Friday, September 7, 2007

Behind Enemy Lines: RollBamaRoll's Alabama - Vanderbilt Preview

Our good friends at RollBamaRoll have put together a post to educate the Commie faithful on this Saturday's opponent. Our man in Tuscaloosa will be making the trip north for tomorrow's SEC kick-off, so if you see a lone Bama fan wandering around, looking like he doesn't know where to go, offer him some of your George Dickel and thank him for this fine post. Finally, for those of you in the DC area, VSL's own Bobby O'Shea (me) will be at Buffalo Billiards in Dupont Circle, watching the Commies dominate with the rest of the Commie faithful. If you are reading this and you live in the greater DC area, there is no reason for you not to be there

With this game being the first test for each team, there are still a lot of questions to be answered on both offense and defense, but hopefully I can at least give y'all a heads up on what to watch for from the Crimson Tide.

What to look for when Alabama has the ball:

First and foremost, Terry Grant. Even though the playcalling was vanilla against WCU and plenty of running plays were a foregone conclusion, I expect this team to be committed to the run with the backfield talent available. Grant has earned his "playmaker" moniker after an impressive spring, fall, and now debut, and he was already on his way to stardom last season after breaking off a 90ish yard TD run during his first scrimmage and being tabbed as a kick returner to take advantage of his speed. Unfortunately he was sidelined with a shoulder injury early on and redshirted, and we're only now getting to see what he can do.

Which is, well, that.

Depending on how well the offense is clicking, if the coaches decide to show a little more of the offense than they did against WCU then you can expect to see him used in slip screens and as a receiver out of the backfield more. That's something they've tried to install into the offense to take advantage of his speed and ability to play in space.

You can also expect the same from Jimmy Johns. The returning leading rusher for the Tide wound up at #2 on the depth chart, but since we are really running a two back system he and Grant are more like co-starters. Johns is the power back, and was used as a fullback/h-back a lot during the fall, though we didn't see any of that on Saturday. He too can catch out of the backfield, and we saw him making gains on a quick swing pass and a screen on Saturday, as well as line up at receiver (though the ball wasn't thrown to him). Again, depending no how much the coaching staff wants to show this early, we might see him and Grant both in the backfield, or they might keep things vanilla and swap each back out in single back sets or with a true FB as a lead blocker.

The TEs, namely Nick Walker, will also be a big part of the offense tomorrow, and you'll probably see a few play action bootlegs from the Tide. Walker was actually the only member of the team to notch a receiving touchdown in the opener, and he looked both athletic and physical in making people miss. After years of being considered extra linemen, the TEs all slimmed down and worked on their mobility during the offseason and it's paid off big for us. Expect them to be involved in short yardage and goal line situations.

As for the receivers, there's a bit of a mystery going on there. DJ Hall and Keith Brown both came back for their senior season and were heralded as the best 1-2 punch in the conference, but Brown has worked himself into the dog house and got himself suspended for the opener. There were mumblings that Mike McCoy, a sophomore, had supplanted Brown as the starter opposite DJ, and when it was revealed he was suspended for the first game and didn't appear on the depth chart, everyone kind of figured that McCoy had emerged as the second go to guy. Coach Saban has made it clear that he will have to earn his way back, so how much we see of him on Saturday is kind of up in the air.

Again, there isn't much to know about our passing attack from the last game, but here are two things to keep your eye on:

1. Spreading the ball around: Five different receivers caught passes on Saturday, and that's not including the throws to the TEs and RB/FBs out of the backfield. Some of that was due to backups getting time at the end of the game, but there is enough depth at WR for us that we can rotate a minimum of five guys and still be effective. DJ Hall is, of course, the go to guy, but any one of Mike McCoy, Earl Alexander, Keith Brown, Matt Caddell, and Nikita Stover are just as capable of making tough catches and big yardage.

2. Receivers blocking downfield: This was emphasized by the new staff (we even have a former TE coach working with the receivers)immediately, and it paid big dividends in the opener. Grant's biggest runs (as well as the rest of the backfield) were sprung by great blocking downfield.

I expect to see the passing game open up a little more this time out, but there is still the question of how much the staff wants to show. There only two or three attempts deep against WCU, with most everything thrown being screens, quick slants and outs, and just generally playing it safe and throwing underneath. I'd look for play action passing downfield this week, and probably some more attempts to get the ball deep to DJ Hall.

Throwing those balls will be John Parker Wilson. Wilson was solid if not spectacular last season, but he's in an offense now that he's more comfortable with (he played in a spread offense in high school before coming to the Shula style pro-set) and has an o-line that he can trust to protect him, plus a fuctional running game and playcalling that isn't spectacularly boneheaded hampering him, so he will be a much better QB this season. A big question coming out of spring was whether or not his mobility will be featured this year. He had one scramble for a good game in the opener, and was running for his life most of last season, so we know the kid can run. What we don't know is how, or if, that's going to be used. At the A-Day game there were several zone read plays run, but we didn't see any against WCU and don't know if that was just something they were experimenting with or if it's going to be a part of the offense. Either way, watch out for his mobility if he gets flushed from the pocket.

What to look for when Vandy has the ball:

Again, the playcalling was kind of vanilla in the opener, but there was one thing that stood out enough that Coach Saban called his players out for being "soft." The penetration at the point of attack was often lacking, letting the Catamount rushers get outside a few more times than I was comfortable with. We showed plenty of looks coming out of our base 3-4 defense (several times both outside linebackers became down linemen giving us a 5-2 look, but usually we had a 4-3 look with Keith Saunders playing as a rush end, and their was also a lot of nickel coverage), but the confusing blitz packages Saban is known for never materialized.

The line is still a big question mark for us as our starting NT suffered a broken ankle before the opener leaving us with two true freshmen as backups. The player rotation here is a bit confusing when considering the 3-4 defense and it's different looks and options, and more often than not you'll see our DEs, Wallace Gilberry and Bobby Greenwood, sliding over to play tackle while a linebacker takes their place at end. We'll have to see how well this works out for us on Saturday, and I'm sure the front seven will be in a constant state of flux all year long.

You should also probably have the equipment manager check the helmet snaps.

The linebacking corp will get a boost from the return of Prince Hall, last year's starter at MLB as a true freshman. He too was suspended for the opener for a violation of team rules (the general consensus is that he was busted smoking pot), but he'll be back this weekend and will likely regain his spot as starter. He was tabbed as the defensive play caller during the preseason, but those duties fell to true freshman Rolando McClain on Saturday. It was unclear if he was going to be a starter until the Hall suspension, but most folks generally felt that he was too good not to see plenty of playing time, and he proved it on Saturday with a 7 tackle performance (one for a loss) and also had a pass breakup. Starting beside him was Darren Mustin, who was also in his first start. He'll still likely see plenty of time but, unless Hall is relegated to backup until he earns his way back, could see another start on Saturday. The biggest defensive plays were made by this group, especially the gang tackle in the backfield by Mustin and McClain that resulted in a five yard loss and the WCU RB's helmet going flying. A lot of people have noted how hard we were hitting on Saturday, and this has been another point of emphasis of the new coaching staff. The "identity" they are trying to build for the defense is that of a fast, hard hitting, relentless bunch, and the LBs lived up to it against WCU.

The secondary looked frustrating a couple of times on Saturday, and, as much as I hate to say it, could be a question mark for us. Simeon Castille is the star back there, and I expect he'll be primarily responsible for covering Bennett. We seemed to have an marked inability to defend the quick slant, letting one go for over 60 yards and a score that was negated by a holding call, and time after time we got burned by it. There was also a few busted coverage plays that allowed the TE to sneak out into the secondary and come up with a big catch. Some of that is due to the complexity of the new schemes and plays, and it's been noted that the on the field communication was sketchy at times, so this is something that has either been worked on in game preparation and remedied or will come back to haunt us again.

As for how the defense will attack, I'd expect a lot more blitzing as the staff tries to get better penetration into the backfield and more pressure on the QB. Downfield there will likely be a lot of zone coverage, though with Bennett to account for you might see a lot of bump and run on him. It also seemed like we blitzed the corners from the backside an awful lot, so Nickson and whoever is starting at LT better be aware of that. Our secondary is speedy and athletic, so they could do some damage like that. Overall, though, you'll probably be just as frustrated as we are watching the Tide D go from one series in which they dominate the Vandy offense to the next one where they look out of place and even a little soft up front.

Hopefully that's given you and your readers some ideas about what to expect on Saturday. Best of luck the rest of the season, but this weekend, Roll Tide.


Anonymous said...

No offense, but I wouldn't give my worst enemy George Dickel.

fill the man's flask a 1/4 full with Johnnie W. Green Label or some Woodford's Reserve bourbon...

Boyer in the District said...

Why go with the Green? Infact, why even BOTHER with that blended crap.

Fill 'er up with some Balvenie Doublewood and get ready to get Nasty!

Bobby O'Shea said...

George Dickel is the official Sour Mash of the Vanderbilt Sports Line. Since you didn't know that Jason, we'll give you a pass on this on. For future reference, George is off limits