Kirk Herbstreit shared his thoughts on why Alabama held onto its No. 3 ranking.
“I think it’s the circumstances. Rivalry game, on the road,” Herbstreit said on ESPN. “Yeah, they had to fight like crazy to get it into overtime. If you really watch the game … Auburn played their tails off. Alabama, give them credit for finding a way to get it into overtime and win it. I don’t have any problem with Alabama being there at 3.”
For those of you that care about the CFP Rankings (read: I don’t), this will be the only article I link to about it. Alabama is still hanging out at 3rd. Honestly, it doesn’t really matter. I consider things a single-elimination tournament for the Tide for 3 rounds from here on out. Beat Georgia, and they’re in. Lose, and they’re mostly likely out, barring some shenanigans from other teams in the hunt.
For 58 minutes and 25 seconds, Alabama was a mess.
On the road at Auburn, nothing was going right offensively. Quarterback Bryce Young’s Heisman Trophy hopes were circling the drain and running back Brian Robinson Jr. struggled to move the chains.
The defense played well, but the offense was threatening to score three or fewer points for the first time during the Nick Saban era.
And while Young rallied the troops in the final 1:35, throwing the game-tying touchdown with 24 seconds left and then winning the game during the fourth overtime on a 2-point conversion, it doesn’t change the fact that Auburn exposed a vulnerable Alabama team one week before an SEC championship game against Georgia.
The real issue: the offensive line, which gave up seven sacks and a total of 17 plays for zero or negative yards.
It continued a trend we’ve seen all season long. Alabama’s line, which usually hits its stride during the second half of the season, has continued to stumble down the stretch, allowing pressure on 28.3% of dropbacks, a figure that ranks ninth in the SEC.
Many of us (myself included) were excited for the change at right tackle last week... Until it absolutely backfired against Auburn. I think it seems we’ll see Chris Owens back at RT for the remainder of the year.
The real question is: who’s going to play center? Seth McLaughlin got pancaked by a 215-pound linebacker when he first came into the game, but he seemed to lead the line into much more effective blocking for the rest of the game after that. Dalcourt left due to injury, of course, but it’s fair to wonder if McLaughlin just straight up outperformed him.
In any case, Alabama has a major weakness to figure out how to scheme around in the next 3 days.
“Obviously you have to watch the film and acknowledge the mistakes,” Neal said Tuesday. “But you also have to look at the good things we did, because it wasn’t all bad. We did more bad things than you would like to. Watch the film, go out there and do things in practice, and move on. You can’t sit and dwell on the past when we have a big game this week. We need to do everything in our power to have a good week of practice, good mental energy, good focus that we can go out there and execute this Saturday.”
The advanced analytics on FootballOutsiders.com speak to some of the issues from this season. Alabama’s ground game is No. 57 nationally with a 17.2% stuff rate — the percentage of running plays stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage. A year ago, it was No. 12 with a stuff rate of 13.1% when it had three offensive linemen now in the NFL and first-round running back Najee Harris.
In terms of quarterback pressure, the 7.1% sack rate is No. 82 compared to No. 7 last fall at 2.7%.
Perhaps more important is the power success rate defined as the “percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown,” on Football Outsiders. The Crimson Tide is No. 81 this year at 65.4% after finishing No. 5 last year at 90.3%.
The numbers have been less than flattering for the offensive line in advanced metrics as well, and Evan Neal acknowledged the issues. I do find it important that he talks about moving on and not dwelling on mistakes. We fans can afford that luxury, but for the players, a strong, competitive mentality is more important than trying to improve ability or scheme at this point in the season.
The Crimson Tide’s offensive line has struggled of late, with its quadruple overtime win on the road at Auburn being the latest instance. Alabama averaged 1.8 yards per attempt and couldn’t get anything going on the ground. Robinson has made up for some of the miscues and is over 1,000 yards, but if he can’t go, the Tide loses an experienced runner and blocker.
UA’s only healthy option at the position is Sanders, who filled in late last week at Jordan-Hare Stadium. He rushed for 23 yards on 10 carries and caught two passes for 12 yards. Nine of his 10 rushing attempts came in either the fourth quarter or the four overtimes. On the season, the redshirt sophomore has accounted for 221 yards and two touchdowns on 50 carries.
“He really did a good job,” Saban said. “I mean, he did a nice job catching the ball. He did a good job in block protection, especially on some critical passing situations when they blitzed. He made great pickups and ran the ball fairly effectively. So we were pleased.”
Compounding issues for the Tide is the fact that Brian Robinson seems very likely to miss this game with a hamstring injury, leaving Alabama with just their fourth-string running back left on the roster. Trey Sanders has been coming along very slowly after his devastating hip injury from a car crash last year, and this week is going the be the week he has the chance to put things together and prove himself in front of the world.
Scott Woodward got his big name.
From the moment news broke LSU fired Ed Orgeron, sources told AL.com that the LSU AD would hire a big name as his next football coach. Woodward had earned a reputation as a big-name hunter who relished hiring a coach no one thought would leave, no matter the cost. This was a man who hired Chris Petersen away from Boise State when others had tried and failed, and convinced Jimbo Fisher to leave Florida State for Texas A&M. It was why, those sources explained, Woodward was never seriously interested in then-Louisiana head coach Billy Napier, who has since left for Florida. Napier might have been the right coach for LSU — only time will tell — but he wasn’t a sexy enough name for Woodward and some of his key constituents who essentially gave him a blank check to go out and get a top coach.
I’ll give LSU credit, this was a hire that certainly shocked me. The amount of money involved with firing Orgeron and now hiring Brian Kelly is staggering, and is a major risk for a football program that seems to be spiraling downward very, very quickly.
Maybe Kelly can be the best coach in the country with SEC talent at his disposal. It would certainly be easy to convince yourself of that. Or maybe competing against other SEC schools will expose his years of feasting on an Independent schedule. If you like that argument, it seems just as viable.
In any case, LSU definitely put themselves right back into the center of national headlines. If Kelly and his new team play things correctly, they’ll need to use every bit of that new attention to swing for the fences in recruiting in the next two weeks.