This is the new talking point...
McFarland said Alabama's weakness is moving the ball when freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts' rushing attack is slowed. "LSU showed it for three quarters," McFarland said. "Take away Hurts' legs and they struggle moving the football. I think it showed against LSU for three quarters and we'll see if any other team can have a game plan like that."
But back to the blueprint on how to stop Alabama. "You have to play the quarterback," Danielson said simply. "LSU was zeroed in on Jalen Hurts, a running back who can throw. You could tell early that Alabama didn't feel comfortable letting him go to (Calvin) Ridley and OJ Howard. ... "I really wonder if Ohio State, Clemson and teams can press this Alabama football team. I'm not sure if there is one in the SEC, to be truthful."
This is this week's talking point: Take away Hurts and Alabama ain't all that. Michigan wins an error-prone 14-7 game and it's a gritty tough win. Alabama shuts out one of its rivals, with an intentionally conservative gameplan, in one of the most hostile venues on the planet, at night, and it's cause for alarm. Every week it's something different: Tennessee's running game, USC's playmakers, "mobile quarterbacks," Chad Kelly, Trevor Knight's rehashed performance from three years ago. The next few weeks expect the "Auburn/Tennessee/Florida/Washington/Michigan/Ohio State/Clemson will take away Hurts" lazy, slipshod reporting.
Don't tell us we didn't warn you.
Mississippi State and injuries
Alabama's leading tackler has been sporting a new accessory at practice this week. A ball of white tape formed what amounts to a club on his left hand. Nick Saban explained the reason for it Wednesday evening. "He hurt his finger," Saban said. "So to protect his finger in practice, they put a big club on there." It doesn't sound serious.
Also knicked up is Bo Scarbrough, who had a mild knee injury versus LSU. He'll see limited action this week, I would guess, as he heals up for the Iron Bowl. BJ Emmons is still out. And Shank is still not participating.
For a second straight day, a different player was practicing at first-team right guard. Korren Kirven was taking reps with the first group as Lester Cotton, the starter the last three games, watched the action. Josh Casher worked with the first team Tuesday and was practicing with the second group Wednesday. -- Freshman Chris Owens, who had been a guard, was the second-team left tackle. -- Once again, Alphonse Taylor was not spotted in the media viewing window. He hasn't been seen practicing since getting a concussion Oct. 8 at Arkansas.
I don't believe Cotton is hurt. Nor has he played poorly in his three starts. Is the Tuscaloosa native in the doghouse? Or is the Tide trying to develop depth down the stretch? We'll keep an eye on this one.
He’s far from perfect. His ability to run the football has masked obvious deficiencies in the passing game with the eighth-fewest passing yards in the SEC and the seventh-fewest touchdowns. But that’s who he is right now, and for a freshman to lack polish isn’t a revelation. For him to be the leader of the No. 1 team in college football is, however.
I wouldn't want to evaluate anyone on a body of work that is nine games deep, but he is growing, and part of that growth is making mistakes. He'll be a much more developed player a year from now than he is today, and the addition of Tua Tagovailoa will only press him to improve.
Cheatin' Bammers, Pawwwwl
Alabama used an exception to the practice rules that was adopted in 2011. NCAA bylaw 18.104.22.168 reads: A former student at the certifying institution (e.g., former student-athlete) may participate in an organized practice session on an occasional basis, provided the institution does not publicize the participation of the former student at any time before the practice session. Essentially, as long as each player’s participation is "occasional" and Bama doesn’t blast information to the public beforehand on alumni at practice, everything’s good. Any team could do this kind of thing.
The players seem to really love having the alumni back, and the defense certainly benefited from getting rammed by Trent Richardson for a week. It's a fantastic coaching technique and kudos to the Alabama compliance folks for using this loophole to the Tide's advantage.
Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson will enter the 2017 NFL draft after this season, Clemson head coach Dabo Swinney said. Swinney made the announcement during a press conference on Tuesday. Clemson tailback Wayne Gallman and receivers Mike Williams and Artavis Scott are also entering the draft. The four players are all juniors and will graduate next month. They will be honored during Senior Day this weekend.
This is something to keep an eye on, with three regular season games remaining in the season, an ACCCG berth, and almost certainly a playoff appearance, four guys have checked out already. Whether this impacts the Tigers as it did Alabama in 2014 and Ohio State in 2015 remains to be seen, but it's not a good sign when players are publicly planning their future in early November. Clemson could be ripe for an upset.
The concern I have, talking to coaches all over the country every week, they’re really struggling, because let’s say you come up short in the playoff, and by golly, your consolation is you go to the Rose Bowl. Or you come up short and you go to the Sugar Bowl. Think about where we were five years ago, 10 years ago, 20 years ago.
I think this is a matter of setting and managing realistic expectations, and that comes from the coaching staff. To wit: Alabama was not favored to win the SEC crown in 2014, and that's what made the season so much fun. This season the defense was championship calibre, but the offense was full of questions, hence the season's expectations were up in the air. Again, that's what makes it fun. I don't think this all-or-nothing mentality is really being borne out in reality, even with objectively entitled fans like Alabama has.
Finally, enjoy a laugh
My god, the SEC East is putrid. And the best part is, Alabama has a chance to steamroll Florida or potentially beat Tennessee twice in two months. First thing's first though: Mississippi State.
How bad has the SEC East become? According to S&P efficiency ratings by SB Nation's Bill Connelly, the Mountain West's Mountain Division is stronger than the SEC East in 2016. That's not a misprint. A division with Wyoming, Boise State, New Mexico, Colorado State, Air Force and Utah State is considered better than a division with Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, South Carolina, Missouri and Vanderbilt.