After holding the powerful Bruin offense to less than 300 yards in week one, the Alabama defense yielded almost 400 to Vanderbilt. But the bottom line was on the scoreboard. Torbush explained; "To not play any better than I thought we played overall on defense, giving up only nine points is a great compliment to them. That just says what we can do if we do play well."
Torbush studied the game film to assess his unit's performance, and one concern he found was tackling--something that he finds unacceptable. "I was disappointed that we did not tackle very well," he related. "As much time as we spend on tackling drills, that's a disappointment. I didn't think we were physical enough tackling."
But probably his biggest frustration came on third downs, when the Bama ‘D' returned to some bad habits from last season. "I was disappointed in our inability to make plays on third and long," Torbush explained. "(Vanderbilt) had seven third-down conversions, and three of them were ten (yards) or more. That cannot happen. Period.
"There are no excuses, and we're not going to make any. But we cannot let that happen."
By scheduling their season-opener on a Thursday night, the Commodores had two extra days to prepare for Alabama. But Torbush isn't hearing any of that excuse. "They didn't do anything we hadn't prepared for," he said flatly. "I thought they got us out of sync a little bit. Don't ask me why, because I don't know why. We've got to be more consistent than we were. The third-down-and-longs… Those can't happen."
Alabama had its chances to get ahead Saturday, but a mistake here and a breakdown there kept Vanderbilt in the game until the very end. And the final 12-9 score reflected another typical Bama/Vandy clash.
Every year Alabama is favored, and every year the Tide seems to take their SEC rivals lightly. "Being overconfident--if we were a team that had played well--that was undefeated, you might understand it," Torbush said. "But Coach Fran is not going to let that happen. Our players understand that. If we're going to make any noise in the SEC, we can't take anybody (lightly), knowing that anybody can beat us."
But though he was disappointed in Alabama's performance, Torbush didn't want to take anything away from the Commodore effort. "Especially on offense--with that quarterback and their scheme--they've got a chance to move the ball and put points on the board. Obviously we weren't satisfied with what we did. But I think you'll see good things from Vanderbilt. They'll beat somebody they're not supposed to, because of their offense."
Every week the Tide coaches honor one athlete at each position for his outstanding play. And during his Sunday teleconference sophomore Rover Brooks Daniels was recognized by Franchione. "I thought Brooks made some improvement," Torbush agreed. "He was all over the field tackling, but again my concern is consistency."
Statistically the Commodores ended up with 396 yards of total offense, running 70 plays. They ran the football 35 times, gaining 143 net yards, which worked out to more than four yards per carry. Through the air Vanderbilt's senior QB went 17-of-34 for 253 yards.
Assessed Torbush; "We're still not where we need to be. We just need to get better. We made improvement, but I don't think we made the overall improvement that we're looking for. Now we're into the third game, so it'll be interesting to see how we respond this week."
Game observers saw Greg Zolman, Vandy's fifth-year starting quarterback, repeatedly read the defense and deliver the football in front of Alabama's cornerbacks. Time and again the Commodore receivers avoided the tackle and turned upfield for good yardage.
But Torbush doesn't believe they were picking on the Bama corners--at least not particularly. "That's just basically (Vandy's) scheme. That's what they normally do. We didn't respond very well to some of the routes that they ran. But they weren't anything complicated. We just didn't do a good job switching off. If we make some plays we had a chance to make, we had a chance to hold them. But you can't give up those first downs."
Prior to the season the Alabama defensive front-seven were the focus of much hope from Tide fans, but so far the results have been disappointing. Two games have yielded only two sacks. But despite never actually bringing the quarterback down, former All-SEC defensive end Kindal Moorehead played well against the Commodores. "I did think Kindal did better," Torbush said. "Overall the pressure up front was OK, but we still need to get more sacks. And to get more sacks we need to cover better. That's part of the problem.
"We're not covering as well as we need to, therefore we're a little bit short on getting to the quarterback. We hit (Zolman) several times, but we basically weren't able to get him on the ground. We weren't able to do that for both weeks like we need to in order to get to where we need to be."
Alabama's defense has added several quality athletes from this year's group of newcomers, but so far not one true freshman has gotten on the field. "Freddie Roach (middle linebacker) is close to getting in there and possibly Charlie Peprah (cornerback)," Torbush related. "(Freshmen playing) will depend on injury. If Antwan Odom doesn't come through (the sophomore defensive end has had two shoulder injuries in two games), then there's a chance that Todd Bates could play. Those are the three on defense that have a chance to play this year."
But the final decision for the group has not yet been made. Torbush explained; "I think all three of those guys will have a chance to play up until the seventh or eighth game of the season. If they haven't played by then, we'll have to make a tough decision.
"But if they do play, we'll make a commitment to get them on the field--and not only on the defensive side but hopefully on special teams."
In UCLA's Cory Paus and Zolman of Vanderbilt, the Tide defense has faced two talented and veteran quarterbacks. And this week against Southern Miss the situation will be the same. "This one is a three-year starter, so it's not going to get any easier," Torbush agreed. "(Jeff Kelly) is the same type of guy these other two were. Most teams we play are going to have a really good quarterback, an experienced quarterback. And even the teams we play that don't return starters have experience now. They have two games worth of experience.
"Right now we need to get more consistent, correct all the mistakes with the ones we can correct and do a better job tackling. We'll work on those things this week."
Of course in coaching the final scoreboard provides the bottom-line. And while it wasn't pretty, Alabama did notch its first victory of the season over the Commodores. "The win is a step forward, but I think the third-down conversion rate was a step back," Torbush said. "On third and long we had them in the situation we wanted on both their two long drives. Yet Vanderbilt converted three in the first one. And on the last one they converted one fourth-down and one third-and-long. That part was not a positive.
"Winning the football game--while understanding we didn't play as well as we can play and holding Vanderbilt's explosive offense to nine points--is a plus. But at the same time we've got to get a lot better."