Since Monday, KSR message boards have been inundated with Alabama fans, and I have visited with Alabama fans (hey, I’m a displaced UK fan living in Birmingham) who have convinced me that Alabama has no weaknesses, no cracks in their armor, and the only apparent ones are ones with “explanations,” not excuses.
Let’s get this out of the way. The # 2 ranked Alabama Crimson Tide is an outstanding football team. They are 5-0, and you do not run up a 31-0 lead by halftime, on the road, against the # 3 team in the country unless you are an outstanding football team.
For that, there is no dispute.
Alabama’s offensive line has been special, particularly in the run game. They are averaging over 215 yards per game rushing, 1st in the defensive-minded Southeastern Conference. Their leader is Glen Coffee, who is averaging right at 100 yards per game, at more than seven yards per carry. Impressive. The line imposes their will on the defense, smacks them in the mouth with their physical play, and dares them to respond. Nobody has this season.
Alabama’s offense has been brilliant overall, averaging 37 points per game, # 1 in the Southeastern Conference (this repeats itself numerous times.)
On defense, their run defense is even more impressive. Again, tops in the Southeastern Conference, the Crimson Tide allows only 54 yards per game rushing, which is also # 3 overall in the nation.
So both the offense and the defense are spectacular. What else is there?
I tried earlier to examine any cracks in the Alabama Armor. One thought related to “field position”—something that plays an important part in any college football game, but isn’t often the focal point of attention. At first, I thought perhaps Alabama’s punting game left something to be desired. On paper, being 111th in the country in net punting average seems to be an area of exposure. But I was quickly assured that was not the case—“only nine of the 17 punts have actually been returned,” one Alabama fan explained. “And if not for the fact that we had a kick blocked, and a punt returned for a touchdown, we’d have a better average than that.”
Well, I think that makes sense—sorta. Basically, if the team did a better job of protecting the punter, he’d have a better chance of not having his punt blocked. And if the team did a better job of not allowing punt returners to return the ball a long way, then the average would be better than it is.
So I know that’s not a weakness.
Then I looked at Alabama’s ability to return kickoffs. Despite doing well in punt returns at almost 15 yards per return, their kickoff returns have not been quite so good. At 18.8 yards per return, they are 93rd in the nation, and 10th in the SEC in that category. Weakness? Hairline crack?
Not at all, I was told.
“Teams have been kicking away from Javier Arenas,” I was told. “He’s either not getting it, or the teams are kicking the ball really high.”
Uhh, isn’t that what you’re supposed to do? Besides, I thought we were looking at the team, rather than a player. I know Javier Arenas is an outstanding return guy. But doesn’t he have to be able to return the ball for the team to benefit?
My focus was obviously misplaced. I was looking at things like special teams—Kentucky is # 1 in the Southeastern Conference in punting, and # 1 in the Southeastern Conference in kickoff returns (and # 1 in the nation). Trying to project field position, it would appear that—gasp—Alabama might have the slightest of hairline cracks on exchanges of punts and kickoffs.
My mistake. I forgot the “kicking away from/kicking high/we’re not punting enough” reasons for those statistics.
One Alabama fan expressed indignation that less than 10% of the KSR fans were predicting UK’s defense – which is # 1 in the nation in scoring defense at 5.5 points per game—actually had the gall to predict Alabama would score 14 points or less in the game. The fan pointed out that one team had actually scored 3 points more than that against Kentucky.
It seemed an ideal time to point out that Alabama’s offense hasn’t been high-powered for every game this season, either. The home game against Tulane was mentioned—a game in which Alabama only scored 20 points—and only one touchdown by the offense. Javier Arenas returned a punt for 87 yards for a touchdown (do we count that in Alabama’s punt return average? Doesn’t it skew it to consider long returns, as it does when we consider Alabama’s net punting?), and Alabama returned a blocked punt for a touchdown.
“Oh, but there are reasons why we did not score many points that day,” the fan explained. “We scored two touchdowns with special teams. Because of that, we couldn’t score more with our offense, as it got out of sync and our defense was on the field a lot that day. We threw the ball 23 times that day, and only got 73 yards from it, and the other team sacked us four times, so that’s easy to see we were out of sync because of the easy touchdowns.”
Again, I failed to comprehend basic football strategy. The best thing to do is to lay down on the field and allow Alabama to score two touchdowns with special teams. Their team then falls apart and can’t score again. Hey, the strategy worked for Tulane, didn’t it?
At one point I tracked the Alabama fan predictions of the Kentucky v. Alabama game at the excellent Alabama Scout.com website. I stopped after the first 34 predictions all predicted an Alabama win, with none of them by less than double digits. The average score? Alabama 42 Kentucky 12.
The New England Patriots challenged the 1972 Miami Dolphins “perfect season” last year by running the table in the regular season, but failed to complete the task. For 36 years we have been searching for the team that can finally match the Dolphins’ 17-0 mark and win the Super Bowl. Alas, we have finally found it.
The 2008 Alabama Crimson Tide. They are unbeatable at any level. Why limit them to mere college opponents?
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