Thursday, November 8, 2012

Ag Football Preview: Alabama Crimson Tide

The Alabama Crimson Tide are one of college football's elite programs.  The Tide has 14 National Championships, 22 SEC Championships, and are one of the winningest programs in college football history.

Everyone instinctively points to Bear Bryant for this success, but this goes beyond the legend of The Bear.  Bryant had a National Championship from his playing days at ' of five that they had notched before he even showed back up in 1958 as the head coach.

I've read a couple of books about Bryant, a couple about 'Bama football, and then of course one of my favorites, Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer, by Warren St. John.  I've always like 'Bama and almost always rooted for them when I watched casually as a non-partisan viewer.  I have a framed picture of Bear Bryant hanging on the wall of my study (post-College Station).  This is one of the reasons I cried for two years for us to make the move the SEC.  Now that we play them regularly, I don't know if I'll be able to hold a level of respectable admiration (like I did for Nebraska) or if I'll grow to despise them like most of the conference already does.  This is one of the learning curves I'm going through with realignment.

Coach Wade Wallace won in 1925, 1926, and 1934 and then Coach Frank Thomas won in '34 (with Bryant on the squad) and '41.  National Championships, that is.
Bear in '61
Following Thomas' time in Tuscaloosa they settled down into normalcy for a number of years before stealing Bryant away from our Texas Aggies.  Bryant famously said, "Momma called. And when Momma calls, you just have to come runnin'."

In his fourth season, the Tide won the '61 NC and then went on to win again in '64 and '65.  Bryant's boys then hit a skid.  From '61-'66 the Tide were 60-5-1 but from '67-'70 they were a mere 28-15, including a couple of 6 win seasons.  Unfathomable, right?

What did Bear do?  He secretly consulted longhorn head coach, Darrell Royal, and brought the wishbone to Tuscaloosa in the off-season and turned college football on it's side. From 1971-1979 the Tide went 97-11 with three more National Championships.

The Bear retired following an 8-4 season in 1982 at the age of 69 and four weeks later he suffered a heart attack and died.  Thousands upon thousands of college football fans lined the interstate as his hearse drove to Birmingham.
He is the most legendary coach in the history of American sports.

Former All-American, Ray Perkins, takes over the impossible task of filling Bear Bryant's shoes. He was replaced by Bill Curry in '87 who was replaced in '91 by Gene Stallings.
Me with Bebes
Bebes Stallings was a Junction Boy under Bryant in 1954 at A&M and coached our Ags from '65-'71 (where he beat his mentor in the '68 Cotton Bowl).  He is currently on the Board of Regents at A&M....but he has a statue outside Bryant-Denny Stadium.  Why?  He won the National Championship in 1992.

(Jackie Sherrill also played for 'Bama under Bryant, yet another incredible tie in between the two schools)

Stallings continued a strong run through the mid-90s until Mike Dubose took over in '97.  That was kind of the beginning of the end.  The Tide went through Dubose, Fran, Mike Price, & Mike Shula over the next decade.  Yeah, we stole Fran from them, which at the time was a big deal - but, as we now know, it turned out to be yet another fleecing by the Tide.

Then, and excuse the pun, the tide turned.  'Bama went out and hired Nick Saban.  Game over SEC.

Saban took over a squad that went 6-7 in '06 and by '08 was SEC West Champs with a 12-2 season record.  One year later he was a National Champion behind Heisman winner, Mark Ingram ('Bama's lone Heisman winner).  Two years later Saban hosted the crystal trophy again.....and is sitting in the driver's seat this year.

He has a statue too. That's a pretty powerful recruiting tool.
On the way back from Auburn we visited Bryant-Denny Stadium and it is intimidating - even when it is empty.  It's the largest stadium I've been in (it holds just under 102,000 crazies) and it feels every bit as big as that.  It is just enormous.  I cannot wait until I get up to Tuscaloosa in '14 to see us play there.

I cannot imagine what the traffic is like getting to Tuscaloosa and getting to the stadium.  The city just doesn't seem like it would be really traffic friendly.

If you are lucky enough to be making the trip this weekend - do yourself a favor and get some ribs at Dreamland.  They are incredible.  It's a little off the beaten path (keep an eye out for Jug Factory Rd) but whoa nelly they are good.

The other recommendation I'd make would be to skip the Bear Bryant Museum.  There is very little Bryant in there, it's mostly the history of Alabama football.  It was cool but unless you have a rooting interest there are only so many jerseys you can look at from the early-1900s or trophies from the 19xx Whatever Bowl. 

The two coolest things, I thought, was a setup of Coach Bryant's office and John David Crow's Heisman trophy.  JDC houses his trophy at the museum as Bryant's only Heisman winner.....BUT it is in the lobby so you don't even need an admission ticket to get to see it.

The school isn't super steep in things to see in terms of unique traditions (if you don't count winning).  The one thing that you will hear, hopefully only once, is their Rammer Jammer Yellow Hammer chant.
Hey (Opponent)!
We're gonna beat the hell out of you!
Rammer Jammer, Yellowhammer, give 'em hell, Alabama!

Post Game:
Hey (Opponent)!

We just beat the hell out of you!
Rammer Jammer, Yellowhammer, give 'em hell, Alabama!
Alabama is the Yellowhammer state, a nickname that originates with the state bird.

This year's squad currently sits as the undisputed #1 team in the nation and is coming off of the college football regular season equivalent of the Super Bowl.  They went into Death Valley and knocked off #6 LSU with a last minute TD drive last weekend.  It was one of the best games I've seen in a couple of years.
ALA O v. aTm D
  24 Rush 31
  80 Pass 70
  48  Tot 46
  17 Scor 27
Their offense isn't going to fill the highlight reels but it is perfectly designed to compliment their defense.  A.J. McCarron is efficient, experienced, more than capable, and doesn't turn the ball over (as in 0 INTs on the season).  He's the starting QB for the best team in college football - and after his game winning drive last weekend finds himself right square in the middle of the Heisman race.

Their running game is sick.  T.J. Yeldon and Eddie Lacy are one of the best one-two backfields in the country.  They are strong, and fast, and quick and powerful.  They also run behind one of the best offensive lines ever assembled.
aTm O v. ALA D
  10 Rush  2
  19 Pass  8
   5  Tot  2
   4 Scor  1
They have the best defense in the country, which should come as no surprise - Nick Saban always does.  They are led by their three linebackers Nico Johnson, C.J. Mosley, and true freshman Trey Depriest.  This is the matchup that everyone will be tuning in to watch.  Can our high tempo, spread offense execute against the textbook definition of "SEC defense" that we hear so much about?

Here is something interesting to look at.  While we have played two teams in the same realm of defensive greatness (LSU & Florida), 'Bama hasn't seen anyone close to our level of offense.
  OPPONENT    TotO  ScoO
  Michigan     82    60
W.Kentucky     66    57
  Arkansas     46    77
       FAU    105   114 
  Ole Miss     57    55
    Mizzou    109    94
 Tennessee     18    24
  Miss. St     73    48
       LSU     71    57
 TEXAS A&M      5     4
I'm not at all insinuating that Bama's defense is good because they've played bad offenses - they're good regardless of who steps on the field.  What I am saying is that they haven't seen an offense as powerful as ours.

That is what makes this game so exciting - there is a reasonable expected result (the #1 team will beat the #15 team) but then there is this huge unknown which is so intriguing and mysterious.
Nick Saban is going to pound us all night long with their big OL and running game to control the clock and wear us out.  Then he's going to press our WRs and make Johnny beat them - with freak of nature linebackers zeroed in on him.  I don't think that is any secret - the problem is that very few teams can out execute 'Bama with that game plan.

Completely unrelated: Saban is only 2 months younger than Mack Brown!?!  I would have put the over/under at 10 years.

Here are the stats between our common opponents this season:
            Ark   OM  MSU  LSU
            ===  ===  ===  ===

aTm RushO   218  290  361  134
Ala RushO   225  125  179  166

aTm PassO   498  191  332  276
Ala PassO   213  180  235  165

aTm RushD   142  159   98  219
Ala RushD    58   80   47  139

aTm PassD   373  305  212   97

Ala PassD    79  138  209  296
Another interesting trend....Alabama's pass defense over the last four week has given up: 126 yards then 203 yards then 209 yards then 296 yards.

This is why they play the game.  Just another game that the exemplifies the reason we wanted to make the conference move to the SEC.  This is fun.

I did that entire preview without any houndstooth.  Don't worry you'll get enough by the end of the weekend.


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