Happy Gump Day, friends. Hope you and yours are well, and still basking in the afterglow of
coitus Jimbo Fisher mismanaging a home game about as poorly as you will ever see.
Lots of good stories to cover today (and one sorta’ crappy one), so let’s dive into it. We’re going to put a bow on the Aggie win, talk a little basketball, and really take a look at the evolving Crimson Tide.
Shovel some dirt on that grave
I simply don’t know what the hell Jimbo was doing Saturday, TBH. From his timidity on 4th down in the red zone, to the gutless punt he made that Alabama promptly converted into the eventual game-winning score, Fisher won’t live this one down for a long, long time. And, while he had to be happy Mario Cristobal bought him some cover in the bad coaching department, eventually the national guys came around...and came around hard.
I didn’t require a chart to tell me A&M needed at least one more score to beat Alabama when it was tied at 17 late in the third quarter. If the Aggies could’ve just gained those few feet on fourth down, they would have reclaimed momentum with a chance to recapture the lead. Instead, Fisher gave the ball away.
“If we’d have been inside a yard, I probably would’ve went,” Fisher said.
A couple of supposed gurus like Fisher and offensive coordinator Bobby Petrino couldn’t have put their heads together for a play that would given the Aggies a prime shot at gaining a few feet?
How about a bootleg, giving quarterback Max Johnson a chance to throw or run? Maybe a jet sweep, putting the ball in the hands of one of those dynamic wide receivers? Perhaps a wide receiver screen?
Or, trust your offensive line to get a push and go win the game.
Will Reichard for Heisman
On Monday, the SEC named Alabama football’s Will Reichard and Justin Eboigbe among its Week 6 honorees. Reichard earned the special teams award while Eboigbe was deemed the best defensive lineman. Both were part of a standout team effort in the Crimson Tide’s 26-20 win over Texas A&M.
Reichard pulled double duty after Alabama punter James Burnip was injured in the first half. Reichard averaged 41.2 yards across four punts and made a 30-yard field goal while converting three extra points.
Eboigbe was part of Alabama’s wrecking ball defense that disrupted the Aggies’ rushing attack and pressured quarterback Max Johnson. Eboigbe added five tackles and 1.5 sacks, including the fourth-quarter safety that helped the Tide pull away. UA totaled five sacks for -31 yards, seven quarterback hurries and an interception.
Justin probably had his best day in an Alabama uniform on Saturday, just when the Tide needed him the most. If Eboigbe can play like that every week — hell, even 80% that effective — then the one question mark on this defense is answered with an emphatic Roll Tide.
And Will...man, what else can you say about Will Reichard? I am seriously considering starting a hashtag and Heisman campaign for him. If there is a “most outstanding player” in the sense that he is the team MVP, then you’d have to look all over creation to find someone as impactful.
Let Us Delight In the Misery of Our Rivals: Disappointment Edition
LSU’s secondary (22). This was a place that once laid claim to the “DBU” title. It certainly doesn’t apply in 2023, with the Tigers ranking 121st in passing yards allowed and 111th in pass-efficiency defense. This was a shaky area coming into the season, with LSU bringing in several transfers—including a couple with FCS-level experience in the Southland Conference. Overshadowing the shortcomings on the field, safety Greg Brooks was recently diagnosed with a rare brain cancer.
In some fairness to LSU here, look at who has been on the Tigers schedule too: the nation’s two best wideouts (Luther Burden at Mizzou and Keon Coleman at FSU). They also had to contend with the SEC’s third-most efficient passing team (the Ole Miss Rebels). That’s going to be a tough draw for anyone, much less a group that leaned into transfers.
Arkansas’s running game (26). The Razorbacks remain among the most avid running teams in the SEC. Unfortunately for them, they’re not very good at it. Their 225 attempts are third-most in the league, but their 669 yards are 12th and their 2.97 yards per carry are 13th. In the past two games, losses to Texas A&M and Mississippi, the Hogs ran it 68 times for 78 yards. Of course, that includes sacks, and Arkansas allowed 12 of them in those two games for a minus-74 yards. But Raheim “Rocket” Sanders has yet to get going this season, as does anyone else in the Hogs’ backfield. That has to hurt the soul of Sam Pittman, an O-line coach at heart.
It’s true the Hogs offense has gone into retreat this year, but that is somewhat offset by a defense that is playing their balls off. The Hogs are a tougher team, and a tough out, even if Dan Enos is mismanaging the running game.
Oh, but the bad news doesn’t end there...
Losing Bru McCoy for the season with a nasty ankle injury leaves lots of questions Tennessee will have to answer.
McCoy, a linebacker-sized receiver, has always been a player whose stats are solid but also don’t come close to representing his role in the offense. He’s a steady hand whose presence calms teammates in big moments. He’s a world-class blocker for his position, and on several occasions he’s personally escorted teammates down the sideline for big plays. He’s also a reliable target in gotta-have-it moments on third down or late in halves or games. His strength and savvy allows him to shield the ball from defensive backs and still make plays to extend drives or put points on the board. Even when he’s blanketed, he can be a good option.
That last quality presents another question for Tennessee’s offense, starting with Saturday’s game against Texas A&M at Neyland Stadium: Will senior quarterback Joe Milton III have to pull the ball and run more often? Is the risk/reward calculation in those situations a bit different now?
You don’t want to see anyone injured for the year, but I’m not shedding tears either that some of Alabama’s oppoents are finally trying to deal with roster casualties either. For a dozen years, the Tide has seen one promising season after another derailed by key injuries: From Mark Barron to Tua Tagovailoa to...well, the entire 2021 receiving corps and defensive backfield. Time for other people to test their depth.
Sucks, doesn’t it?
The joyous roller coaster
I think I’ve just about learned to accept that this team is who this team is going to be: energetic screwups.
“What should we talk about first?” Saban asked everyone and no one in particular. “The good news? Or the bad news? Because we have a little bit of both.”
Saban was specifically referring to Alabama’s 26-20 win over Texas A&M, but he might as well have been talking about the season at large.
This 2023 Alabama team hasn’t played particularly well, committed 14 penalties Saturday on the road and still doesn’t seem to know what offensive line combination can create holes for the running game and keep Jalen Milroe upright.
And, yet, halfway through the season, Alabama is 5-1, in the driver’s seat for the SEC West and seemingly destined for another trip to Atlanta for the SEC Championship.
* * *
This version of Alabama is a rollercoaster, both maddening and brilliant to watch at times. The highs are thrilling and the lows depressing, and the wildest thing is they frequently happen in short succession of each other.
That’s the mindset of this Alabama team. It is going to make mistakes. It is going to do bone-headed things that look and feel uncharacteristic for a Nick Saban-led Alabama team. After watching Alabama slowly strangle opponents to death in the joyless murderball era, this Crimson Tide team is in a fight for its life every game. It doesn’t have the overwhelming talent advantage it once possessed over 99 percent of the rest of college football. The margin of error is thinner, which is exciting and stressful all the same.
There is bad schizoid: like the Florida Gators. Then there’s the better sort, even if I wouldn’t say that it’s putting my ulcer at ease: and that’s the 2023 Crimson Tide.
Thanks in no small part to those ups, the Tide now finds itself the master of its own fortunes, with the chance to play straight into Atlanta, where you can never count out the Tide.
And while this might not be Saban’s most talented, most complete or deepest team, it might be the most fulfilling one he’s had if it is able to get to Atlanta and, at the very least, play for an SEC title.
But all that, in Saban vernacular, is nothing but noise, something his players repeated over and over following the win over the Aggies.
“From this point forward, we’re just going to keep working and keep trying to improve and block out the outside noise because the only people that can make any game a big game are the fans and the media, because it’s not the players,” said receiver Jermaine Burton, who torched A&M with nine catches for 197 yards and two touchdowns.
Name ‘Em and Praise ‘Em:
During his four years at UAB, the Blazers played three games against SEC teams: Tennessee in 2019, Georgia in 2021, and LSU in 2022. They lost those three by a combined 127-24, including a 41-10 loss to LSU last year — which happened to be Key’s best game of the season, as he finished with 12 tackles.
That experience has helped him navigate the first half of this season. The speed of the game was the biggest thing he had to adjust to, he said, but he’s found confidence in preparation.
“Every week, you’re going against a good opponent, especially in SEC play,” Key said. “It’s tough. Everybody wants to win. It’s going to be a dogfight. Every week, you’re playing somebody that’s good.
“You have to be mentally prepared to go through that, and you have to be mentally prepared going into practice every week to prepare for those games. You have to get the playbook down and study the gameplan.”
I really love Key’s game and versatility. He was put a bit out of his depth last week, when he was tasked with manning the slot cold off the bench — and promptly gave up a first down, but he does a lot for this secondary.
So does the next guy, one I highlighted last year: Terrion Arnold
SEC Network analysts Roman Harper and Cole Cubelic, during their show “Read & React,” broke down Arnold’s play, which included the improvement seen against Texas A&M on Saturday.
“I talked to Travaris Robinson, the (Alabama) secondary coach, about this earlier this year,” Cubelic said. “He said the young man in high school didn’t play a lot of corner, kind of the best athlete on the team.
“He said, ‘Cole, he’ll be the best corner in America one day.’ And he’s already on his way to it.”
But, the number one reason for the Tide’s roller coaster, its peaks and valleys — as well as its demonstrable improvement — is happening under center.
He is Him.
Of course, we are speaking of the Tide’s starting quarterback, Jalen Milroe the YOLO. At times maddeningly ineffective, at others, capable of dropping a dime for 55 air yards — the running quarterback that takes too many sacks, the enigma wrapped in a mystery. The nation’s best quarterback...if the receiver is literally running straight downfield (h/t Wes for pointing that out).
But is that entirely fair? Probably not. Check out these numbers from the “running quarterback.”
One. Carry. 12 Yards. That’s what Jalen did with his legs on Saturday in College Station.
Instead of rushing so much, Milroe took to the air. A week after the Tide threw the ball just 12 times against Mississippi State, the quarterback had 33 attempts against TAMU.
It worked out well, as he completed 21 throws for 321 yard and three touchdowns. He said Monday that the plan hadn’t necessarily been for him to run less, but Alabama adjusted.
“Just taking what the defense gave,” Milroe said. “That was definitely a challenge for us playing at Texas a&m on the road. They gave us a lot of problems and our key thing just being a problem solver. It was just key to be the point guard on the field, take what was given and that was key. So it wasn’t really predetermined at all, it just came with the flow of the game.”
It wasn’t an accident either. We think of Yolo as just that...the guy who heaves the ball 40 yards downfield, but that’s not the sum of his game. Here are a few numbers to mull over when next you read a lazy “running quarterback” trope:
Through the first half of 2023, Jalen Milroe has out-performed Bryce Young's first half of 2022 in completion percentage, passing efficiency rating, yards per attempt and yards per completion:https://t.co/YVQYJkMaNX— Mike Rodak (@mikerodak) October 10, 2023
Top QBs in opponent-adjusted EPA/play through week 6.— Bill Radjewski | CollegeFootballData.com (@CFB_Data) October 9, 2023
Note that this includes all plays (passing and rushing). pic.twitter.com/arXdLV3tPZ
That’s not at all what you expected, was it?
In short: Alabama is improving because Milroe is improving. He’s efficient, takes what is there, and doesn’t turn the ball over. That’s because, for all of his mobility, Yolo is a game manager capable of big plays who does his best work in the pocket.
One group that is not being singled out for praise? And take this one for what it’s worth — the Alabama coaching staff. Besides a tepid defense of his staff, at least, Saban had this to say:
But when asked on Monday, head coach Nick Saban chose to hold off on assigning midseason grades to his two new coordinators.
“I’m not going to publicly comment,” Saban said Monday
Saban may wait until the season’s end to give final grades on his coordinators, but offered a compliment to his entire staff for the progress made so far this season.
“We’re always trying to get better,” Saban continued on Monday. “We’re all working hard together to try and get better, trying to figure out what’s the best solution to help our team grow and develop, whether it’s style of play, doing more things that they’re capable of doing, trying to minimize the negative plays.
“I’m pleased with the effort that everyone is giving in trying to give input to fix those things. Everybody is responsible for a better way. If we have deficiencies as a team, that’s on me.”
Please Baby Paul Bryant in His manger, let Steve Sarkisian get fired and come back to Tuscaloosa. Amen.
Let’s check in on the NBA, shall we?
Herb continues to dominate...and now has added offensive flourishes to his all-everything game:
Unfortunately, the Tide’s, can’t-miss guy, Brandon Miller? Last night was his maiden voyage in the pros...and it could have gone a lot better. A lot.
The Charlotte Hornets lost their preseason opener against the Miami Heat 113-109 on Tuesday, and the debut of rookie forward Brandon Miller left much to be desired.
The 2023 No. 2 pick scored just eight points on 3-of-9 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench in the loss. He led the team with four turnovers and missed all four of his three-point attempts. He didn’t contribute much in other areas, finishing with three rebounds, three assists and a steal.
When Charlotte drafted Miller the expectation was that he would be paired with star point guard LaMelo Ball to form a talented young tandem. However, Miller saw most of his action on Tuesday with the second unit, and it appears the youngster has yet to prove himself worthy of running with the starters.
Woof. Chin-up, bro. Let this motivate you.
That’s it for now, folks. You’ve been given 3000 words and a dozen stories to digest, so fire away below. We’ll see you later, and Roll Tide.
Now that players are being compensated for their performance, is it okay to boo their poor performances?
Yep. They’re at least para-professionals now.
Nope. I don’t boo my team, period.
It depends on how much they stink