turn his life around. RIP, Altee.
Imam, an Arab-Israeli, might just be the most die-hard Crimson Tide football fan you will ever meet. "Roll Tide," he chanted, pumping his fist into the air the first time I walked past him and did a double take at the word Alabama.
"Excuse me?" I said.
"Roll Tide!" he chanted event louder. "Come in. We have very many things you will like."
Neat story. Alabama Akbar, motherf***er!
Have a nice, relaxing weekend off, a Happy Halloween, and be ready for all the LSU coverage starting Monday. Roll Tide.