A defense that has limited two of the top running backs in the country to a combined 3.5 yards per carry has otherwise been inconsistent stopping the run heading into a matchup against Alabama and star running back Derrick Henry. Michigan State is ranked seventh nationally in run defense, holding opponents to an average of 113 yards per game. That ranking is deceiving.
Here is a rundown of how opposing running backs have fared against the Spartans.
The raw data here are deceiving; Michigan State can be run upon, particularly if the threat of the pass is anywhere near consistent.
That job will rest with a much-improved Jake Coker...
The second half against the Rebels was the moment things clicked for Coker this season, according to Nick Saban. "The guy competed and played and ran the ball and made some great throws," Saban said. "I think he won the team over with the way he competed in the game. I think that was probably the most significant thing that happened for Jake. And I think rather than worrying about what he was supposed to do and trying to be perfect, he just went out and played for the first time. "I think he gained a lot of confidence. I think we gained a lot of confidence. I think the players gained a lot of confidence. Since that time, there’s been no doubt who the leader of the offensive team is."
Yes mistakes were made -- primarily in the first half, but in the second half no one could fault Coker's effort, nor, for instance, can you doubt the three fantastic final-drive tosses he made leading a Tide comeback over the Vols. If Eddie Jackson is the most improved player on the roster, Coker is easily right behind him.
Losing because of a lack of self-discipline, that was unacceptable. They knew there was no room for error, so they ran the table to win and end up where they sit today: with a chance to win another championship. "I think everybody realized that our backs were against the wall," senior starting quarterback Jake Coker said. "We only had one option – to win. Otherwise, it was something other than a championship, and that’s not what we wanted."
This team has the best head space of any 'Bama squad since the 2012 season of seeming-inevitability. The 2015 Tide have had to scrape and fight against quality teams, scramble for comebacks, and hold off a much better overall division while doing so with a bevy of freshmen, untested upperclassmen and redemption projects. I am thrilled for these guys, your 2015 SEC Champions.
The graduates include a number of key players, including seniors Coker and Kelly on offense. They are joined by the starting right side of the offensive line, junior guard Alphonse Taylor and senior tackle Dominick Jackson. Back-up tailback Kenyan Drake is a senior who will be gone, while offensive tackle Korren Kirven, tight end Dakota Ball, and tight end-tackle are juniors with degrees. Senior slot receiver Richard Mullaney transferred to Alabama this season from Oregon State with his degree in hand. Defensive senior graduates include starting linebackers Reggie Ragland, Denzel Devall, and Dillon Lee; defensive linemen Jarran Reed and Darren Lake; cornerback Cyrus Jones; and safety Geno Matias-Smith; and juniors, Ryan Anderson and defensive lineman Dalvin Tomlinson.
Yeah, that list above? Just those with degrees in hand. We're not even talking about the juniors who haven't received degrees or Alec Morris, who is now eligible for transfer and immediate playing time at another institution.
2016 is going to require a serious overhaul, with guys like Derrick Henry, A'Shawn Robinson etc. certainly gone, and others, like O.J. Howard and Tim Williams debating their pro prospects.
In three seasons at Alabama, Howard has never had more than 350 yards receiving and he has caught a total of two touchdowns. Yet, there are some projecting him as a third- or fourth-round pick in April’s draft. That’s because he looks the part. NFL teams are intrigued by his combination of size and athleticism. So why not leave early? My argument is that he’s not going to hurt his stock by coming back.
The analysis rings true initially; another year can only help Howard's stock. He's always had pro size and skills; it's been a matter of putting all the impressive physical tools together. If I had to place a bet, however, I'd say that Howard declares. Alabama's is not an offense that uses the tight end nearly as much as is warranted for the talent on hand.
The 5-foot-10, 165-pound Coleman had scored just 15 total points in Alabama's previous four games while making just 5 of 25 shots and only 1 of 19 3-pointers. However, Coleman scored 18 points and had five assists while making 5 of 11 shots and 3 of 5 3-pointers during the Tide's 72-60 win over Winthrop last Wednesday. He then scored a career-high 24 points vs. Oregon Monday night. He was 7 of 16 from the field, hit four 3-pointers and had six assists.
Blowing the double-digit, game-long lead to Oregon was disappointing -- this team is still learning how to win. But, Justin Coleman is maturing and, as important, is learning how to score.
Alabama has moved one step closer in officially landing Channelview (Texas) quarterback and Tide commit Jalen Hurts. The nation’s No. 5 dual-threat quarterback, per the 247Sports Composite, has signed his grant-in-aid paperwork with the Crimson Tide.
We've seen several teams burned by this one before (notably, LSU.) Hurts is scheduled to be an early enrollee at the Capstone, and Texas A&M is making a hard charge at the dual-threat prospect. It seems with the aid paperwork signed that Alabama has taken a huge step forward, but the next two weeks are apt to be nerve-wracking for the coaching staff.
That's your JP for Xmas eve. We'll not be having one tomorrow, and programming is going to be fairly sparse until the Christmas break is over. Until then, Happy Holidays to you all, and Roll Tide.