| FTBL BAMA/Vandy Recap

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BAMA Wins 24-10, But Has Work To Do


If the BAMA win over Vanderbilt provides us with anything more than another "W" in the left hand column it gives us a good point from which we can determine just where this Tide team is at this point in the season. While blowout victories over teams like Western Carolina are a great way to start off a season and generate excitement, they don't really go a long way in helping a coaching staff determine where a team is really at. Arkansas will provide the BAMA staff with a lot of valuable info next weekend, but the real learning process began today in Nashville.

The game today no doubt left some BAMA fans scratching their heads, searching for answers and wondering if their beloved Tide passed the test. In my personal opinion I would say that the Tide did pass the test, but just barely. BAMA fans learned some things about the team today but there are still many questions that remain unanswered.

After watching the contest today I would wager that the most pressing question from the average BAMA fan would have to be something along the lines of, "What happened to the offense today". Maybe the real question is, what can BAMA expect to get out of the offense on a consistent basis?

It's an ironic turn of events considering the way the game began. For the second week in a row Alabama opened things up on their side with a huge return and a score on the team's first offensive play. At this point we figured the blowout was on and the media "experts" once again have no idea what they're talking about. The only problem with all of that is someone forgot to tell the Tide that the blowout was on. After the initial success BAMA's offense looked more like the 2006 version than the new and improved version. While BAMA moved it fairly efficiently between the 20's and converted 44% of its 3rd-down attempts in the first half, the team was hampered by continual red zone troubles. In four trips to the zone the Tide managed only 9 points after their initial touchdown. This is a theme that plagued last year's Tide offense, and one that Saban and his staff will work hard on putting to rest once and for all.

The remedy for today's red zone woes can be found in execution. Better execution from the players to be exact. While Applewhite's offense to day was generic and vanilla in a lot of instances it was also largely effective when the execution was there. The problems sprang up with periodic botched assignments and lapses in focus. There were too many dropped passes today, while at other times BAMA linemen just didn't hit the blocks like they should have. It was particularly visible on several of Applewhite's toss sweeps when Vandy defensive linemen were not sealed off and allowed to get max penetration, thus forcing BAMA running backs to bounce out and back to avoid the tackle. Not only does time wait for no man, it waits for no sweep either. Penetration on the edges is a sweep-killer and with today's speedy linebackers many teams simply refuse to run the play due to its slow-developing nature. If Applewhite and Pendry are going to run the play then the linemen and wide outs will have to consistently perform for it to be effective.

Another point of concern to Tide fans was the overall lackluster play of John Parker Wilson. While the junior quarterback finished with decent numbers he spent a lot of the day just looking out of it. Again, some of this was due to drops, but often it was Wilson just not making the throws. There were a number of instances where Parker seemed to get what we call "happy feet". With seemingly no pressure to his backside he appeared to get overly-anxious and made some poor decisions in the process several times today.

But having said all of that, I have to believe that a lot of what we saw today from BAMA had to do with a bunch of kids still in the in the process of learning a new offensive system. I firmly believe that to be the case. This is not "whistling through the graveyard" either. It's just a fact. Let's not forget that all in all, we are exactly two games into the Saban/Applewhite era. And one of those games was really nothing more than a Western Carolina team being presented as a sacrificial lamb to the BAMA Nation during a glorified scrimmage. Again, games against teams like this are nice when you win. It's akin to pee wee football where everyone plays and everyone wins. It's just not all that conducive to evaluating your team is all.

Other points of concern heading into the game today involved the play of the defense and that of the kicking game. I think in large part, BAMA went a long way today in answering some questions and figuring out just where we are in both of those area.

First let's start with Leigh Tiffin. Believe it or not, I actually want to throw Leigh props here. While he's still hovering at around 50% on the year I think we have a kid that is starting to slowly but surely get his confidence and rhythm back. The game against Arkansas next week might be the ultimate psychological test however. In today's game though Tiffin kicked pretty well in my opinion. I know that 3 of 5 isn't stellar but it's what BAMA fans have become accustomed to in recent years. Tiffin has the chance to take us beyond that when you stop to consider that in his two misses one was a beautiful kick that had the distance but sailed just wide, while the other was a bad snap that threw Tiffin's timing off. Tiffin came very close to nailing both kicks though and that my friends, is a very positive sign.

Defensively we just are not going to pitch shutouts this year and I think that's a given. Even the most ardent Tide fan would have to admit that the team is young and raw defensively. It's also reasonable to conclude that maybe we're just not as talented defensively as we've been the last few years. But all in all, I don't see why this young group can't continue to improve and at least keep BAMA in games this season.

Today was a good example of how BAMA is improving as a unit. If anyone is wondering why Vandy was the sexy upset pick this week it is because BAMA's defense is just not that good. Or so we've been led to believe. With Vandy's explosive Nickson/Bennett combo the media talking heads naturally assumed that Vandy could give BAMA some serious trouble offensively because,..well, they did it to Richmond after all. What was expected to be Vandy's shot at an upset turned into a 5-18/4 reception performance. While BAMA certainly was not lights out today on defense they did what they had to do to win. What they had to do was disrupt Nickson and find a way to contain Earl Bennett. They succeeded in doing both.

Are their holes in the defense? Absolutely. Were their occasional busts and blown coverages? It appeared that there were. Is the BAMA defense improving? Obviously. And one of the major areas of improvement was along the front seven, as the unit did a nice job of plugging holes and putting pressure on Vanderbilt signal-callers. Four tackles for a loss and 2 sacks is a start, but more will be needed in order to shield a young secondary from SEC offenses.

With all of the lingering questions surrounding the team, I feel that we have learned a good deal as well. The first and most obvious thing that we've learned is that Terry Grant just rocks!

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Terry Grant/www.nmathletics.com

Any questions regarding whether or not Grant was the real deal based off of his Western Carolina numbers were put to rest today. Terry picked up right where he left off last week, reeling off an impressive 174 yards rushing and two scores. While Vandy doesn't have one of the conferences top 3 or 4 units it is serviceable and Grant's number are legitimate.

But to give Grant full credit for the performance today would be to ignore the contributions of the offensive linemen that opened up the holes and paved the way. At one point in today's game Grant averaged an almost astronomical 9 yards per carry. Much of that can be attributed to a front five that opened holes big enough for even Lee Corso to run through. On BAMA's second touchdown for example, Grant was never even touched as he blew into the end zone. If there is an area that the offensive line needs to improve it is picking up the blitz. When Vanderbilt brought pressure it seemed to confuse the BAMA linemen at times and opened the door for negative plays by Wilson and the running backs. Overall you can't dismiss the play of the unit, especially considering how they fared the last couple of years. The offensive line still has work to do, but they are making huge strides already.

Another comfort that you have to take away from today's game is the overall play of the special teams. While Tiffin looks to be getting his legs under him, Javy Arenas continues to be nothing short of a weapon in the return game. So far this year he's been the spark that ignites the BAMA offense, if not the place-setter that brings the offense to the scoring table.

While coverage and returns have been a concern at times in recent seasons the staff looks to be addressing the issue quickly and turning what was a liability into an asset.

So after the first real test of the season what have we learned about Alabama? I think it's reasonable to say that while we're not a great team at this point we are a team that is in the process of evolving and improving. And what else can a Tide fan ask for this year? Whether we want to admit it or not, we're still in a period of transition. We have a staff that continues the process of instilling a new mentality (as well as a new system) into the team. The defense is young and inexperienced. The offense is a work in progress. Both units will experience their fare share of bumps along the way in 2007.

The transition won't happen overnight, but BAMA is improving and there is a legitimate reason for optimism right now within the BAMA Nation, after having passed the first real test of the season. No rest for the weary however, as the Tide's next major test comes rolling into Bryant-Denny next week with ill intent on their minds.

For now Tide fans, be happy and enjoy the victory. Roll Tide!
 
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