Alabama Football 2011: One Good Reason Why the Tide Can Beat Every Opponent
In a world of sound bites and tweets, sports can often be condensed into a few well chosen words.
In looking at each opponent on the 2011 schedule, what one salient point can be made regarding those match ups? What player or which scenario or what motivation will come into play that will make or break the game for the Crimson and White?
The purpose of this slide show is to nail down where the Tide has the edge in every 2011 game.
Game 1: Dress Rehearsal
Surely, the core of the 2011 Alabama team returns from the 2010 campaign. But key elements, star players, and the maestro who made it all work are gone.
So, what does a director do when a show has new people in key spots? He takes the show through a dress rehearsal. That's what the Kent State game will be.
Or, if the theater analogy makes you uncomfortable since you're wearing a NASCAR hat, think of the KSU game as a test drive.
The butterflies will be there, even for the veterans. We can point to first halves a few years ago against Clemson and then Va Tech where seemingly nervous Tide squads went into the locker room for the break with close scores only to break out in the second halves of those games.
We see something similar here. First time game situations will cause some confusion and some missed assignments, but it's far better to get those things out of the way against the likes of Kent State than against foes such as Penn State a week later in Happy Valley.
Game 2: Running Backs Verses Linebackers
The Nittany Lions won't be great this year. They struggled to reach 7-6 last year and a loss to Florida during bowl season.
But the Penn State pride runs true blue. Joe Pa will have his charges primed for this rubber match of a year ago, and the rabid fans in Happy Valley would love to knock off the Tide.
The way you quiet a boisterous home crowd is to pound away with the running backs and control the clock. Nothing gets more boring than watching the other team drive down the field three and four yards at a time while your defense grows weary and the offense stale.
Sure, this is Linebacker U we're talking about, but PSU lost almost all its starters from a year ago, and several new faces will try to plug the gaps. We don't think they can stay with the 'Bama backs.
We think they'll tire, fast, from repeated jabs of Richardson and Lacy.
Those two will have a week to rest after beating the Nittany Lions into submission.
Game 3: Early Bye Week
North Texas State University. The Mean Green. Seriously?
Ok, they have one of the best running backs in the Sun Belt, but that's like saying you have the best one legged date at the dance competition.
With the SEC schedule starting the next week, think of the NTSU game as an early bye week for the Crimson Tide.
How do we win this one? Show up and don't get hurt. Send in the scrubs after posting a quick 28 points in the first quarter. Give yourselves something to laugh about during the week before Arkansas.
Because the next 'off' week will not come for about seven weeks. And then you gotta face LSU.
So, starters, enjoy it and heal up from any nicks you got during the first two games.
Game 4: Turn 'Em Loose
Don't get us wrong. We don't think the Alabama coaching staff 'holds back' any segment of the game, per se.
True, against lesser foes, some more conservative play calling, especially with the game in hand, is called for. But against the SEC, why hold back anything?
The 2011 version of the Arkansas Razorbacks brings back most of the offense that scared the bejesus out of Tide fans last year and beat LSU as well.
Some say that the Hawgs won't even miss Ryan Mallett. We think those folks are right.
That's even more reason to let A.J. McCarron make his SEC debut by hitting the talented and athletic corps of receivers 'Bama has early and often. We all know Trent Richardson can catch and rack up RAC yards as well as his immediate predecessor did, so we'd like to see that, too, often.
On defense, bring out the heavy blitzes, confuse the offensive line and basically put the fear into the Razorbacks. If Alabama wins this SEC home opener and wins big, it'll send a message to the rest of the league and nation.
The road to Atlanta begins here. It could get a big boost by a big win right out of the SEC gate. Besides, you've had a week to rest up (see Game 3)!
So, this one can be chalked up to Saban and staff turning their team loose and out-coaching Petrino.
Game 5: Swagger in the Swamp
It was the nature of things for most of the rivalry. Alabama dominated Florida. That was the way things were supposed to be because that's the way things have been most of the time. In a tradition-rich University and State, "the way we've always done things" goes far.
Then Spurrier and Meyer changed that paradigm somewhat. The Tide suffered through many years of looking up at the Gators, a spot that was uncomfortable and unfamiliar, as Florida was clearly the better team for much of their respective tenures.
Two years ago, Saban righted the ship and the natural order of things returned. After last year's convincing win, the Tide made it two in a row.
The mystique, that air of invincibility, is gone from Florida for the Tide, and, while they are still a dangerous team, there is no more feeling that the Gators will dominate Alabama any more.
In short, the swagger has returned to the 'Bama side of the rivalry.
Back to back thrashings of Florida have proven that Alabama has nothing to fear from playing the Gators any longer. And we're not talking about a guaranteed-victory type of overconfidence, but we mean a feeling of entitlement that goes along with Alabama football. Simply put, we will win because that's what we do-especially to teams like Florida.
Even though the game's in Gainesville, we think the Tide's swagger will level any advantage the home team may feel.
Game 6: Crush the Commodores
Only four SEC teams have more wins against Alabama historically than does Vanderbilt. Sadly for the Commodores, most of those wins came before 1950.
Yes, Alabama has won the last 11 against the 'Dores. Now, truth be told, several of those games have been remarkably close in the recent past.
That's probably because of two reasons. One, Vandy gets up for 'Bama. Two, 'Bama usually overlooks Vandy.
The Commodores replace South Carolina on the SEC schedule, and we're glad. The Gamecocks may be the best team in the east, and we'll probably have to see them come December in Atlanta anyway.
But that's only if we don't overlook the Commodores. They're sandwiched between the Florida and Ole Miss games, and they're at home, so the temptation to take them lightly is there.
The Tide simply needs to crush them, and it can do so. Pull away early. Break their spirits. They'll be making good money after graduation, so football doesn't matter to them so much.
Only remember: Don't let down.
Game 7: A.J. Gets a Nickname
We've heard of folks who like Air J. Some may come up with McCarries. Others may want Air Mac.
Whatever nickname they come up with, they'll be using it in force on the Sunday following the Ole Miss game.
With a relatively untested and young defensive backfield, the 'Bama passing game should get a good workout on October 15 at Oxford. Remember last year when Saban busted out the no huddle and no back set? We see A.J. operating out of that type of hurry up and operating well.
By this time in the schedule, McCarron will have overcome any possible jitters (He'd better overcome them by the Kent State game. Seriously.), and he will have the confidence of his blockers, receivers and coaches to air it out.
We'll be happy to be pass-happy and ride A.J.'s arm to 'Bama's eighth straight victory over the Rebels or Bears or whatever mascot they'll have that week.
Game 8: Experience Wins out
We can't believe we're saying this, but we really like the direction Tennessee's headed.
Coach Dooley is a class act (as opposed to previous holders of that position and/or other coaches in Knoxville), and he has his young team believing in him.
Some serious talent sits on that Vol squad. Alabama can't take their youth lightly. We saw Tauren Poole scamper for six last year, and he'll be back with a vengeance. Add in the mix the up and coming talent of Tyler Bray, and you've got the makings of some good UT teams in the near future.
This one, we feel, will come down to depth and experience. We look for a close, hard fought game, and the tough rivalry will not be helped by the fact that the Tide will be eager to go to the bye week and get some rest and healing.
Experience will beat youth, but, pretty soon, that youth will be the ones with the experience.
Game 9: Beat the Bye You Blues
Nick Saban's record after bye weeks isn't stellar at 2-2 since coming to the Capstone. We can't figure out why.
And we're tired of saying LSU's Les Miles is lucky. Of course he is. But he can recruit, motivate, and coach.
So what makes us think that this year's game will be any different than the previous four so-called Saban Bowls? Different from the previous four (split 2-2) which were decided by less than a touchdown on average? It probably won't be much different, but it needs to be.
Coming off the bye week last year, the Tide seemed stuck in a low gear. Serious lapses on defense cost Alabama the game and a shot at a BCS game.
This year, the Tide must beat the bye week blues by beating the Bayou Bengals soundly at home. Saban and Co. must use the week off to throw in a wrinkle or two on both sides of the ball that would keep The Hat on his heels.
That post bye week win will set up the rest of the season nicely if it can be done.
Game 10: Doggone It
MSU's Dan Mullen is becoming something of a conundrum. On the one hand, he seems to be making the Bullies into bullies, beating up on Ole Miss, winning against his mentor at Florida, and trouncing Michigan last year en route to a nine win season.
On the other hand, he has yet to have a stellar recruiting class and has lost many of his key assistants to other positions. And when the Urban Meyer position came open, Mullen, seemingly, voted to stay in Starkville.
We like the guy and the way he's making the perennial doormat into a force in the SEC West. But the way you deal with the likes of Mullen and MSU is the way the Tide did it last year: A classic team beat down.
The 30-10 score was not as close as even as the 20-point final spread. And it came from all phases of the Alabama game. The Bulldogs couldn't get their offense going or their defense settled. It was like the 'Bama coaching staff knew exactly what play to call next.
As one MSU player said, "You can't beat (Alabama) if they know what you're doing."
That's the way you beat Mississippi State. You dog 'em.
Game 11: Winning the No-Win
There are reasons we don't like games like this. Players can get hurt. Winning by less than what folks think you should win by can create hard feelings or worse.
And-just ask Ole Miss last year and Michigan a few years ago-what happens if you blow it?
Now, we think none of this will happen, especially the loss. But how do you win the game you're not supposed to lose?
Luckily, in this case, it won't matter. Georgia Southern has been a traditional power in the FCS D1. They were 10-4 last season, making it deep into the playoffs and losing to Navy by only six points. But none of that matters.
In a repeat of last season's laugher against Georgia State, the Georgia Southern game will be successful if 'Bama can win without getting anyone injured.
Like the game against North Texas, this can be a pseudo-bye week before the Iron Bowl.
Game 12: Revenge Will Wear White
It's easy to say that the Iron Bowl's 2011 game will come down to a revenge match.
But the coaches for both schools will say that last year is last year and that this year is different. Don't let them fool you.
After the largest comeback in the history of the rivalry, the Tide was hurt and embarrassed. Those from last year's squad will look to make a statement this year and exact some measure of revenge.
'Bama will want to play hard enough to, as Coach Yost says to Coach Boone in Remember the Titans, "leave no doubt" in 2011.
We see the Tide not letting up off the gas until the end of the game. And maybe not even then. Sure, it won't make up for 2010, but revenge will sure be sweet.