Happy Friday, everyone. Tomorrow, the Tide will play another key game down the stretch against... eh, whatever. Just don't get anybody hurt in what amounts to a glorified scrimmage that neither team cares about, OK? Seriously, expect both teams to pull starters earlier than usual in this one. Each has bigger fish to fry as Chattanooga is projected to have a playoff game next Saturday while Alabama hosts Auburn on the way to the SEC title game.
There are a lot of young, exciting players on this team. A few guys to watch are wide receiver Trevon Diggs, linebacker Mack Wilson and defensive lineman Raekwon Davis.
Diggs scored his first career touchdown last week vs. Mississippi State. He's coming along as a receiver and as a punt returner. Wilson has made some plays on special teams and even has a reception touchdown. Hopefully he gets some run at inside linebacker because he could be one of the players in competition for the open spot next year when Reuben Foster leaves.
Davis is an animal on the defensive line. Alabama is going to lose Jonathan Allen and Dalvin Tomlinson. Davis is a player who'll need to step up and play a bigger role next season. Games like these are a good opportunity to get him some reps.
This is the most compelling reason to watch the game. Plenty of young guys will get a chance to show their wares, and even some veteran walk-ons may get to play for a few minutes in what is often the only action they see during their four years on campus.
Kirven and redshirt sophomore Joshua Casher split time at right guard this past weekend, and Saban said both players "did a really good job" against Mississippi State. This week in practice, it was Kirven that saw majority of the reps with the first-team offensive line. As movement occurs along the offensive line at an untraditional time in the season, Saban provided positive praise for the front five Thursday night -- but also reiterated his not-so-great prediction for the future of Alphonse Taylor (concussion) in an Alabama uniform. "I would say the offensive line has made a significant amount of improvement throughout the year," he said, "especially given the fact that probably one of the most stable starters, Alphonse Taylor, has not been able to play and may not be able to play for the rest of the year."
Nobody saw Kirven winning a starting job at RG in the pre-season, particularly at this late stage. It has to have been a frustrating season for local product Cotton. The young man was rated as a borderline 4/5 star OG coming out of Tuscaloosa Central High School, but thus far his technique has failed to catch up with his athleticism. Hopefully another offseason will do him some good. Assuming Bradley Bozeman returns for a fifth season, there is a decent chance that he and Josh Casher make up the right side of the OL next year, though there will be some fierce competition from a stellar incoming class.
"I mean, it's easy when Coach Saban's your coach — he couldn't care less," junior linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton said Monday. "We play Tennessee-Chattanooga this week. Y'all saw the upsets on Saturday. We can get upset just like everybody else. We've got to come out and execute and play ball."
It’s because of that understanding that Saban’s rant about never overlooking an opponent — no matter how overmatched it might be — was unnecessary this week. His players understand what is at stake right now with a third-straight trip to the College Football Playoff looming large following a Saturday of Top 10 upsets.
But while Alabama has thrived, the rest of the conference has wilted. Alabama is the only SEC team in the top 14 of the College Football Playoff rankings. Suddenly, its best win is against No. 13 Southern California - a Pac-12 opponent. Every other Power Five conference has more teams in the top 14.
It would be one thing if it was talented teams beating each other up, like what has happened in the past few years. Unfortunately, the SEC doesn't have that crutch to fall back on this season.
Alabama is certainly the most talented team in the SEC, but it is the consistent demeanor that Saban instills in the group that keeps them performing and focused. Many a highly talented roster has failed to reach its goals due to discipline issues and/or prima donna attitudes.
"What we're talking about, basically, is you have a play call, you have a pattern that develops, and the guy has to read, sometimes whether the middle of the field open, whether the middle of the field is closed, as to which side he's going to throw the ball to," he said. "So that's one of the things that we think about. Other times you're just trying to limit the side of the field he's going to throw the ball to, he's reading some kind of a high-low, which is a little bit easier for him to do." Still, Hurts has missed open receivers.
Until Saturday, the latter had been the extent of the passing game. Very basic "smash" style route concepts on one side of the field that allowed Jalen to roll out, make a quick read, and throw or take off. On Saturday he was finally able to stand in the pocket, go through some progressions, and make good throws over the middle. Expect to see a lot of that tomorrow.
The coach tied this back to the rule passed in 2008 that became known as the "Saban Rule." The regulation barred head coaches from going out to watch recruits in the spring. "They changed the rule because I went out and watched spring practice every day," Saban said with his trademarked intensity. "That's how we evaluated players. That's what we did in the NFL and that's what we wanted to do. And everybody complained about it. I go to the SEC Meeting and it was like 'You're doing something wrong.' No, I'm not doing anything wrong. You're allowed to do this. You just don't want to do it. So why do you complain about me doing it."
Coach just said that y'all make rules to hold him back because you're too lazy to do the things he does.
Jonathan Allen, Alabama's two-time All-SEC defensive lineman who has scored on two fumble recoveries this season, says the Tide are opportunistic because they literally practice what they preach. "In practice, even if it's an incomplete pass, we want to try to pick it up and return it for a score," he says. In that way, they learn how to be offensive players too. "Scoop and score. That's something we live by."
The Walter Camp Player of the Year is voted on by the 128 Football Bowl Subdivision head coaches and sports information directors. A list of five finalists will be announced on Wednesday, November 30, and the winner broadcast live on ESPN SportsCenter on Thursday, December 8. Players from the top six teams in the most recent College Football Playoff rankings are on the list, including quarterback Jalen Hurts and defensive lineman Jonathan Allen from top-ranked Alabama (10-0).
This team continues to get nominated for every award imaginable. Lamar Jackson is probably still the favorite for the big ones despite stubbing his toe in spectacular fashion last night. Still, it would be great to see Jonathan Allen get an invite to New York. It's tough to argue against his status as one of the very best college football players at any position this season.
That's about it for today. Have a great weekend.