THE CHASE FOR 14 BEGINS...again...
For those who have followed the blog since last season, you'll recognize this as my preview for Alabama's game against Penn State this weekend. For newcomers, it's set up as less of a preview and more of my own personal advice for the Crimson Tide on what they need to do (and not do) to win this game. Advice that nobody asked for, of course.
Me being the "Alabama guy" here and all, obviously the insight here will skew more towards the Crimson Tide's end of things, but I think you'll generally find enough info on the Tide's opponent to be of interest to non-Bama fans. That said, this edition will be more Bama-centric than usual since much of my advice will focus on larger issues that figure to face the Tide beyond this one game. But, really, until someone steps up and proves otherwise, the road to the SEC championship and beyond goes through Tuscaloosa in 2011. Love 'em or hate 'em, you gotta keep an eye on these guys. So read it already. And no skipping to the pick at the end...
NOTE: For the sake of brevity, we will always assume that Alabama needs to run the ball, stop the run, and limit turnovers to win the game. These are the basic tenets of the faith when it comes to Alabama football, and time could be better spent elsewhere. Though I will make a season-opening exception for one of those today.
1. The Defense needs to finally grow up. For all the gnashing of teeth over the 2010 Bama defense, the fact is that by most of the standard metrics it was very, very good. On average, they allowed less than 2 TDs a game! At home, they were even better, allowing less than 10 points a game (and that's with the 28-point Iron Bowl meltdown skewing the numbers). It was a young, inexperienced unit, but by and large, those kids knew what they were doing. It wasn't a lack of knowledge that kept them from being a championship-caliber defense.
No, the problem manifested itself in Fayetteville, in Columbia, in Baton Rouge, and in the clutch against Auburn. As many young players do, they struggled with regulating their emotions in intense situations. Call it lack of composure or poise. Maybe even call it a lack of character. But when the big moments came, they choked. More specific to the challenge at hand this weekend, each and every time they went into a wild, hostile road environment, their quality of play dramatically declined. It was only Ryan Mallett being Ryan Mallett that saved them from going 0-3 on the road against teams with a pulse.
And that's where they'll be this Saturday afternoon: on the road, in front of the biggest crowd to ever watch an Alabama football game, against a team (and fanbase) that's super motivated to avenge last year's loss. If this Bama defense doesn't have it's mind right, the results could be shockingly similar to 2010.