Most of what we've heard from Michigan State has been about Derrick Henry and stopping the Alabama running game. There has been surprisingly little about the nation's nastiest defense; the unit that will decide this one before the coin is even flipped at Jerry World.
Don't worry, we've got you covered.
Defense wins...well, you know.
When A'Shawn Robinson talks, people listen. When he yells ... Duck. There's no room for foolishness or lollygaggers when the 308-pound Alabama defensive lineman's keeping an eye on things. Along with Jarran Reed, the defensive anchors have turned into a two-man accountability patrol.
It's the first we've heard of Jarren Reed being the other watchdog on the defense. When you throw in Ragland at the second level and Eddie Jackson lining up the secondary, that's a lot of angry veteran to keep the titchy ones in check.
Alabama defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, outside linebacker Denzel Devall and safety Eddie Jackson address the media in Dallas.
The counterpart to Sunday's offensive player presser. Eddie Jackson cracked me up calling the defensive line "a bunch of savages and caged animals."
Alabama safety Eddie Jackson had some interesting words of praise for his teammates on the defensive line during Monday's Cotton Bowl press conference, calling them "savages" and "a bunch of caged animals."
A'Shawn was fairly amused by Jackson's comments as well. I'm fairly drooling to see Jack Allen face A'Shawn and Reed, who are then spelled by Da'Ron Payne and Darren Lake.
Alabama Coach Nick Saban reached into the NFL ranks to bring Mel Tucker in to coach safeties. That has pleased Jackson. "He’s brought a lot of energy," Jackson said. "He’s a guy who will scream at you, day-in and day-out. ‘Break on the ball!’ ‘Scoop and score!’ "Rip it out! Rip it out!’ So things like that it really motivates us and gets us going." Jackson didn’t know he would be playing safety until about a week prior to the end of spring practice. He first talked to Saban, then to Tucker, then to Smart. "It was a bit of a rush," he said, "At first, I was like, ‘Ahhh.’ But I played safety in high school. Whatever Coach Saban feels is best, I put my trust in him. He’s never led me down the wrong path."
The development of Humphrey at the other CB spot allowed Eddie Jackson to step into his free safety spot, where he has absolutely thrived. With the almost-seamless transition of Freshman Minkah Fitzpatrick to the Star position, the secondary has been the most improved unit in the country. Jackson still has another year of eligibility, and I would love to see him play out the string and earn a decent NFL draft grade next season.
"I still see guys in there crying," he said, not quite finished with his initial thought. It continues to bother Ragland how it all happened. The turnovers were one thing, but he understands now as a senior that it was more than that. He says that the leadership wasn’t where it needed to be, people weren’t getting called out enough for slacking off, and too many players were more worried about the draft board than the scoreboard. He stopped short of throwing any one person under the bus, but he didn’t hold back and said "some guys are pretenders."
Reggie has seen some shit. Since he still dreams of the ending of last year's Sugar Bowl, it's safe to say that his motivation level is definitely there. A coaching staff can only do so much to motivate a lead a team where 85 players are among the most highly regarded in the nation -- at some point, players have to police themselves. Internal leadership have largely made the difference in Saban's championship seasons, and the 2015 Alabama Crimson Tide have it in spades.
After comparing Connor Cook to Peyton Manning, Alabama players aren't exactly providing good bulletin board material for the Spartans.
Why would you give Cook motivation? That guy is an excellent quarterback, even if, despite his protestations, he's playing with one shoulder. (Not that I much truck with the "x wants to win" theory. Everyone wants to win. Everyone wants to advance. Discipline and playing your assignment win far more often than trying to win with emotion. It's the difference between playing smart and loose, and playing in a mental fog and uptight.)
Offense sells tickets.
It was that — and the fact Saban took a chance on hiring Kiffin in the first place — that has kept him at Alabama. It's also why Kiffin refused the 49ers OC position after the 2014 season. "It didn't feel right," Kiffin said. "He really took a chance on me. The phone wasn't ringing, even for assistant coaching jobs. It wasn't, and I felt like we didn't really finish what we started last year and to see if we could go this year and finish how we should have finished last year and get him another championship."
This was covered a bit yesterday, but the national sites have a few more juicy quotes. This is a non-issue in any event. There is a reason Lane Kiffin's name has not been seriously bandied about. He is entering the last year of his $4m+ buyout with USC. It makes no financial sense for him to take any job that does not pay at least $4.36 million dollars per year -- everything is a lateral step. And, since Kiffin is still reclaiming and rebuilding his public perception, why not tutor one more year under one of the best in the business and learn how to run a collegiate program the right way? Humbled but not broken is the best Kiffin.
The third-ranked Spartans face No. 2 Alabama on New Year's Eve night in the College Football Playoff semifinal at the Cotton Bowl, and they are determined not to crack. "As the game progresses, people wear down," Michigan State co-defensive coordinator Harlon Barnett said Sunday. "You get tired of hitting that big back. Boom. Again. Here he comes again. Boom. Again and again and again. And so you have to have the mental toughness to be able to say, 'Hold on. We're going to hold up and we're going to keep smacking him. Keep hitting him.' "It's a test of wills and his will has won out a lot of times this season."
Michigan State has one of the nation's best front fours. That said, the operative word there is "four;" teams with better depth have tried and failed. If Alabama can stay ahead of the chains consistently, then the beefy Tide line that is built to mash is going to do some work in the second half. You still have to think that Coker is going to have to need to make some big plays, particularly early, to keep the Spartans off-balance.
Henry is faster than they expected for a back his size. Defenders who dare take a wrong angle may be on the wrong end of a 60-yard run. And then there's Henry's penchant for wearing down opponents in the fourth quarter, what with many of those 40-plus carries helping salt away a Crimson Tide lead. What can the Spartans do to reverse that trend? "What do you have to do to wear out anyone who's [6-3]?" said Heath. "You have to go for his legs, make sure you're tackling him low enough, just being able to plug those holes up so he doesn't have any room to break the big play."
I devoutly hope the Michigan State game plan is to try to ankle tackle Derrick Henry. If he can slip the first guy, the Alabama running game is in excellent shape early -- as we saw versus a team with a similar gameplan, Wisconsin.
"I think that that’s something people don’t give him [Saban} very much credit for," Kiffin said Sunday. "The thing about him is he is always changing. They think maybe he’s old school and it just is how it is. It’s not. Whether it’s him bringing in other people in or sending us out to go see people, and he does it on defense too. He’s always watching, he’s always looking at things and new approach to things." Kiffin appreciates the loose reins on the offense. It’s allowed them to change the tempo like in 2014 and to an extent this year. The past two years, Alabama has averaged 73 plays a game even with two different approaches to the offense. 2014 featured receivers more than runnings backs. "One of the things coach Saban talks about is always utilizing your players and not just trying to do what you do," Kiffin said. "And so I think the offense is a very good example of that. Much different obviously from last year. Very different quarterback from Blake [Sims] to Jake [Coker]. Having Amari Cooper catching 125 passes. And then a year later going to games where we’re running the ball 80 percent of the time in the game."
Really good read from the CW on Nick Saban's "evolution," when it's not at all an evolution of any sort. He is on record as wanting to open the offense up. Remember, when he came into his own as a college head coach, the single-back, three-wide offense he prefers was very much considered a dynamic, balanced one -- and favored by the wide-open PAC 12 teams. Alabama can and does revert to paleoball, but as we've seen every season since 2008, Alabama's offense will always reflect the talent on-hand, and not necessarily be 11 square pegs hammered indelicately into an equal number of round holes.