'BAMA Newsletter 3

Inside this Newsletter - Number 3 - September 14, 2006

- Editorial: Will Tide Be Able To Run It Up?
- Tide Struggles Past Vanderbilt
- Depth Chart
- Scouting Report
- Coach Shula Says
- Season Statistics (PDF Version only)

Will Tide Be Able To Run It Up?
By Kirk McNair

This is not a week where there is much talk about "a team makes its greatest progress between the first and second game." For the second consecutive year, Alabama has struggled in its second game. Maybe Vanderbilt made its greatest progress between its loss to Michigan and its loss to Alabama.

While there is disappointment among those expecting the Crimson Tide to make a giant leap of improvement between the win over Hawaii and the victory over Vanderbilt, there are always extenuating circumstances. In the opening game, there were near misses on touchdowns that could have broken the game open. Against Vandy, there were two fumbles that took away almost certain touchdowns, scores that could have led to a convincing win.

But those things that could have made for comfortable victories didn't happen, and in going 2-0 Bama has worn out a lot of fingernails–the ones bitten by nervous followers as the Tide held on by its figurative ones. That's the bad news. The good news is that Alabama can be expected to rectify those mistakes. That's partly because Bama is a relatively young team, two-thirds of the roster made up of freshmen and sophomores. It is reasonable to expect them to improve as the season progresses. That's particularly true at the quarterback position, where John Parker Wilson will make his third college football start Saturday.

One of the fumbles against Vanderbilt was by a sophomore, the other by a senior who does not have a history of fumbling. Don't expect Tim Castille to make fumbling a habit. Jimmy Johns has had a few fumbles in his career, but he is only a dozen or so games into being a running back.

There's not much complaint about Alabama special teams or defense. On offense, the passing game (including some passes to tight ends) has been satisfactory, particularly with D.J. Hall now joining Keith Brown as returning starters at the wide positions.

The problem is the running game. It's the reason Alabama has had lackluster Red Zone production, settling for field goals or, worse, getting no points. Bama should have a power offense that gets touchdown when it has the defense on its heels. To be sure, scoring can be tougher as a team gets closer to the goalline because the defenders get closer to the line of scrimmage. But with what everyone says is a much-improved offensive line (and the evidence agrees with that assessment) and experienced running backs, it is not an unreasonable expectation for the Crimson Tide to be putting up touchdowns.

Which brings us to the question of "What's Wrong With Kenneth Darby?" Although Darby is not much behind where he was last year after two games, after back-to-back seasons of rushing for over 1,000 yards and with a chance to become the most prolific rusher in storied Alabama football history, better things were expected from the senior three-year starter.

Naturally, opposing defenses know about Darby and are taking special measures not to be beaten by him. He missed some practice time in the fall because of the illness of his father. He was injured (and may still be hurting). It's even possible that the new time-saving rules have affected his running numbers, preventing him from getting enough carries to get into rhythm.

Last week, when Alabama needed to have some running production late in the game, there were signs of the Kenneth Darby of old as he delivered a 17-yard run on Bama's game-winning field goal drive and a 13-yard rush when the Tide needed to run the clock on its final possession.

It's difficult to pinpoint exactly what ails Alabama's running game, but it ‘s important to get it straightened out this week against Louisiana-Monroe in preparation for an important pair of SEC road games to come.

Crimson Tide Struggles To Get Past Vanderbilt
By Kirk McNair

Just when it looked as if Alabama had squandered another opportunity for points, freshman placekicker Leigh Tiffin joined his father as a game-winner for Mike Shula's Crimson Tide football team. Tiffin's 47-yard field goal with 7:34 to play gave Bama a discouragingly difficult 13-10 win over Vanderbilt Saturday.

Alabama had opportunities to take command against Vanderbilt at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday, but twice the Crimson Tide lost fumbles when touchdowns seemed imminent. Bama lost a gamble, too, a fake field goal attempt in the early moments of the game that left the score at 0-0.With the score tied at 10-10 and just under 13 minutes to play, Bama got its second interception of the game from junior cornerback Simeon Castille. (Castille was actually at nickel back most of the game as for the second consecutive week the Crimson Tide was rarely in its conventional 4-3 defense.) Quarterback John Parker Wilson hit D.J. Hall for nine yards to get the drive started. He had a seven-yard scramble on third down to get a first down. Kenneth Darby had a mostly disappointing day 21 carries for 65 yards, but he had his best run of the day for 17 yards to move the ball into Vanderbilt territory.

A holding penalty contributed to the Tide facing a third-and-18 at the Alabama 45 when transfer wide receiver Nikita Stover made his first appearance of the year. Stover took a pass over the middle and turned it into a 36-yard gain to the Vandy 19.

That didn't mean things were going to be easy to get the final points.

A two-yard run and an incomplete pass had Bama with third-and-eight at the 17, roughly a 34-yard field goal opportunity. But on that third down play, Wilson was sacked for a 13-yard loss.

Do the math. Freshman Van Leigh Tiffin, Jr., now faced a 47-yard attempt. With 7:34 to play, Tiffin knocked it through.

The kick won't go down with the historical significance of one made by Leigh's father, Van Tiffin, in a 25-23 last-play win over Auburn in 1985 when Shula was Bama's quarterback, but it was plenty good enough on the second Saturday of this season 21 years later.

Alabama's defense did the job the rest of the way, including ending the game with the third interception of the game, linebacker Juwan Simpson hauling in the Hail Mary by Commodores quarterback Chris Nickson.

It was the second consecutive week Alabama's opponent had given up an interception on the final play of the game while trying to come back against Bama.

Alabama improved to 2-0, both wins in sold out (92,138) Bryant-Denny Stadium, while Vanderbilt fell to 0-2. It was the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.

It was a come-from-behind win for Alabama as the Commodores took a 10-3 lead just before halftime. Alabama's defense had a second half shutout.

Alabama seemed ready to take a quick lead, but failed to convert on its first possession. Alabama had the wind (as would be the case for Tiffin's fourth quarter kick) when the Tide drove 49 yards to the Vandy 24 (with Wilson hitting Keith Brown on passes of 29 and 16 yards to account for most of the yardage). But rather than kick for the three-point lead, the Tide went for trickery, holder P.J. Fitzgerald running on the fourth-and-nine play. He came up seven yards short and Bama turned the ball over.

The Tide got the ball back quickly and moved down for another chance. This time the decision was made to let Tiffin kick and he gave Bama a 3-0 lead with just under a minute to play in the first quarter.

Simeon Castille picked off a poor Nickson pass and gave Bama the ball at the Alabama 34, but the Tide returned the favor on the next play. Wilson suffered his only interception of the young season when he underthrew a pass at the Vandy 47.

The Commodores took advantage of the chance, moving to the Alabama 24. Bryant Hahnfeldt tied the game with a 42-yard field goal with 10 minutes to play.

Alabama responded with an excellent drive. Excellent to a point, that is. Tim Castille had an eight-yard run for a first down. Wilson had a 10-yard scramble for a first down (and the Commodores had a personal foul on the play), Wilson hit Brown for 11 yards for a first down. And Bama drove to a third and one at the Vandy 14.

Tim Castille, running out of the tailback spot in Alabama's big backs offense, picked up the yardage for the first down, but he didn't hold on to the football long enough. He fumbled it to Vanderbilt at the 13-yard line.

It was something more than salt in the wound when Vandy did more than just breath a sigh of relief at the miraculous stop. The Commodores went on a march. With just under four minutes to play, Vanderbilt began scratching out from the shadow of its goalline. Nickson hit passes of 22 yards and 13 yards and had a run of nine yards. Cassen Jackson-Garrison had a run of 11 yards.

Vanderbilt faced third-and-three at the Alabama six-yard line with 18 seconds to play. Instead of kicking, the Commodores took one shot into the end zone. And it was a shot to the Alabama heart. Earl Bennett slipped between coverage and Nickson drilled the touchdown pass to him with 14 seconds remaining in the first half.

Wilson had an excellent drive to start the second half. The sophomore quarterback completed all five of his pass attempts in a seven-play, 81-yard drive to tie the game at 10-10.

Wide receiver D.J. Hall made his first appearance of the season and took a 31-yard pass from Wilson for the touchdown.

Rashad Johnson, who was headed for MVP of special teams before Tiffin's game-winning kick, forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff and Cory Reamer recovered for Bama at the Vanderbilt 26. Wilson hit Keith Brown on a 12-yard pass for a first down and three runs put Bama at the Commodores three-yard line, first and goal.

And on first down, Jimmy Johns tried to dive over the top. He left the ball on the ground and Vanderbilt had dodged another bullet.

Vanderbilt would have only one more trip into Alabama territory—to the Tide 36—and that ended with Simeon Castille's second interception of the game at the Alabama 21. From there Bama went on what proved to be its game-winning march.

Alabama killed over four minutes of the game with its final possession. Punter P.J. Fitzgerald did a nice job of punting 41 yards to the Vandy 22, and coverage along the sidelines forced a seven-yard loss, so the Commodores faced an 85-yard field with only 48 seconds to play. Vandy got out of bounds at its 33 with one second to play. On the final gasp, Simpson made the interception at the Alabama 25.

Tiffin was SEC Special Teams Player of the Week. In addition to winning that honor from the SEC, he was also named by Bama coaches, who selected LéRon McClain for the offensive honor and Simeon Castille on defense.

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Vanderbilt
By Kirk McNair

In the Southeastern Conference opening game for both teams, Alabama and Vanderbilt were under SEC restrictions of squad size. As the visiting team, Vandy was limited to 70 men dressed. The home team, Alabama, could dress 95, of which 80 were designated as eligible for participation. Alabama used 57 men in the game–18 on offense, 22 on defense, and 17 just on special teams. For the second consecutive week, Alabama opened the game with a defensive alignment of three linemen, three linebackers, and five backs. First team defensive tackle Dominic Lee did not start and, instead, Bama went with a fifth defensive back, cornerback Lionel Mitchell, with Simeon Castille at nickel back. Alabama used two first-time starters on defense, Mitchell and middle linebacker Prince Hall. The Tide returned to its normal alignment on offense, meaning one tight end, two running backs, and two wide receivers. There were two Tide players who saw action for the first time in their UA careers. Sophomore receiver Nikita Stover and freshman defensive back Justin Woodall made their UA debuts. Stover played two snaps at receiver and hauled in a 36-yard catch on a third-and-18 from the Alabama 45-yard line to set up the winning field goal. Stover's clutch reception came on his first collegiate play. Woodall played four snaps, all on special teams. Wide receiver D.J. Hall saw action for the first time this season and made a touchdown reception. Senior offensive right tackle Kyle Tatum , whose streak of 24 consecutive starts (dating back to the 2003 Hawaii game) come to an end against Hawaii the previous week, did not participate in the Vanderbilt game for what Coach Mike Shula said was a violation of team rules. Although Alabama officially had one offensive play when the Tide tried a run out of field goal formation, the official participation chart lists that as field goal personnel. Here are those who played against Vanderbilt with starters listed first and the number of plays in parenthesis. If there are two numbers, the second is the number of plays on special teams.

Split End—Matt Caddell (26), D. J. Hall (55)
Left Tackle—Andre Smith (68-4)
Left Guard—Justin Britt (68)
Center—Antoine Caldwell (68)
Right Guard—B.J. Stabler (65), Mike Johnson (3-4)
Right Tackle—Chris Capps (68-4)
Tight End—Travis McCall (38-7), Nick Walker (32-4)
Quarterback—John Parker Wilson (68)
Halfback—Kenneth Darby (42), Jimmy Johns (10-9)
Fullback—LéRon McClain (43-10), Tim Castille (25)
Flanker—Keith Brown (45), Will Oakley (22), Nikita Stover (2)

Left End—Wallace Gilberry (37), Chris Harris (10)
Left Tackle—Jeremy Clark (30)
Right Tackle—Dominic Lee (19), J.P. Adams (10)
Right End—Keith Saunders (25), Zeke Knight (15-4), Bobby Greenwood (9)
Strongside Linebacker—Terrence Jones (39-3), Zach Schreiber (17-5)
Middle Linebacker—Prince Hall (33), Matt Collins (11-3)
Weakside Linebacker—Juwan Simpson (45-3), Demarcus Waldrop (1-3), Marcel Stamps (3-9)
Left Cornerback—Ramzee Robinson (49-2)
Right Cornerback—Simeon Castille (46-6), Lionel Mitchell (40-6), Eric Gray (2-12)
Strong Safety—Jeffrey Dukes (49)
Safety—Marcus Carter (37-3), Rashad Johnson (12-12)

Punter and Holder—P.J. Fitzgerald (3 punts, 3 field goals, 1 extra point)
Snapper—Luke Spaulding (3 punts, 3 field goals, 1 extra point)
Placekicker—Leigh Tiffin (3 field goals, 1 extra point), Andrew Friedman (4 kickoffs)
Coverage and Returns—Roy Upchurch (8), Chris Rogers (6), Cory Reamer (12), Marquis Johnson (10), Ali Sharrief (8), Justin Woodall (4), Javier Arenas (3), Terry Grant (3), Bryan Kilpatrick (4), Forress Rayford (5), Baron Huber (3), Evan Cardwell (4), Charles Hoke (4)

Scouting Report: Bama Sees Third Consecutive Spread Offense
By Mitch Dobbs

No one involved with the Alabama football programs is cracking jokes about Louisiana-Monroe. None of the Crimson Tide players are giving up oft-heard slips about not knowing where the team's located (easy in this case) or not knowing "anything about them" as is sometimes heard when a Southeastern Conference power is playing a team that was contracted to come to Tuscaloosa as a Sun Belt walkover opponent.

ULM Coach Charlie Weatherbie has gone 5-6 in each of his past two seasons. His first year was a 1-11 campaign in which he took over control of the program on May 9, 2003, just a day before the hiring of Mike Shula at Alabama.

There are no jokes about Louisiana-Monroe in part because the Crimson Tide has its own concerns to address. Namely, an offense that has struggled to run the ball and score touchdowns and a defense that has allowed big drives and only recorded three sacks against two pass-happy opponents.

But it's also because ULM does not appear to be the walkover it was when the game was scheduled. Last week, Louisiana-Monroe took Big 12 squad Kansas down to the wire, and put up big numbers with its spread offense. The offense on Louisiana-Monroe's football team is "like Florida", according to Alabama Head Coach Mike Shula, and runs a wider variety of plays out of its spread offense formation that Alabama's first two opponents, Hawaii and Vanderbilt, combined.

Defensive Coordinator Joe Kines said their quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster is more athletic, and a more accurate passer than Vanderbilt's Chris Nickson, who hurt the Tide passing and running on one drive last week, and this evident from the numbers he put up last week against Kansas.

Lancaster, a 5-11, 202-pound sophomore from Shreveport, was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week last week. He had a career day, with 377 yards on 24 of 41 passing. He is ranked 13th in the nation in total offense with 284.5 yards per game, and he sports a 134.43 passing efficiency rating (Alabama's John Parker Wilson has a rating of 133.17). Lancaster is the best in the Sun Belt in those categories.

Of course, some of Lancaster's number could say more about the lower tier of the Big 12 than about ULM's. The Warriors let Division I-AA Alcorn State hang around until the fourth quarter. Alcorn was two yards away from taking a 13-10 lead in the fourth quarter when ULM recovered a fumble, drove the length of the field to score, and tacked on another touchdown to record the win. Lancaster also has more rushing attempts than anyone on the team with 29 rushes in two games for 92 yards.

The leading rusher is Calvin Dawson, at 58 yards per game. He's carried to 24 times in two games at a clip of 4.8 yards per carry. The longest run Dawson's gone for this year is 13 yards. Erroll Hogan is smaller than Dawson (5-9, 195 pouinds), and actually listed ahead of him on the depth chart, even though he's had just 11 carries on the year for 43 yards. Dawson has four catches for 40 yards on the year and Hogan has only one reception.

Louisiana-Monroe is the third spread offense team Alabama will see in its first three weeks of the season. ULM spreads the ball around more than Bama's previous opponents, however. No single receiver accounts for more that 25 per cent of the ULM receiving yards (Keith Brown accounts for half of Bama's receiving yardage), and the fourth-leading receiver Darrell McNeal accounts for a respectable 12 per cent of the Warrior receiving yards (Alabama's fourth-leading yard-gainer is Nick Walker, accounting for 8 per cent of the receiving total).

Zeke Zacharie, a 6-4 230-pound tight end is ULM's leader in receiving yards, even though he's not started in either game this year. The starter has been Mitch Doyle, a 6-5, 275 pound sophomore (one reception for 11 yards). Zacharie has two of the three touchdown passes Lancaster has thrown, including one 59 yarder.

Wide receiver LaGregory Sapp has the most catches on the squad, nine for 94 yards. Sapp is a 6-3, 200 pound freshman from Monroe. Senior Joe Merritt (6-0, 195) and McNeal, a freshman, start at the other two receiver positions, with McNeal listed as the slot receiver. Merritt, whose stats and alignment (he's an outside Z-receiver, typically a split end) would indicate is the Warriors' best deep threat, has five receptions for 111 yards and McNeal has 4 for 61. Both are six feet tall. McNeal has four catches for 61 yards on the season.

Alabama's main task on defense will be to put pressure on Lancaster while containing him at the same time. And the Tide defense is sure to be in nickel coverage with five defensive backs on the field for much of the game for the third week in a row, and they will be charged with covering three receivers and a good catching tight end without being able to put too much focus on any single receiver.

ULM Defensive Coordinator Kim Dameron, who graduated from Arkansas in 1983, most often employs a 4-4-3 defensive alignment, meaning the Tide offense will be faced with four down linemen and four linebackers determined to stop the run first.

Louisiana-Monroe's most productive player is a do-it-all in the mold of former Alabama punt returner, defensive back and punter Hootie Ingram. ULM senior Kevin Payne (6-1, 212 pounds) has lettered three years, and is the Warriors' free safety, punter and has seen time returning punts this year. He has two interceptions on the season and is also ULM's leading tackler with 13 stops in two games. He is the captain of the defense.

Starting at the cornerback positions are two six foot seniors, Quintez Secka and Chaz Williams. Secka, a captain for ULM's game last week, has eight tackles including one for loss. He has one pass break up on the year and recovered a fumble against Alcorn State. Williams led the team in interceptions a year ago with six picks. He has played in 22 games for ULM. Williams has 11 tackles and two pass break ups.

The starting inside linebackers are true freshman Cardia Jackson and senior Josh Alexander. Alexander, 6-0, 225 pounds, has lettered three times. He has nine tackles including two and a half tackles for loss and one sack. Jackson, 6-2, 228 pounds, has made an early impact with a dozen tackes on the season. He is ahead of a sophomore who lettered for ULM last year.

Sophomore Josh Thompson is the starter at the rover (outside linebacker) position. He is among ULM's most active defenders, with 13 tackles and two forced fumbles in the two games. Thompson has also forced a fumbled and made one interception. Austin Willis is a 6-0, 205 pound senior outside linebacker. Willis has made three tackles, one and a half stops for loss and had one pass break up on the year.

Defensive ends Christiaan (spelled with two As) Cambridge and Jameson Jordan are the starters at defensive end, but freshman Aaron Morgan has also had an impact in ULM's first two games. Morgan leads the defense with two sacks on the season. Cambridge has eight tackles, and three and a half stops behind the line including one sack. Jordan has for tackles, a half of a tackle for loss and one batted pass.

Starting defensive tackles are sophomore DeMarcus Camouche and junior Ricky Williams. Camouche is 6-5 293 pounds, and has three tackles on the year. Williams, 6-2, 280 pounds, also has three tackles.

In addition to being the defensive leader, Payne has been an outstanding punter. He has averaged 43.5 yards per punt on 10 kicks and has hit a long of 60 yards. Payne has also returned a punt this season, which went for nine yards. ULM placekicker Ragan Walters is in his third year with the duties. He has made 4 of 5 extra points and 1 of 2 field goals, accounting for seven points. ULM's deep snapper is a senior with three letters, and backup quarterback Chance Payne is the holder.

Coach Mike Shula Says
By Kirk McNair

If Alabama had been in the Red Zone (inside the 20-yard line) 10 times this year and scored 10 touchdowns, what would Bama Coach Mike Shula be doing that is different than what the Crimson Tide is doing?


"If we were 10 for 10, we'd keep on doing the same thing," Shula said. "We practice it a lot. But we have to be more efficient. We have to get thje ball into the hands of the guys who are going to get it into the end zone."

Alabama kept sneaking close to the goalline against Vanderbilt last Saturday, but too often didn't have much to show for it. Bama failed to get points when a fake field goal run came up short of a first down and when lost fumbles crushed excellent scoring opportunities. And the Bama football critics noticed.

"When you don't have the success that is expected, you are going to have criticism," Shula said. "You talk to your team about that. I probably remember answering a question similar to this last year and maybe a few other times in my career, too. You worry about the things you can control. There's going to be criticism and questions, but what you have to do is worry about are the things that you can control. That's what we talk to our team about, really all the time."

Shula knows Bama didn't play its best in the Crimson Tide's 13-10 win over Vanderbilt, but the operative word is "win." He said, "Being 2-0, and maybe not playing as well as whe should, I'm real excited about this football team. I think if each invididual keeps getting better and we take it one week at a time, we have a chance to be successful.

"We're looking forward to this week. Basically, it's like another one week season. You treat it that way. we've got two wins, but we've got to get better this week if we're going to find a way to get that third win."

Shula has reason to believe the Tide will improve this week. He said, "Last week we didn't practice as well as we had in the first week or in training camp. Ball security-wise we've been a team that has held onto the football. Everytime that happens (fumble), you want to understand why. In practice you continue to emphasize those points."

He said, "We've got to play better. To do that, we've got to have three good days of preparation."

Shula said that part of the preparation comes from the system, whereby mistakes are corrected. And, he said, a team has to know how to respond to wins and losses. "I think we're a young football team," he said. "I don't say that as an excuse. I think we're going to get a lot better."

The offensive challenge this week comes from a Louisiana-Monroe team that is similar to the first two opponents, Hawaii and Vanderbilt, which is to say unconventional. And Shula said ULM quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster "is more athletic and maybe with a better arm."

Shula expects defenses to continue stacking a lot of players close to the snap of the ball. "On paper, when that happens, you pass," Shula said. "We want to be a balanced offense. We want to be able to run the ball. We have to block."

He said Bama has faced more two deep coverage in run down situations than in the past, and said "We're seeing a lot of zone blitz, too, where they're still playing a lot of coverage behind it."

He added, "We've got to be better down there, but we're not going to over-stress it. We'll keep working on it, keep coaching it hard so everyone knows what to do."

The good news is that new quarterback John Parker Wilson has seemed to be able to handle the challenge. "It gives you confidence that the qurterback has been able to produce," Shula said. He added the pass protection has probably been its best in his four years.

One of the big questions among Bama followers is "What's wrong with Kenneth Darby?" It wasn't put exactly like that to Shula by sportswriters Tuesday, but the general question did come up.

Shula said, "I think he came out of the Vanderbilt game better than he came out of the Hawaii game. I thought he looked 100 per cent last Thursday and I thought he looked much better this Sunday than last Sunday. Only KD knows if he's 100 per cent, but he had some big runs in the fourth quarter. Hopefully, he's healthy now and will continue to improve. He has been productive and we're going to give him opportunities."

Back-up halfback Jimmy Johns had one of the lost fumbles inside the 10-yard line. Shula said, "Jimmy fumbled it going in, and Sparky (Running Backs Coach Sparky Woods) had him in on the next play. I think it's important to do those type of things so your guy knows you have confidence in him."

One highlight for Bama Saturday was the kicking of freshman Leigh Tiffin. Shula said, "We need to get touchdowns when we're down there, but the good news is that a freshman has been able to come in and get points for us. He's a freshman, but he thinks like a senior. And he has good work habits. It's good to have depth there."

One area of interest this year is the new clock rules. Shula was asked what he thought about them. He said, "I'm probably not the one to ask. You should probably ask those people who changed them to see what their thinking was. Personally, I knew it was going to be faster. I'm not sure I knew it was going to be this fast. The total game going two hours and 47 minutes–I didn't think it was going to be like that."

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