'BAMA Newsletter

'BAMA: Inside the Crimson Tide Newsletter number 10.

Inside: - Advice To Tide: No Peeking Ahead
- No Surprise As Tide Wins
- Depth Chart
- Statistical Comparison
- Coach Shula Says
- Season Statistics (PDF Version)

Advice To Tide: No Peeking Ahead
By Kirk McNair

I'm going to take a chance and peek with just one eye, goes the punch line of an old, best-forgotten joke. It's not a good idea in athletics to look ahead. Pitch your best pitcher in this game, not the game you'll play if you win this one. Don't look past Mississippi State at home to LSU on the road.

Early this week a group of men at lunch in Tuscaloosa were talking about "Alabama having a chance to win." Someone nearby asked, "Are you talking about LSU?" They weren't. They were looking two games ahead, to Auburn.

Not a good idea.

Should Alabama defeat Mississippi State? Of course. Just look at the records. Bama's 6-3 mark isn't great, but it's a lot better than the 2-7 record of the Bulldogs, already assured of a losing season.

Does that mean the Crimson Tide can spend time this week preparing for LSU? Or Auburn?

That would be "No." Alabama coaches this week will have spent zero time preparing Crimson Tide players for any team other than Mississippi State. That's not to say it's never done. A true powerhouse football team with a cupcake on the schedule might spend some time doing things more suited to a future opponent. But that doesn't happen often, and no one would suggest that Alabama is enough better than Mississippi State to do it this week.

And it's not as though LSU is going to be working this week towards Alabama, either. The Bengal Tigers have a considerable challenge in going to Knoxville Saturday.

Alabama is not in the race for any championships this year. Difficult road losses at Arkansas, Florida and Tennessee have taken the Crimson Tide out of contention. That doesn't mean there cannot be some success this year. Because Alabama is already bowl eligible, there will be the accomplishment of extending the nation's record for most bowl games played. Take it a step further and Bama can also extend its record for most bowl victories.

And a major accomplishment could come in the final regular season game of the year. It may seem unlikely, but in a few weeks Alabama will be hopeful of upsetting national champion contender Auburn at Bryant-Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa.

But before there can be an upset of LSU in Tiger Stadium, an upset of Auburn in Bryant-Denny Stadium, and any bowl plans, the Crimson Tide must avoid adding a stain to this season. That is what a loss to Mississippi State would be.

This is not a satisfactory season at the moment. That's because of the overtime loss at Arkansas. Had Bama won that game against the surprising Razorbacks, almost no one would be distressed about the year Alabama has had. But that's a big "If." It's not to say that losses to Florida and Tennessee would have been acceptable if the Tide had defeated Arkansas, but pre-season expectations are that Alabama would be the underdog in Gainesville and Knoxville. The Arkansas game was universally spotted as the key game for both the Crimson Tide and the Razorbacks, and the Hogs won it in overtime.

Just as Alabama was expected to be the underdog in some games, there are others almost automatically penciled in as Bama victories. They include all the non-conference games this year (although there was reason to be worried about Hawaii) and the two Southeastern Conference games already in the win column–Ole Miss and Vanderbilt. But the wins over the Rebels and Commodores were difficult ones. The last game in which Alabama would be considered the clear favorite is Saturday.

Alabama Coach Mike Shula doesn't believe that his team "plays down" to the opposition, but that's a general consensus about the Tide. Add to that Mississippi State's determination to get that rare Bulldogs victory over Alabama and there is reason for concern this week. Particularly if any in the Bama camp are peeking ahead.

No Surprise As Tide Defeats Florida International
By Kirk McNair

Games against the likes of Florida International serve a purpose. For a few hundred thousand dollars, Alabama gets a full house of high-priced ticket buyers (or, in many cases, spectators who infrequently see a Bama game in person). The Crimson Tide gets a win, in fact a win coming late in the season that assures post-season play. And some players who would ordinarily not be participating get morale-boosting playing time.

As expected, Alabama was an easy winner over Florida International on homecoming weekend in Tuscaloosa Saturday. The Crimson Tide took a 38-3 decision and was able to play a lot of players. But for various reasons, it was not the fun experience many expected.

The game was Alabama's final non-conference game of the year. With the win, Alabama improved to 6-3 and became bowl eligible. The Crimson Tide leads the nation in bowl appearances (53) and bowl victories (30). Florida International, which was having a bad season even before suspending 18 players after its last game, fell to 0-7.

Despite the one-sidedness of the final score, Alabama's offense struggled against the Golden Panthers. FIU was very successful in shortening the game. There were only 107 plays, 54 by Alabama and 53 by the visitors. The defense and special teams had much to do with Bama point production. Most unsettling was an injury suffered by starting Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson.

Alabama's much-maligned special teams played a big part in Crimson Tide success Saturday. Javier Arenas returned a punt for a touchdown, Jamie Christensen had his career-longest field goal (46 yards), and Forress Rayford blocked a punt.

Playing against the worst football team that has been in Bryant-Denny Stadium since, well, maybe Duke, Alabama looked about like Duke in falling behind by 3-0 at the end of the first quarter.

The game started about the way one would expect it to start. Alabama forced Florida International to a three-and-out. Alabama drove to a first-and-goal. But then something unexpected happened. Instead of kicking a field goal when the Red Zone offense fizzled, Bama threw caution to the wind. A fourth down play was a fourth straight run up the middle, and Bama was denied.

Then things turned unlikely.

After a couple of punt exchanges, the visiting Golden Panthers got the scoring started. The big play was FIU quarterback Josh Padrick getting the pass away under pressure on a third-and-10 from the Panthers' 10. He found Jeremy Dickens down the sideline and it went for 68 yards to the Bama 22. Four plays later Dustin Rivest kicked FIU to a 3-0 lead with a 37-yard field goal.

It took Alabama into the second quarter to get on the board and into the lead. The scoring opportunity was set up when Forress Rayford blocked a punt to set Bama up at the FIU 33. The Tide capitalized on the chance. Alabama quarterback John Parker Wilson hit Will Oakley on a 24-yard pass to the FIU nine, then connected with fullback LéRon McClain on a swing pass for the go-ahead touchdown.

Jamie Christensen kicked Alabama to a 10-3 lead with a 46-yard field goal with 4:47 to play in the first half. Bama had to kick when a likely touchdown pass to Mike McCoy was dropped by the freshman on a third-and-seven play.

With 2:30 to play in the first half, Wilson completed a relatively inconsequential pass, a seven-yard gain to the Bama 35 to fullback Tim Castille. But it turned out to be of major consequence when Wilson went down with an injury to his left ankle. Wilson was able to walk off the field after being down awhile.

Jimmy Barnes replaced Wilson in the lineup, but Jimmy Johns was in shotgun formation at quarterback and Barnes split out. A couple of runs got the Tide into FIU territory, but the drive stalled and Alabama punted away on fourth down and less than a minute remaining in what would be considered an unsatisfactory half.

Although Wilson returned for the second half, he was obviously limited, favoring his left ankle.

Early in the third quarter Florida International lost quarterback Josh Padrick for a few plays, but he, too, was able to return.

Fortunately, the Tide was able to get a little help from special teams, a touchdown without benefit of quarterback. Javier Arenas, who in the first half had a nice return wiped out by a penalty, took the first FIU punt of the second half back 65 yards for a touchdown and a 17-3 Alabama lead.

Moments later Demarcus Waldrop caused a fumble that was recovered by Simeon Castille and returned 11 yards to the FIU seven -yard line. Wilson was forced to throw the ball away on first down, then Kenneth Darby ran for four yards on second down, and Tim Castille ran it close to the goalline. On fourth down from inside the one, Castille got it again and this time he went in for a 24-3 lead with 7:14 remaining in the third quarter.

Barnes took over at quarterback for Alabama with 2:37 remaining in the third quarter after Bama stopped FIU on downs at midfield. It didn't go well. A run gained nothing. Then there was a timeout, followed by a delay of game as the Tide couldn't get the play off on time coming out of the timeout. Another run left it at third and 11. Barnes' lincomplete third down pass just beat a sack.

But the Tide didn't need the offense.

The defense got a touchdown when on a third down play a pass was tipped by the receiver at the 30 and picked off by Tide cornerback Ramzee Robinson at the FIU 34. Robinson went in untouched for the touchdown. Leigh Tiffin, who had not kicked since a disastrous outing in an overtime loss to Arkansas in the third game of the season, kicked the extra point to make it 31-3.

Late in the game Barnes had a couple of nice completions and had a very fine pass for what would have been a touchdown dropped by Nikita Stover. Stover did catch a third down pass for a first down at the FIU six. A pass interference put the ball at the two for first and goal. Proving that the second offense can do what the first offense can do in the Red Zone, Barnes was sacked at the 10 on first down. He completed a pass to back-up fullback Baron Huber at the six, then completed a touchdown pass to Matt Caddell. Tiffin's second extra point kick finished the scoring.

TIDE NOTES: Alabama's Players of the Game against Florida International were halfback Kenneth Darby on offense, linebacker Juwan Simpson on defense, and return specialist Javier Arenas on special teams.

The Alabama-Mississippi State gmae this week has former Alabama players as opposing head coaches. Mike Shula is in his fourth season as head coach at Alabama. He finished his Alabama quarterback career in 1986. Sylvester Croom finished his Bama playing career as an All-America center in 1974. He was an assistant coach for the Tide through Shula's final season. Both Shula and Croom had long careers as NFL assistants and they were finalists for the job as Alabama head football coach in 2003.

This will be the 27th time Alabama has been in games in which former Crimson Tide players were head coaches of both teams. Alabama has a 21-5 record in previous games. Paul Bryant was 15-1 in wuch games, Ray Perkins 1-0, Mike DuBose 2-4, and Mike Shula 3-0. (Some comparisons also include a 3-1 record against David Cutcliffe when he was head coach at Ole Miss. Cutcliffe is a graduate of Alabama, but was not a football player.)

It will be Sunday afternoon before the kickoff time and television situation is known for the Alabama game at LSU on November 11. The Southeastern Conference announced that CBS elected to use its six-day selection window, selecting following games this Saturday. Games being considered for CBS at 2:30 CST are Tennessee at Arkansas, Georgia at Auburn, South Carolina at Florida and Alabama at LSU.

ESPN will televise one of the games at 6:45 p.m. CST, ESPN2 one at 6 p.m. CST, and Lincoln Financial one at 11:30 a.m. CST.

Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Florida International
By Kirk McNair

Alabama dressed 114 men for its homecoming game against Florida International in Tuscaloosa. The Golden Panthers, who had suspended 18 players following a brawl in its game against Miami prior to the Bama contest, added four players at the last moment and still had only 52 dressed. Quantity, however, had little to do with the decisive Crimson Tide victory. It was good that Alabama was playing a non-conference opponent for homecoming. That means the ridiculous Southeastern Conference rule on squad limits was not in force and the Crimson Tide could have all deserving players in uniform for the game. This week the SEC limits will have Alabama, the home team, limited to 95 dressed, of which 80 will be designated as eligible to play, and lvisiting Mississippi State will be limited to 70 players. Against Florida International, Alabama played 69 men. Alabama opened the game in normal offensive and defensive alignments, meaning two wide receivers, two running backs, and a tight end on offense and four linemen, three linebackers and four backs on defense. Bama used 26 on offense, 35 on defense, and eight just on special teams. Sophomore right guard Marlon Davis got his second career start, and first since the second game of 2005 against Southern Miss. He started in place of B.J. Stabler, who was held out of the game in order to rest his injured knee. Stabler had started 18 consecutive games. Keith Brown missed his second consecutive game as Will Oakley got his third straight start at wide receiver. Safety Rashad Johnson got his second consecutive start. Four players made a playing debut Saturday. They are junior linebacker Kenneth Vandervoort, freshman snapper Brian Selman, freshman defensive tackle Brandon Fanney, and sophomore quarterback Trent Dean on kickoff coverage. Junior defensive lineman Justin Johnson saw his first action of this season. Center Antoine Caldwell, halfback Kenneth Darby, and defensive end Wallace Gilberry extended their starting streaks to 20 games, longest of any current Tide players. Defensive end Chris Harris played in his 38th game, the most by any Alabama player without a career start. Here are those who played against Florida International 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.

OFFENSE
Split End—D. J. Hall (36), Nikita Stover (17), Mike McCoy (5)
Left Tackle—Andre Smith (44-3), Cody Davis (11-2)
Left Guard—Justin Britt (39), Michael Johnson (11-5)
Center—Antoine Caldwell (38), Evan Cardwell (22-5)
Right Guard—Marlon Davis (55)
Right Tackle—Chris Capps (29-2), Kyle Tatum (26-3)
Tight End—TTravis McCall (32-13), Nick Walker (32-5), Charles Hoke (5-7)
Quarterback—John Parker Wilson (33), Jimmy Barnes (22)
Halfback—Kenneth Darby (17), Jimmy Johns (17-6), Ali Sharrief (11-11)
Fullback—LéRon McClain (20-13), Tim Castille (25-6), Baron Huber (7-2), Will Denniston (1)
Flanker—Will Oakley (34), Matt Caddell (16-26)

DEFENSE
Left End—Wallace Gilberry (30), Chris Harris (24), Justin Johnson (1)
Left Tackle—Jeremy Clark (20), Lorenzo Washington (11), Byron Walton (1)
Right Tackle—Dominic Lee (18), J.P. Adams (10), Brandon Deaderick (7), Brandon Fanney (1)
Right End—Keith Saunders (27), Bobby Greenwood (27)
Strongside Linebacker—Terrence Jones (30), Demarcus Waldrop (21-18), Marcel Stamps (4)
Middle Linebacker— Prince Hall (30), Matt Collins (18), Darren Mustin (6-7), Kenneth Vandervoort (3)
Weakside Linebacker—Juwan Simpson (29-6), Zach Schreiber (17-9), Eryk Anders (4-7)
Left Cornerback—Ramzee Robinson (48), Eric Gray (18-18), Marquis Johnson (6-14)
Right Cornerback—Simeon Castille (48-12), Lionel Mitchell (16-2), Chris Rogers (6-13), Forress Rayford (3-13)
Strong Safety—Jeffrey Dukes (48-9), Justin Woodall (6-16), Bryan Kilpatrick (3-15)
Safety—Rashad Johnson (25-8), Marcus Carter (23-5), Sam Burnthall (3-18)

SPECIAL TEAMS
Punter and Holder—P.J. Fitzgerald (6 punts, 1 field goal, 4 extra points)
Snapper—Luke Spaulding (6 punts, 1 field goal, 3 extra points), Brian Selman (1 extra point)
Placekicker—Jamie Christensen (5 kickoffs, 1 field goal, 2 extra points), Leigh Tiffin (2 kickoffs, 2 extra points)
Coverage and Returns—Javier Arenas (9), Trent Dean (1), Danny Barger (2)

Tide Outranks Bulldogs
By Kirk McNair

As Alabama and Mississippi State prepare to play the 10th game of the season for both teams, statistics become a bit more meaningful. By now both teams have played against some heavyweights and both have finished with the non-conference cupcakes. (Well, Mississippi State didn't play all creampuffs with West Virginia on the Bulldogs' schedule.)

It should come as no surprise that even with its relatively modest success this eason, Alabama shows up better in just about every statistical category.

Let's get the bad news out of the way first.

In punt return average, Mississippi State has 20 returns for 271 yards and one touchdown and averages 13.6 yards per runback, which is fourth in the SEC and 19th in the nation. Alabama is seventh in the conference and 65th nationally with 23 returns for 186 yards (one touchdown) and an average of 8.1 yards per return.

State is tied for fifth in the SEC in sacks with 19 for 127 yards in losses. Bama is dead last in the conference with seven sacks for 52 yards in losses.

The Bulldogs lead the league in opponents being penalized. Mississippi State opponents have been flagged 58 times for 519 yards, an average of 57.7 yards per game. The Crimson Tide isn't too far behind, ranking third, with opponents penalized 62 times for 489 yards, 54.3 yards per game.

And in extra point kicking, Mississippi State is one of five teams tied for first at perfect with 20 of 20; Bama is last at 22 of 24.

In the other 26 team statistical categores maintained by the SEC, Alabama ranks ahead of Mississippi State.

In scoring offense, Alabama is eighth in the SEC and 56th in the nation at 24.7 points per game and Mississippi State is 11th in the league and 98th nationally at 18.4. In scoring defense, Bama is fifth in the confererence and 20th nationally allowing 15.8 points per game, the Bulldogs 11th in the SEC and 92nd in the nation, giving up 27.2 points per game.

Alabama is seventh in the conference and 64th in the nation in rushing offense, 133.4 yards per game. Mississippi State rushes 78.3 yards per game, which is last in the league and 110th in the nation. Bama is fourth in the SEC and 26th nationally in rushing defense, allowing 105.2 yards per game, while the Bulldogs allow 122 yards per game, which is sixth in the league and 46th in the nation.

The teams are close in passing offense, Alabama sixth in the SEC and 50th in the nation at 207.7 yards per game, State seventh in the league and 59th nationally at 199.3 yards per game. In pass defense Bama is eighth in the SEC and 36th in the nation, allowing 172.3 yards per game, the Bulldogs 11th in the conference and 89th in the nation, allowing 223.8. In pass efficiency Bama is seventh in the league and 43rd in the nation, State 11th in the conference and 102 nationally. In pass efficiency defense, the Tide is fifth in the SEC and 27th in the nation, State last in the conference and 105th in the nation.

Alabama has total offense of 341.1 yards per game, seventh in the league and 59th in the nation, the Bulldogs 277.7 yards per game, 11th in the conference and 105th in the nation. Defensively, Bama allows 277.6 yards per game, fourth in the SEC and 18th in the nation, Mississippi State 345.8 yards per game, 10th in the conference and 74th nationally.

Perhaps surprising, Alabama is better than Mississippi State in the Red Zone (the 20 yards to the goalline). Bama is seventh in the SEC in Red Zone offense, scoring 76.9 per cent of the time (30 of 39 with 15 touchdowns and 15 field goals), and Mississippi State is 10th at 71.4 per cent (15 of 21 with 13 touchdowns and two field goals). Defensively, Bama is eighth, allowing scores 78.3 per cent of the time (18 of 23 with 11 touchdowns and seven field goals), the Bulldogs 11th at 93.9 per cent (31-33 with 24 touchdowns and seven field goals).

Two areas considered important to winning are turnover margin and third down effectiveness. Alabama is leading the SEC and is second in the nation in turnover margin. Alabama has turned in eight fumble recoveries and 14 pass interceptions (22 total takeaways) and suffered four lost fumbles and five interceptions (9 giveaways) for plus 13, or 1.44 per game. Mississippi State is ninth in the league and 80th in the nation with 17 takeaways and 20 turnovers, minus three, or minus 0.33 per game.

On third downs, Alabama is seventh in the league in converting at 41.5 per cent, and fourth in the conference in stopping the opponent on third down at 31.5 per cent. Mississippi State is ninth in the league in both categories, making 34.7 per cent and allowing 38 per cent.

On fourth down tries, Alabama is sixth at 54.5 per cent, Mississippi State 11th at 35.7 per cent. In defending fourth down tries, Bama is xith, allowing 41.7 per cent, Mississippi State last, allowing 77.8 per cent.

In making first downs, Alabama is second in the SEC with 171 (75 rushing, 81 passing, 15 by penalty) and State is 10th with 139 (49 rush, 77 pass, 13 penalty). Bama is second in defense against first downs, having allowed 126 (49 rush, 69 pass, 8 by penalty) and the Bulldogs are ninth, having given up 155 (66 rushing, 78 passing, 11 by penalty).

Although the Bulldogs are better than Bama at getting sacks, State is also quite vulnerable to the sack. Mississippi State is 12th in the league in getting sacked, having given up 26 for 183 yards. Bama protects a little better. The Tide is eighth, having allowed 19 sacks for 149 yards.

Alabama has been penalized 54 times for 382 yards, 42.4 yards per game, which is fourth in the conference. Mississippi State has been penalized 50 times for 477 yards, 53 yards per game, which is 10th in the SEC.

On kickoffs, Alabama is sixth in the league on returns, 20 runbacks for 414 yards, 20.7 yards per return, and Mississippi State is seventh, 29 returns for 595 yards, 20.5 average. In kickoff coverage, the Tide is sixth, averaging 60.7 yards on 47 kickoffs, permitting 750 yards on returns, for a 42.6 net average. Mississippi State is ninth wit 31 kickoffs averaging 60.7 yards and 437 returns yards, a net of 40.8.

Bama is 10th in net punting, 33.5 yards, just ahead of number 11 Mississippi State, 33.3.

The Tide is seventh in field goals, 16 of 23, and State is tied for eighth, four of seven.

Alabama is first in the SEC in time of possession, averaging 32:52 per game. Mississippi State is 11th, 28:00.

In top ten individual statistics:
In rushing, Bama's Kenneth Darby is fifth at 75.8 yards per game and no State player is ranked. In passing, the Tide's John Parker Wilson is fifth in yards per game (201) and seventh in efficiency and no Bulldogs are ranked. In pass receiving, D.J. Hall is second in yards per game at 91.5, State's Tony Burks is fourth at 79.8, and the Tide's Keith Brown is ninth at 73.3. In receptions per game, Brown is third at 5.29 and Hall seventh at 4.75 per game with no State players ranked.

In punt returns, State's Derek Pegues is third at 14.8 and Bama's Javier Arenas fifth at 8.2. In kickoff returns, Pegues is fifth at 24.4 and Arenas sixth at 21.3. Mississippi State punter Blake McAdams is fifth with a 38.7 average and the Tide's P.J. Fitzgerald is sixth at 38.5.

In pass interceptions, the Alabama's Simeon Castille is second with five in nine games and Lionel Mitchell is third with four in eight games. Pegues has four in nine games to rank sixth.


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