My analysis on Alabama

The defense stepped up big time for Alabama against Ole Miss on Saturday. (AP Photo/Butch Dill)

It’s been two weeks since I talked about Alabama in detail. The last time was after a big win (at the time) over Florida.

It was still a pivotal win — and it was the first game in a downward spiral for the Gators. Obviously,  Alabama was much better than Florida and they took care of them accordingly. Since then, Alabama lost it’s first regular season game since 2007 and “struggled” at home against Ole Miss.

When I say struggled, I mean in terms of the offense. It didn’t just start with Ole Miss, either. Not even South Carolina. No, I go back to the second half against Florida. Whether they were conservative or not, the offense sputtered in the 2nd half against the Gators and Florida could have gotten back into that game if not for turnovers.

At South Carolina, the Gamecocks exploded out of the gates and Alabama failed to execute. South Carolina executed their gameplan to near perfection and jumped out to a 21-3 lead. Stephen Garcia played one of the best games of his career as well. Still, with all of the mistakes that Alabama made in that game, they still found themselves with a chance to tie the game early in the 4th quarter when the score was 28-21. It’s tough enough when a team has two weeks to prepare for you and you’re also on the road in front of a rabid crowd, but mistakes and failure to execute killed Alabama in that game. Alabama got torched on the scoreboard, not in yardage. In fact, Alabama outgained South Carolina 351-311.

The lack of execution continued this weekend against Ole Miss. Thankfully, Ole Miss made a ton of mistakes as well racking up 12 penalties. Not to discredit the effort from Alabama, though, because the defense was outstanding. They held the highest scoring SEC offense to 10 points, but Ole Miss helped Alabama into some nice positions with poor special teams play and penalties. The offense needed it, too. The game played out in a similar fashion to last year’s contest in which Alabama won 22-3. It seemed that the Tide was ready to run away with the game at 16-3, but Ole Miss refused to go away. They carried momentum into the 4th quarter, but Alabama’s defense stiffened to preserve the lead.

Failure to execute on offense has also been combined with a missing ground game. The key to Alabama’s success on offense rests in the ground game. It’s not Greg McElroy. Sure, he’s a great leader and he makes good decisions, but if you can stop the run you can stop Alabama. McElroy still only has three interceptions and had his best game as a passer at South Carolina, but that’s not what Alabama needs McElroy to do. If you see McElroy with 300 yards passing, you better hope it’s combined with 200+ yards rushing or it most likely will end with a bad result. All ‘Bama needs him to do is protect the ball, make the necessary plays and lead the offense.

McElroy has had a problem lately of holding on to the ball too long. It’s led to nine sacks in the last two games (7 against South Carolina). The sacks have been a combination of the offensive line and McElroy holding on to the ball too long. Teams are also keying in on McElroy’s love of throwing to his check down receiver (usually Ingram or Richardson). They wait for him to dump it off and close on him immediately. I’ve noticed this happening the past few weeks.

This is not entirely McElroy’s fault, of course. Alabama simply has not been able to run the ball and that is what makes the offense fire on all cylinders. Ingram and Richardson combined for 64 yards rushing against South Carolina. It was the first time since Utah, if I’m not mistaken, that Alabama had not rushed for 100 yards. It almost happened against Ole Miss. If not for the yardage on Alabama’s last possession of the game, it would have been two weeks in a row where Richardson and Ingram didn’t gain 100 yards combined.

McElroy is at his best when these two guys are pounding it out. He has to have it, or this offense crumbles. It seems to me that the offense has gotten too predictable. They are almost always running on first down and rarely using play action. Defenses don’t respect anything that Alabama is doing on offense right now. They don’t feel like McElroy can go over the top and beat them, so they stack up on Ingram and Richardson. Credit must also be given to the defenses Alabama has faced. The last three opponents have all ranked inside the top 50 against the run with Florida being the worst at #42 (South Carolina is #12, Ole Miss is #23).

This offense is still full of talent and it obviously helps to have a healthy Julio Jones lined up at wide receiver. I also don’t feel that Ingram has been 100% for a while now. There are several guys who are banged up out there, but they’re toughing it out. Alabama just needs to survive Tennessee and get to the bye week. It’s a long-awaited rest and it will allow them to refresh and reload for the stretch run.

The encouraging sign of Saturday’s game was the defensive play. They showed up against an offense that offers a variety of complex looks and a dual threat quarterback in Jeremiah Masoli. The defense shut Masoli and Ole Miss down in the first half. I’m not even sure the “Rebels” eclipsed 40 yards offense. Ole Miss had more success in the second half, but it was still a very solid effort throughout.

Alabama’s defense is still one of the best in the country. They will make their mistakes and they are in no way comparable to last year’s squad, but not many teams can boast this kind of defense. It’s the 5th best scoring defense in the country and I think the real defense is more of an in between of the performances against South Carolina and Ole Miss. They can be great at times, but they will mess up. Along with Boise State, this is the best defensive team in the country. Yes, I said Boise State.

I am in no way questioning this team. This is still one of the better teams in the country. They have not played like it recently, but they are still quite good. It’s crazy for people to say that McElroy shouldn’t be the quarterback or that McElwain needs to be fired. This is a new team. No one should expect them to blast everybody they play. What’s wrong with a 23-10 win over Ole Miss? Nothing. A 23-10 win and shoddy offensive play would have received only mild concern last season. This year, combined with the loss, it has led to more scrutiny.

So, for those who are hitting on the verge of hitting the panic button — relax. Alabama can still, albeit with a lot of help, get into the National Championship game and they are still the team to beat in the SEC.

Feel free to leave your thoughts in the comment box below. You can e-mail me suggestions or questions at jtmcadams@aol.com. Follow me on Twitter @JoeSportswriter.

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