Vlachos Says Tide Knows The Stakes
That's the message Alabama Coach Nick Saban offers frequently. Do your job and the results will be satisfying.
Alabama is coming off an unsatisfying result, a 24-21 loss to LSU in Baton Rouge last Saturday that dropped the Bama record to 7-2 and eliminated the Tide from a repeat appearance in the BCS National Championship Game. Good things can be accomplished still, but not without a return to coaches and players doing their jobs at a high level.
This week Alabama hosts Mississippi State, also 7-2. Bama is 4-2 in Southeastern Conference games while the Bulldogs are 3-2. Both teams are ranked in the top 20. ESPN2 will televise the game from Bryant-Denny Stadium with kickoff about 6:15 CST.
Alabama center William Vlachos has a tough job. Call the blocking scheme for the offensive line based on the play called, perhaps a check off, and what the defense is doing; snap the ball; get your head up and find a guy to block; block him. Vlachos admitted that his performance against LSU didn't measure up to what he wants.
Vlachos knows what to expect this week in practice. And what not to expect.
"I expect there to not be any panic," said the junior from Mountain Brook. "I expect everybody to do what we're coached to do and do what we're supposed to do, and that's paying attention to detail, having a sense of urgency and coming together. We know there's still a lot to play for. There's a tremendous opportunity still out there for us. That's something we've got to look at and get better."
Vlachos said the team leaders would talk. "But," he said, "the people who play on this team know what's at stake. They know what we've got to do. They know what we didn't do. Every time you get beat, it comes down to what you didn't do, not necessarily what the guy across from you did or anything else that happened. We've got to focus on it and really work hard."
Saban called the week a "reality check" in terms of understanding the process. Vlachos agrees. "The stuff he tells y'all," he said to a group of sportswriters, "is the stuff he tells us. That's because it is what it is, and he's right. I think a lot of people around here have been very result oriented and not focusing on the little things and the stuff it takes to win and be successful. It's what we've got to do. He's our leader. He's who we follow, and we've got to come together and make the changes and get ready to go."
One example of Alabama coming up short this year has been in the running game. Vlachos said, "I think everybody wants to put their finger on one thing with that. Is it the line's fault? Is it the play-calling? Is it Mark's (2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram) knee? There's probably something everyone wants to put their finger on to address that, but it's a lot of things. It's a ton of things that unless you know a ton of things about football, you probably wouldn't really understand. It's just about everybody doing their job. We are a power running team first. That's our M.O. as a team and what we try to do to opponents. But there's times when, if they're playing man in the secondary and we've got some opportunities to throw the ball down the field, that's what we're going to do. Coach Mac (Offensive Coordinator Jim McElwain) calls each and every play because he feels that's what's going to make us most successful, and we certainly agree with that and follow that. It's our job to execute and do what we're supposed to do."
Vlachos said against LSU that the Tigers were a fierce defensive team. An additional problem was communications in Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge. LSU partisans understand the tactic of being loud when the opponent is on offense.
Vlachos said, "They had some very good players on defense. Something we've seen a lot this year as we've played on the road is a lot of shifting very late. It's a challenge when I have my head down, especially in Baton Rouge. The crowd noise adds to where you can't make a late check. There's some times when they would shift and I would have to leave the previous protection call, because we wouldn't be able to relay it across to everybody, because the back's got to know, the quarterback's got to know who's hot off, and obviously the five offensive linemen have got to know. I was in some tough spots on Saturday, but my coaches expect me to block whoever and how many they put in front of me, and I expect myself to, also. I'm certainly not making any excuses about that. We've just got to all get better and learn from it."
Five of the last seven games were on the road for Alabama. Now the last three are at home. Does that make any difference at all?
"It does from a communication standpoint," Vlachos said. "I think (the LSU game) might have been the loudest it's been, as far as being on the field and playing. I think Greg (quarterback Greg McElroy) did a tremendous job of checking stuff late, whether it would be a protection or a check to a run or play-action, he did a really good job of surveying the field and making the calls. When he would walk up there and change stuff, it would get extremely loud. That's when communication is vital. At times, we communicated very well. At times, we didn't. There were some times when they shifted late. If you can't get everybody on the same page, there's no point in making calls. That's what happens when you play on the road. There's absolutely no excuses. People have done that to us all year. We knew they were going to do to us. It's something you've got to deal with and react to."
Vlachos is not surprised to see Mississippi State coming to Tuscaloosa with a good record. "If you go look at the way they've played, they deserve it," he said. "They've earned everything they've got. They've beaten people the right way, they've played physical, they've played smart, and they're good in every facet of the game."
He said, "They're always a physical defense. They've got a new (defensive) coordinator. They run a lot of three-man front, which we call ‘odd.' That's what our defense is based on also. They do a lot of movement from it, from what I've seen. They've had a lot of success this year. They're a really good team. They can beat anybody. We're going to have to come together this week at practice and get back to the little things, pay attention to detail and correct the mistakes we made Saturday."
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