Andrew Gribble | [email protected]
Overheard one thing in my hotel lobby this morning that stuck with me as I piled some food onto a plate. “What a great game that was.” Of course, the person saying that was wearing Alabama gear. Yes, it was a night Alabama fans will never forget. It’s still less than 24 hours since Alabama wrapped up its stunning comeback over LSU, so Nick Saban is OK with you continuing to celebrate.
While his teammates, perhaps, overheated from too much hype leading into last year’s “Game of the Century” against LSU, Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron served as the resident “Grumpy Gus.” Then a sophomore who was about to make his ninth career start, McCarron was, by design, icy cold. He pushed back the natural emotions that come with playing in a game of that magnitude and forced a scowl. Even after he completed a 22-yard pass to Trent Richardson on the game’s second play, McCarron’s mood hadn’t changed.
It’s a philosophy that most coaches would prefer to enact, but the majority simply can’t. The wear and tear a running back absorbs throughout a football season has simply made a one-man, Alpha Dog backfield undesirable. Even a Heisman trophy winner such as Alabama’s Mark Ingram had Trent Richardson as his wing man. And when Richardson was a frontrunner for the award last season, he had Eddie Lacy picking up enough carries to finish the year with 674 yards.
The top two playmakers on Alabama’s defense made the cut for one of college football’s top honors. Cornerback Dee Milliner and linebacker C.J. Mosley are two of 16 semifinalists for the Chuck Bednarik Award, which goes annually to the nation’s top defensive player.
In the hours leading up to Saturday’s game, ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit said Alabama guard Chance Warmack was a “war daddy” and would “put on a clinic” against Mississippi State. He was right. Warmack graded out at 90 percent, had four pancake blocks, no missed assignments, no penalties, no sacks and no pressures in the Crimson Tide’s 38-7 victory.
Saturday’s fourth quarter presented yet another series of opportunities for Alabama’s duo of backup quarterbacks, Blake Sims and Phillip Ely. Both, in their own way, made the most of them. Sims took over for AJ McCarron, who went out with a minor back contusion, to start the fourth quarter. He received the majority of snaps behind center and finished with three carries for 19 yards. He did not attempt a pass, but was the game manager throughout a late scoring drive that saw freshman running back Kenyan Drake score his fifth touchdown of the season.
With eight games under its belt, Alabama is what it is when it pertains to its various statistical measurements. Right now, it’s proven to be pretty darn good in the same areas in which it’s been pretty darn good over the past few seasons. Saturday’s 38-7 win over Mississippi State further established that assessment.
No. 1 Alabama enters its Saturday showdown at No. 5 LSU in a familiar position. For the sixth consecutive time, the Crimson Tide is listed as the Las Vegas casino favorite over the Tigers, according to freshly released odds at BetOnline.com. Alabama opened as a 7-point favorite, but the line now sits at 8. Alabama was last an underdog to LSU in 2007, Nick Saban’s first season. During that span, though, the Crimson Tide is just 3-2 against the Tigers.
After suffering the 10th loss in their last 11 SEC games, a number of Tennessee’s players had seen and heard enough. With No. 1 Alabama looming on the horizon, a large number of them met Sunday for a players’ only meeting, senior linebacker Herman Lathers said. The team’s leaders, a group that certainly includes Lathers, did not mince words.
Derek Dooley didn’t talk much about Alabama during his Monday press conference. The Tennessee coach spent the majority of his 30-minute press conference discussing the ways his 3-3 team needs to improve in order to pick up its first conference win of the season. But when he did bring up the Crimson Tide, his words were as similarly strong as the numerous other opposing coaches who have heaped praise on Alabama during the week leading up to the game. “We all know about Alabama,” he said. “They’ve been the standard in college football in the last four years.”