It Needs Fixing

It's been hard to distinguish reason from irrational indignation in the cacophony of sound that has swooshed in behind Alabama's stunning loss to lowly Mississippi State last Saturday.

Unfortunately for Alabama fans, the groaning and grousing in the wake of that loss has been louder and rowdier than the noise coming out of Bryant-Denny Stadium the other day when Sylvester Croom's Bulldogs were taking the fight to Mike Shula's Crimson Tide.

I'm bewildered, as we probably all are, by the uneven performances of this 2006 team.

Clearly Alabama was good enough on September 23 to beat on its own soil an Arkansas team that is now the last unbeaten in Southeastern Conference play.

And -- we got visual confirmation of this with our very eyes -- the Crimson Tide can be lousy enough to lose on its own turf to the crummiest club in the league.

A lot of folks, including Offensive Coordinator David Rader, said the stop of John Parker Wilson in the whisper of air in front of the Mississippi State goal plane on the final play of the first half last Saturday was Alabama's season in a nutshell.

Close, but not success.

I'll throw a second entry from the same game into that "season in a microcosm'' sweepstakes.

Alabama's first drive. The Crimson Tide deftly mixes five passes and five runs into a sequence that chews up chunks of yardage. D.J. Hall takes an end around for 7 yards. Wilson converts on third-and-3 with a flip to Tim Castille in the flats.

Wilson connects with Will Oakley for 11. Castille bursts for 11. The Tide overcomes a false start penalty when Wilson finds Hall for 21 yards to the State 8.

Kenneth Darby battles and barges for seven yards of tough real estate down to the 1-yard line on first-and goal.

Then, instead of going with the hot hand, throwing a "Thanks, Ken for playing with a hernia a while back and not complaining at all this year'' touchdown Darby's way, the Alabama coaches send in that tired and dysfunctional ``Jumbo'' package that tightens the gaps and ensures that all 11 defenders will have a shot at hitting Castille in the backfield.

The result? On second-and-1, the line is breached and Castille, with nowhere to bounce, is ransacked for a 1-yard loss.

After an Alabama timeout, Wilson, under heavy pressure and walloped after his release, throws kind of in the vicinity of Hall on the right side of the end zone, but flies astray, incomplete.

Another red zone penetration and another field goal attempt for Alabama. What else is new?

Shula and his pro-style offense lead the SEC in driving inside their opponents' 20-yard line. They've done it 43 times. This is supposed to be a good thing because the closer you are to the enemy end zone, presumably the better your chances of scoring.

Doesn't work quite that way for the Tide. They've tried a field goal on 23 of those penetrations and scored a touchdown on 15 of them. Bad ratio.

Now if the coaching, the play-calling and the execution is fine for the 70 or 80 yards it takes to get into the red zone, what happens to those performance levels inside the 20?

That's the million-dollar question.

Has the Alabama fan base lost faith in this coaching staff? That's a question for another day, two weeks from now.

In the meantime, against two of the toughest and nastiest defenses Alabama will face all year, Shula and his coaches must somehow find a way to provide a spark in and out of the red zone. A nice start would be to scrap that cumbersome Jumbo and do something different on the goal line for a change.

If it's broke, you fix it.

Editor's Note: Thomas Murphy is the Alabama beat writer for the Mobile Register. He is a regular contributor to 'BAMA Magazine and BamaMag.com


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