Alabama Football: What I Learned Watching Alabama Play LSU

The 2016 Alabama football team advanced to 9-0 after handling the Tigers of LSU in Death Valley, but what did we learn watching the play unfold on Saturday?

With each passing week we’ll learn more about the 2016 Crimson Tide squad.  We’ll spot trends as they emerge and puzzle at both the positive and negative outliers throughout the Alabama Football season.

In this weekly feature, I’ll highlight a handful of the lessons this team is teaching me.

Color me swept up in the epic nature of this contest, so much so that I needed more time to steady my thoughts enough to join pen with paper

Defensive War Anthem

They come from the land of the ice and snow, from the midnight sun where the hot springs flow

Is there a more appropriate anthem for this band of defensive marauders? So perfect in tone, it even satisfies the Saban Test for process adherence:

On we sweep with, with threshing oar; our only goal will be the western shore

It’s even directionally correct, given the Tide’s immediate quest for the Western Division title.

And what Alabama fan doesn’t enjoy even just a little trash talk on the way out?

So now you better stop and rebuild all your ruins

For peace and trust can win the day despite all you’re losin’.

So march on Tide defense even as the riff pounds, and prepare your shout, Tampa, I am coming.

Same as it Ever Was

Saturday’s pairing in Baton Rouge awoke the echoes of prior tilts between these historic programs. Institutions that, at times, seem larger than life – that tends to happen when your annual clash is so routinely billed as the latest “Game of the Century”.

The seasoned football sommelier will explain in colorful detail precisely how the low score, missed opportunities, titanic defenses, and escalating tensions harken to LSU’s victory in 2011, while the improbable bottling up of Leonard Fournette, perhaps the best pure running back of the last decade, was a straight facsimile – nearly to the number – of 2015.

And not to be outdone are the reinterpreted notes of 2012 with another true freshman writing his name in Crimson Flame.

These are the football Saturday’s that make life worth living.

Better Than Advertised

Anthems aside, this Alabama defense is better than advertised. The versatility and evolution it continues to demonstrate is impressive. This is a unit that concerned me greatly only a few short weeks ago with its lack of depth at multiple critical positions, and now I am literally singing its praises. That does not simply just happen.

Admittedly, those gaps do remain but the emergence of younger talent on the roster has allowed the coaching staff to mask weaknesses and manufacture depth with indirect player rotations across a unit – outside linebackers rotate with the ends, who rotate with the tackles who allow our nose guard to rest.  It’s the cycle of renewal along the defensive front.

I suspect this defense will enjoy a home-stream run similar to what the 2015 enjoyed.

Don’t Believe ALL the Hype

Run the ball, run the ball, run the ball… the stuff that bad memes and ill-informed stadium rants are made of.

As with most over-hyped mainstays, there are grains of truth.

Situationally, Alabama ought to pound the ball on the ground a little more – goal lines and short yardage situations are made for elephant packages full of extra linemen, tight ends, and fullbacks, but there too is value in spreading the field both horizontally and vertically.

But that doesn’t translate into open license for unfounded Kiffin criticisms. In fact, the voice of the complaint starts to lose credibility when the quarterback has more carries than pass attempts on a given Saturday.

And if the Tide continues to run a specific play you don’t like, watch it more closely to see how new wrinkles are being added and how those subsidiaries are being run to great effect. Consider that Jalen Hurts’ long touchdown run against Tennessee was assisted by screen action attracting defenders away from the run; or the play that jump-started the 90-yard scoring drive against LSU was predicated on screen action to ArDarius Stewart. Without the presence of those offensive tendencies – which themselves have been successful plays during the season – the wrinkles providing success down the stretch would not be available.

Not all things are as they may simplistically appear so slow the critical roll and watch how the full offensive tapestry is being woven.

Check back as I continue to track these and new items as they emerge from the field.  Also be sure to check out our podcasts as I explore and debate these topics and many more in a more animated format.

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