| FTBL Alabama will have its hands full with Houston: Game Preview


Intrigued. That’s the only word I can use to describe the feeling I have looking at Homecoming, 2007.

Stepping back eleven months and looking around I found myself peering around the NCAA and wondering who would be the next coach leading the Crimson Tide program. As I looked around different programs there were a few names and reputations that stuck out like a sore thumb. We’ve heard a few of the names like Coach Rod out of West Virginia. We’ve seen those people who were calling for the University to enlist Paul Johnson out of the service academies. I didn’t find myself in either category, although, I wouldn’t have been disappointed with either coach. I had to rely on friends saying, “Hang on, it’s Saban.”

I bring this up for one reason alone. The coach that I had my eye on is the same coach we’ll see roaming sidelines when we face Houston this weekend. One Art Briles. If you don’t know his reputation, you will come Saturday evening. He’s one of the “up and comers” in college football. Character issues aside, he reminds me a lot of Franchione. Here we have a coach at a smaller school in terms of reputation and size, but a coach that is making waves throughout the NCAA. Here’s a coach that fit all of Coach Mal Moore’s requirements. In four years he’s led his team to 3 bowl games and the CUSA conference championship last year.

The Houston Cougars are far from the team we faced back in the DuBose era. Right off the bat, we need to clear one thing up. Even though it is the homecoming game, this is by no means a cake walk. We faced one of the strongest rushing attacks in the NCAA when we played Arkansas three weeks ago. We very well may face one of the most balanced attacks we’ve seen so far this season when the Cougars visit Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Last season, the Cougars ranked 28th in rushing and 8th in passing at the end of the season. Granted, their quarterback, Kevin Kolb, has graduated. But, the CAB system (simply named after Coach Art Briles) is still very much in place. Even with the loss of four key starters on offense we are going to be seeing a team that looks like they have returned all eleven, and those eleven have been on the field for years.

I look at the bowl season last year and see where South Carolina handled the Houston attack. I try to balance that out with the knowledge of our defense. While we’ve had above par performances (based on pre-season prognostications) we’ll have our work cut out for us this weekend. We talked about how we may end up having a few games that are shoot-outs. This game, very well may be the first of the season.

So, how does this game break down for the Tide? In a word, defense. In two words, defensive backfield.

Houston features a solid pair of receivers in the combination of Donnie Avery (9 receptions last week for 189 yards including a 100 yard kick return) and Jeron Harvey. These two combined for close to 100 receptions last year and over 1500 yards. So, should we try to shut down the passing attack? That will only leave our defensive line and linebackers to contain Anthony Avery who didn’t quite reach the 1000 yard mark last year but averaged right at 10 yards per carry.

Last year, the Cougars main defensive package was the 3-4. It won’t be something our offense isn’t used to seeing, but they occasionally move to a 4-2-5 which will lead to something we’ve seen a lot of lately; short, intermediate routes underneath the linebackers.

Much like their offense, there is plenty of talent in their defense. Houston returns their top two tacklers from last year at the line backing position: Trent Allen and Cory Lubojasky. A transfer from Oklahoma State, Stephen James, and play maker Rocky Schwartz make this the best tandem of linebackers in CUSA. Perhaps, one of the best groups in the NCAA.

How will we fare this weekend?

Yes, I expect the Tide to win Homecoming ’07. But, I have to jump back a few years to explain how we’ll do that.

I’m sure you remember all the talk about the Cotton Bowl in 2005. About how we were faced defending one of the most efficient offenses in the nation, how some writers said that Texas Tech would hang 50 on the Tide. Yet, at the end of the game we saw an offense once considered prolific, stymied.

One trait of that game, which was a switch from how we played the entire season, was the press coverage we had with our defensive backs. It wasn’t something Coach Joe Kines routinely employed in his defensive scheme, but it is a staple in the Saban/Steele defense. We’ll need to pressure those receivers out of their normal routes immediately.

While we were able to get a little pressure on Weatherford last week, we’ll need to do the same, and more, this weekend.: against, if I may add, a good offensive line. We are facing an offensive scheme like none other we’ve faced this year. If we let their offense get into a rhythm, we very well may be in for a long day.

Once again, we need our offense to find a rhythm as well. Only, in the first few minutes of the game instead of the last few minutes.

If we still had the Shula staff in place at the Capstone not only would I be writing about the 1-4 record, but I’d likely be calling for Alabama to be entering the upcoming Tennessee weekend with only one win to their credit.

My, how things have changed.
A small practice note...

We've been running a lot of 5 and 6 DB sets this week. One thing Shula did is recruit a lot of defensive backs...we are going to need that depth this weekend.

People have been talking about the QB position quite a bit the last few weeks. I'm more interested in how the RCB position plays out since we are literally rotating 3 players at that position right now. At this point, I'd say Kareem gets the start.

We've seen a few blitz packages this season...but, not very many at all if you compare it to the LSU days with Saban.

The play calling threads are a joke to me...
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