Areas for improvement...
Alabama is coming off a national championship in 2011 and has opened up the 2012 campaign in dominant, 5-0, fashion. That said, one Nick Saban, the head coach/taskmaster/Terminator of an Alabama team that seemingly has no weaknesses has been finding more warts to his program than Simon Cowell found on Susan Boyle (that’s a bit rude, admittedly, but Simon was the judge; we were too busy watching ‘Bama football, were we not?).
Thus, in an effort to continually whet the appetite of a Tide Nation that is already looking forward to rolling all the way to a second-straight national championship performance, we here at Alabama Gamedayr took a good, hard look at the best team in the country and found a few flaws of our own.
This gets pretty nitpicky, ‘Bama fans, but at the very least it’ll provide a little food for thought as the Tide rolls into Mizzou this weekend.
Red zone conversions
Probably the most widely understood means of suffering an upset, for any team nationwide in any sport, is to allow an inferior team to hang around long enough to pull off some sort of miracle late in the contest. How does a bad team manage to keep a game close against a juggernaut like the Crimson Tide?
Force Saban’s NFL-ready offensive unit into kicking field goals instead of scoring touchdowns inside an opponent’s 20-yard line, that’s how.
Yes, Alabama is one of only four teams in all the land with a 100-percent success rate in the red zone. Not bad. However, in the team’s last ten red zone appearances, they have only scored touchdowns on five trips, while being held to five field goals. It’s like buying a drink for a girl at a bar. Getting her phone number is nice, but it’s sort of like you kicked a field goal; did you really score?
Depth at running back
Most everything in a football game is interrelated, one problem either causing or solving another. In the case of Alabama’s cadre of running backs – or former stockpile of backs, rather – the lack of production has forced Saban’s crew to kick more field goals, a potential problem as the team’s schedule gets tougher.
Four running backs carried the ball at least eight times in the team’s drubbing of Michigan in the season opener for both sides. Jalston Fowler and Dee Hart are both done for the year with knee injuries, leaving veteran Eddie Lacy and freshman wunderkind T.J. Yeldon.
Lacy and Yeldon are averaging 4.9 and 5.8 yards per carry, respectively, but without much by way of talent behind them, the team as a whole is rushing for only 188.2 yards per game. To put that average in context, a pedestrian 188.2 yards is good for only sixth in the SEC and No. 42-nationally.
Not good for a program that has averaged at least 215 yards on the ground per game in every year since 2008.
Who’s got that fumble-itis?
Remember how we said earlier that everything that has to do with winning, or losing, a football game is interrelated?
Well, without the aforementioned depleted running core, maybe the team is scoring even more touchdowns in the red zone. Maybe the team’s ballcarriers aren’t pressing so much that they are actually struggling to hold onto the ball in the first place.
Whatever the reason, Alabama will not be able to keep up the nation’s second-best turnover margin if the team continues to put the football on the ground.
The Tide has only lost three fumbles through five games thus far, but the team has fumbled the football seven times in the past two games. Yes, you read that number correctly, boys and girls – seven fumbles.
The good guys have recovered five of those loose balls, but obviously, the ball will not bounce ‘Bama’s way every time.
Second half – namely third quarter – issues
Notice a trend? Of the four issues brought up so far, all have been on the offensive side of the football.
Part of that has to do, of course, with the fact that Saban is one of the few remaining old-school-type of guys that still puts his most athletic recruits on the defensive side of the football.
Another factor has to be the fact that the majority – if not all – of the team’s games to this point have been decided as the two programs in question jogged into their respective locker rooms for halftime.
Perhaps the team’s struggles coming out of halftime can be yet another issue chalked up to lack of depth at the running back position. It is tough to sustain long, clock-killing drives if a team’s top back or two are a little winded.
No matter the case, at some point this season the Tide is going to be tested. Saban understands this, his players understand this, and so does the rest of Tide Nation.
That is why zero points against Ole Miss in the team’s closest game to date is actually quite troubling. The schedule only gets tougher from here, and Alabama will not be piling up the first half points on everybody.
A total of 27 points over the team’s previous four third quarters might be asking a little too much of one of the nation’s premier defensive units, especially since …
… the Tide has yet to dominate an opponent’s backfield
Not sure how nitpicky you like your Alabama analysis, but, admittedly, this is about as fussy as it gets.
That said, Saban has had two weeks to break down his program and to root the dust out of every last little nook and cranny of his team. He has probably been harping on these very same issues.
Overall, Alabama ranks first nationally in scoring defense and second in total defense, but we all know that these guys were no slouches.
To achieve perfection, as Saban demands of each and every member of his team, his defensive front must improve on their average tackles for loss. Right now, the Tide ranks seventh in the SEC with an average of only 6.8 tackles for loss per game.
What better way to rattle a guy like LSU’s Zach Mettenberger than by knocking him right in the facemask so that he goes to the ground without the ball ever having left his hands?
Redshirt freshman and budding star, Texas A&M’s Johnny Manziel, will want to make plays with both his arm and his legs against the big boys of ‘Bama on Nov. 10.
If our guys can bring him down in the backfield, the Aggies, not to mention the rest of the college football landscape, won’t stand a chance.
What are your top areas of concern this season for ‘Bama? Let us know in the comments below!
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