- Editorial: The Outlook Is Not Encouraging
- Alabama Takes Step Back
- Depth Chart
- Scouting Report
- Coach Shula Says
- Season Statistics (PDF version only)
The Outlook Is Not Encouraging
By Kirk McNair
At this time a year ago Alabama football was in heady company. The Crimson Tide was 9-0 and ranked among the nation's top teams, even so much as to being figured into darkhorse contention for the national championship. There were disappointing losses to end the regular season, an overtime setback to Southeastern Conference Western Division champion LSU the first of them. That loss was not horrendous for the Bama faithful. The Alabama offense being dismantled by Auburn's pass rush in the regular season finale was not acceptable.
The season had a good end, the championship of the Cotton Bowl and a final 10-2 record.
But sometimes good luck turns out to be not such good luck. That 2005 record may have made expectations unrealistic for 2006.
Any reasonable person would have expected this year's Crimson Tide to have a difficult time matching last year's record. For one thing, two of Bama's best 2005 players are starring as 2006 NFL rookies. Mark Anderson and DeMeco Ryans were huge for an Alabama defense that ranked among the nation's strongest last season. Additionally, Bama would be going with a new quarterback. Finally, most of the tough SEC games–Arkansas, Florida, Tennessee and LSU–were on the road.
So for most, expectations were not as high. At least not quite as high.
For almost no one were they as low as has been reality.
Alabama has lost every game against a quality SEC opponent and one (last week to Mississippi State) that is not quality. Against one of the nation's most woeful non-conference schedules, Alabama has struggled. The unimpressive wins have been almost as disheartening as the losses.
And now the expectations for the remainder of the season are at the lowest possible ebb. Virtually no one outside of players and coaches would consider that Alabama has any chance to win against LSU or Auburn. The only hope for most in the Bama camp is that the Crimson Tide not be embarrassed.
Alabama's schedule enabled the Tide to become bowl eligible, and Bama's great bowl tradition will almost certainly mean a 13th game somewhere. Although some call for declining a bowl invitation, that would be foolhardy. For one thing, it is extra practice time. For another, in years to come it will be important that Alabama maintain its lead in bowl appearances. Who knows, there might even be victory in a lower tier bowl against another low-ranking opponent.
The look beyond this season is cloudy. Most believe that Alabama can have a good team in 2007 as the squad matures. Currently two-thirds of this team is freshmen, redshirt freshmen, and sophomores. But there is more to it than that.
One scenario is that nothing changes, that Mike Shula and his staff stay the course. That is likely to be unacceptable.
At the opposite extreme is a complete house-cleaning in the football staff. The primary disadvantage of this choice is loss of the hope that stability had come to the program.
In between is that Shula commit to significant change. The risk of this is that the person making the changes is the one who has been in charge of getting the program to where it is now. Of course, when Shula was hired in May, 2003, there wasn't a great pool to choose from in putting together a staff.
Athletics Director Mal Moore has a decision to make. He knows none of the options guarantee success.
Bama Took Step Back In Loss To Mississippi State
By Kirk McNair
The wait for Alabama's football team to get over the hump, to show some improvement, has been agonizingly long. And now it will be longer, because nothing can remove the stain of a home loss to Mississippi State.
It was pretty much the same old Mississippi State, perhaps a little better on offense. Unfortunately, it was the Alabama that has been showing up Saturday after Saturday, and this week there would be no reprieve courtesy of a creampuff opponent. Alabama had its usual Red Zone problems and finished on the short end of a 24-16 score in Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday.
In a meeting of teams coached by former Alabama players, Sylvester Croom's Mississippi State Bulldogs made clutch plays on offense and defense. It was perhaps the most discouraging loss in the four-year career of Mike Shula as head coach of the Crimson Tide.
It was Mississippi State's first SEC win as the Bulldogs went 3-1 against teams from the state of Alabama. Although the Dogs were crushed by Auburn, 34-0, Bama joined Jacksonville State and Alabama-Birmingham as State victims. Mississippi State has no other wins in its 3-7 record. It was State's first win over Bama since 2000.
Alabama's only lead in the game came in the opening moments, an all-too-familiar trip into the Red Zone that produced only three points. The game was later tied at 10-10, but State made a one-play goalline stand to end the first half and let its defense do the work in the second half.
Alabama was unable to capitalize fully on its first possession, a fine drive that ended up in what has been for Alabama the Dread Zone. With second and goal at the one, the Tide had a lost yard then an incomplete pass and had to settle for Jamie Christensen kicking a 19-yard field goal. Bama had gotten a good start with Javier Arenas' good kickoff return to the 40. A nice mix of run (Tim Castille 11 yards, Kenneth Darby seven yards on first and goal from the eight) and pass (John Parker Wilson 11 to Will Oakley, 21 to D.J. Hall) plays put the Tide into position for opening points.
Mississippi State had no trouble responding. The Bulldogs went 70 yards in nine plays, taking just 3:18. Michael Henig combined with his big play receiver, Tony Burks on a crossing pattern for a 25-yard touchdown. The drive also included a 21-yard run by Anthony Dixon and Henig hitting Aubrey Bell for 15 yards.
Alabama's special teams weren't so special on the kickoff following the State TD with Rashad Johnson mishandling the ball and the Tide having to start at its own seven. Wilson got the Tide out of a hole, first with a pass to Hall for a first down at the 26, then with a shot put pass to Castille to keep the drive alive for a moment at the 40. But then a Bama punt went only 28 yards to the Mississippi State 30.
State got more than the length of that punt on first down with a 30-yard run by Dixon, then got another first down on a third down Henig to Eric Butler completion to the Alabama 26. The drive stalled at the Tide 21 and Adam Carlson kicked a 39-yard field goal for a 10-3 State lead on the second play of the second quarter.
Alabama's offense fizzled again, but P.J. Fitzgerald had a nice 40-yard punt to force the Bulldogs to start from their own 12-yard line.
On third and eight from the 16, Henig's pass was picked off by Jeffrey Dukes and returned 24 yards for a touchdown. Christensen's extra point kick tied the game at 10-10 with 11:30 to play in the second quarter.
Henig wasn't intimidated by his interception or by Bama's defense. He came right back with clutch completions on an eight-play, 78-yard drive culminating with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Jamayel Smith for a 17-10 lead. Safety Rashad Johnson was out of the game with an injury and the pass went to the man covered by back-up safety Marcus Carter. Henig also had pass completions of 16 yards to Eric Butler and 41 yards to Smith in the drive. The two receptions by Smith in that drive were his only catches of the day.
After an exchange of punts, Alabama returned the pass interception favor. Wilson's pass was picked off by State middle linebacker Quinton Culbertson and returned 51 yards to give State a 24-10 lead with just under three minutes until intermission. Alabama had gone 232 plays without a turnover and 104 passes without an interception prior to the play.
Alabama's nearly three-minute offense was a little slow. The Tide had to overcome a 15-yard penalty (on a second and inches play), but got the same rare penalty called against Mississippi State (illegal helmet to helmet contact0 for a first down at the 15. On first down the Tide got another favorable flag, pass interference in the end zone, giving Bama a first and goal at the State two. However, there were only two seconds remaining. Wilson tried to scramble for the goalline and was stopped short.
Alabama's second half started about as poorly as the first half ended on offense, but the defense was playing much better. After the defense held State, the offense gave up the ball. Wilson made a decent pass to Hall, but the ball came out and was intercepted. The Bulldogs were set up at the Bama 35. But Wallace Gilberry got his first sack of the year, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Zach Schreiber for the Tide.
The Tide used two relatively little-used weapons to drive into State territory. Wilson passed to tight end Travis McCall for nine yards, then fullback Le'Ron McClain ran 15 yards to the Bulldogs' 31. Wilson connected with Hall for 18 yards to the State 12 on a third-and-eight play. But on third down the Tide used a well-worn weapon, the fade route that almost never works. Bama settled for a 26-yard Christensen field goal to trail 24-13 with 7:17 to play in the third quarter.
Alabama got a huge break on a shanked Mississippi State punt, only 16 yards to the Bulldogs' 33. Darby got 13 to the 20. Keith Brown made his first appearance in three weeks and was nabbed for a two-yard loss on an end-around. Wilson to Hall got back six yards, but on third and six at the 16 Wilson couldn't find a receiver and got only two yards on a scramble. Christensen's third field goal of the game, a 31-yarder, cut the deficit to 24-16, with 1:47 to play.
The defense did the job again with Simeon Castille getting a sack on a third and 20 and forcing a State punt. Poor special teams play put Bama at its own 38 for the final play of the third quarter and the offense lost yards, forcing a punt.
Dixon had a 23-yard gain to keep a drive alive and take the ball into Alabama territory at the 32. The defense held, forcing a 45-yard field goal attempt by Carlson that was wide right with 10:02 to play. Alabama was still within a touchdown and two-point conversion.
Starting at the 29, Wilson hit Hall for 18 yards. Hall then dropped one inside the 10, Wilson was sacked for a 10-yard loss, and on third-and-20 a screen pass came up short of the first down. State got the ball back at its 17 with under eight minutes to play.
Again, the Bama defense did its job, forcing a punt with just over a minute having elapsed. Javier Arenas seemed to have a nice return working, but the official whistled him as having touched the turf at the Alabama 38. The clock read 6:41.
Unfortunately, the Bama offense was playing as bad as the defense was playing good. It was three-and-out, a poor punt (25 yards), poorer coverage (a 10-yard return), and the Bulldogs had the ball at the State 45 with 5:32 remaining.
Needing one final defensive stand, Bama couldn't deliver. State drove inside the Alabama 15 while running out the clock. It was just a matter of a couple of knees and State had its win.
TIDE NOTES: Although Alabama shut out Mississippi State in the second half, the Tide gave up 24 points to the Bulldogs in the first half, the largest number of points allowed by Bama in a half this year. Alabama has trailed in eight of 10 games this season.
John Parker Wilson has completed 158 of 278 passes for 1,996 yards with 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. He is four yards shy of becoming only the second sophomore in Alabama history to pass for 2,000 or more yards in a season. Brodie Croyle has the sophomore record of 2,303 yards in 2003.
One offensive bright spot for Alabama was D.J. Hall having 10 catches for 125 yards, but on a couple of key plays he was unable to make the grab. He has nine 100-yard receiving games, six this year. He is third all-time at Bama with 113 career receptions and fourth all-time with 1,719 career yards. Both he and Keith Brown said this week they would return to Alabama for their senior seasons in 2007.
Saturday's game at Baton Rouge marks the 114th anniversary of Alabama's first-ever football game, a 56-0 win over Birmingham High School in Birmingham.
Alabama is 15-2-1 in its last 18 trips to Tiger Stadium, but lost in its last appearance. LSU has not beaten Alabama in back-to-back games in Baton Rouge since 1946 and 1948, the only two-game winning streak by the Tigers over the Crimson Tide in Tiger Stadium.
Alabama Depth Chart Vs. Mississippi State
By Kirk McNair
Sophomore right guard B.J. Stabler returned to the starting lineup against Mississippi State after having been held out of the Florida International game while resting a turned ankle, but Stabler wasn't in long. He played the first series, 11 plays, then was relieved by sophomore Marlon Davis, who had started the FIU game. Prior to missing the FIU game, Stabler had played in 19 straight games and made 18 consecutive starts. The Southeastern Conference limits were in effect for last week's game. Visiting Mississippi State had only 70 men dressed, but that was enough for the Bulldogs, who took a 24-16 win over Bama in Tuscaloosa's Bryant-Denny Stadium. Alabama was allowed to dress 95, of which 80 were eligible for competition. This week it will be the Crimson Tide with the 70 limit at Baton Rouge, while LSU will be on the 95-80 plan. Alabama played 58 men against Mississippi State. The Tide used 20 on offense, 22 on defense, and 16 just on special teams. Sophomore Rashad Johnson started his third consecutive game at safety against Mississippi State. Sophomore Will Oakley started his fourth straight game at wide receiver. Junior wide receiver Keith Brown played one series in the third quarter of Saturday's loss to MSU. Brown had missed the last two games against Tennessee and Florida International with a knee injury. Center Antoine Caldwell, halfback Kenneth Darby, and defensive end Wallace Gilberry extended their starting streaks to 21 games, longest of any current Tide players. Defensive end Chris Harris played in his 39th game, the most by any Alabama player without a career start. Here are those who played against Mississippi State 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—D. J. Hall (62-2), Nikita Stover (18)
Left Tackle—Andre Smith (65-4)
Left Guard—Justin Britt (65)
Center—Antoine Caldwell (65)
Right Guard—B.J. Stabler, (11), Marlon Davis (54)
Right Tackle—Chris Capps (56-4), Kyle Tatum (9)
Tight End—Travis McCall (38-15), Nick Walker (14-4), Charles Hoke (1-9)
Quarterback—John Parker Wilson (65)
Halfback—Kenneth Darby (38), Jimmy Johns (7-5)
Fullback—LéRon McClain (47-15), Tim Castille (21-11)
Flanker—Will Oakley (56), Matt Caddell (18), Keith Brown (5)
Left End—Wallace Gilberry (46), Chris Harris (20)
Left Tackle—Jeremy Clark (44), Lorenzo Washington (5)
Right Tackle—Dominic Lee (37), J.P. Adams (18), Brandon Deaderick (10)
Right End—Keith Saunders (33), Bobby Greenwood (33)
Strongside Linebacker—Terrence Jones (59-6), Demarcus Waldrop (7-11)
Middle Linebacker— Prince Hall (60), Matt Collins (5)
Weakside Linebacker—Juwan Simpson (59-6), Zach Schreiber (8-5)
Left Cornerback—Ramzee Robinson (66-1), Eric Gray (16-17)
Right Cornerback—Simeon Castille (66-9), Lionel Mitchell (2)
Strong Safety—Jeffrey Dukes (66-7)
Safety—Rashad Johnson (18-7), Marcus Carter (48-5)
Punter and Holder—P.J. Fitzgerald (6 punts, 3 field goals, 1 extra point) Snapper—Luke Spaulding (6 punts, 3 field goals, 1 extra point)
Placekicker—Jamie Christensen (5 kickoffs, 3 field goals, 1 extra point)
Coverage and Returns—Marcel Stamps (5), Chris Rogers (10), Marquis Johnson (11), Ali Sharrief (10), Justin Woodall (5), Javier Arenas (10), Bryan Kilpatrick (13), Forress Rayford (8), Eryk Anders (3), Sam Burnthall (15), Darren Mustin (5), Evan Cardwell (4), Michael Johnson (4)
Scouting Report: LSU Is JaMarcus Russell And A Whole Lot More
By Mitch Dobbs
Standing 6-6 and 260 pounds, and able to fling a football 60-plus yards with a flick of his wrist, LSU quarterback JaMarcus Russell is more than a handful for any defensive player to bring down and for a coordinator to scheme against.
While Russell hasn't done it against Alabama, he has been known to get erratic and throw interceptions in an attempt to make a big play. Last week against Tennessee, where he had three touchdown passes and three interceptions, seemed a typical big-game performance from the Mobile junior.
No wonder everyone says it starts with the quarterback. But LSU is much, much more than JaMarcus Russell. The Bengal Tigers have what is widely considered to be the most talent of any team in the Southeastern Conference. They are especially talented on defense. Ali Highsmith is one of 10 Butkus (best linebacker) semi-finalists, Tyson Jackson is one of 28 still on the Hendricks (best defensive end) watch list and safety LaRon Landry is one of 17 quarterfinalists for the Lott Trophy (defensive impact player of the year). If that wasn't enough, the Sporting News called left defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey "the best defensive player in the country" and junior cornerback Chevis Jackson a shutdown corner.
Russell is 21-4 as a starter. In three years with the Tigers, he's led LSU to seven wins in the fourth quarter or overtime, the latest coming last week against Tennessee when he hit junior receiver Early Doucet with nine seconds to play in the game. Russell also rushed for a career-best 71 yards on seven carries against Tennessee, with runs of 25 and 34 yards against the Vols. He currently leads the SEC in total offense (250.1 yards per game) and pass efficiency (168.4). In nine games, Russell has connected on 159 of 229 passes for 2,157 yards and 18 touchdowns. His top targets are seniors Craig Davis (44-637-3) and Dwayne Bowe (43-709-8). LSU's top rusher is Jacob Hester with 291 yards and 6 touchdowns.
A year ago, LSU had one of the most experienced offensive lines in school history, as the starting five up front combined for 146 career starts. This year, the Tigers went into the season with an offensive line that had combined for 32 career starts. There are only two upper classmen on the starting line for LSU, senior right tackle Peter Dyakowski (6-5, 310 pounds) and senior right guard Brian Johnson (6-4, 307 pounds). They got less experienced when junior guard Will Arnold went out of the lineup with a season-ending injury four games ago, but 6-7, 351-pound sophmore Herman Johnson moved in. Left tackle Ciron Black (6-5, 314 pounds) is starting as a redshirt freshman, and Brett Helmps (6-2, 283 pounds, sophomore) is in his first year starting at center.
LSU true freshman running back Keiland Williams made the most of the first extensive action of his career against Tennessee, rushing for 53 yards and one touchdown on 17 carries.
With national all-star candidates on the defensive line, linebacking corps and in the secondary, LSU's list of defensive accomplishments is long and impressive. They have gone 16 straight games without allowing a team to reach 300 total yards and have had streaks of not allowing a opposing touchdown for 10 and 16 consecutive quarters at times earlier this season. LSU's defense goes into the Alabama game having allowed just 8 touchdowns (3 rushing, 5 passing) all year, atop the national rankings in total defense and in the top 10 of virtually every defensive category.
Sophomore Marlon Favorite starts at the right defensive tackle spot in the 4-3 alignment, and two sophomores, Luke Sanders and Darry Beckwith, start at the other linebacker positions along with Hismith. Beckwith leads the Tigers with 55 tackles, while Tyson Jackson has 6.5 sacks to his credit. LSU goes into the Alabama game having not allowed a 100-yard rushing game by an individual this year. LSU is one of only 10 teams in the nation that haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher this year. The last time a player rushed for 100 yards against LSU came last season against Alabama when Kenneth Darby accounted for 104 yards on the ground. LSU has since gone 13 games without allowing a player to reach the 100-yard mark.
Chris Jackson, a senior, is LSU's kickoff man and punter, averaging 42.4 yards per punt and totaling 18 touchbacks. Sophomore Colt David is 4 of 7 on field goals this year with a long of 45 yards. David attempted a 52-yarder against Tennessee and missed. Chevis Jackson and Craig Davis return punts, while Doucet and 5-5 freshman Trindon Holliday are the kickoff return men.