Looking Back And Ahead

Big changes are ahead for Alabama football this week. Admit it. This week you know where Alabama's opponent is located. (I heard two fans arguing over whether Western Carolina was in North or South Carolina.) And you are more likely to know the name of the head coach and at least one player for Vanderbilt.

Alabama Coach Nick Saban pointed out after last Saturday's 52-6 win over Western Carolina that it didn't matter who the opponent was; what mattered is how Bama plays. Saban also made it clear that the Catamounts played hard and that he had respect for the WCU players.

It is habit to look at the Alabama schedule in the pre-season and check off the sure wins. Although Vanderbilt is no longer a regular on the Bama schedule, when the Commodores are on the slate it would be natural to mark them down as a Crimson Tide "W." Alabama certainly has history on its side with a 57-19-4 advantage against Vandy.

But this is a tougher Vanderbilt these days under Coach Bobby Johnson. The Commodores may not win the Southeastern Conference championship, but perhaps they do have the muscle to keep someone else out of the title game.

Vanderbilt last year wasn't much different than Alabama last year. Bama eked out a 13-10 win over the Commodores in Tuscaloosa and Vandy returns 17 players this season from the squad that went 5-6 overall and 3-5 in SEC games.

This year the game is in Nashville. Kickoff Saturday will be shortly after 11:30 a.m. CDT with regional television coverage by the SEC's Lincoln Financial Network.

No one expected Alabama to show everything in its arsenal against WCU. It may have been surprising that the Tide showed as much as it did on offense. The other side of that coin is that Vandy will have to spend preparation time this week working on everything from an empty backfield to a tight formation with three tight ends, fullback and tailback. Bama even went for awhile with a no huddle offense.

And the Commodores will have to spend more than five minutes worrying about the tight end as receiver, since that was major weapon of Alabama's passing game for the first time in about a decade and a half.

Although Vanderbilt also scheduled a breather, it is unlikely the Commodores were looking past Richmond to Bama. (Incidentally, the Commodores' pre-season All-SEC receiver Earl Bennett of Birmingham had three touchdown receptions in Vandy's 41-17 win. The quarterback for the Commodores is Chris Nickson, who teamed with Tide tight end Nick Walker as prep stars in Brundidge.)

While Alabama showed a lot of different looks on offense, the problem for Vandy's offense in preparing for Bama is the opposite. The Tide showed different schemes, but obviously not all of the package. The Commodores will have to guess what Alabama is going to do.

Alabama rotated different men on what was essentially a four-man front. Saban explained that he doesn't do much rotation with linebackers and defensive backs, but doesn't want a big man to "run out of gas."

Vandy will have to prepare for a three-man front with either three or four linebackers; a four-man front with either two or three linebackers; and possibly some formations with six defensive backs.

And that doesn't include blitz possibilities withheld from view in the WCU game.

One game does not a season make, particularly when the one game is against a Western Carolina. Nick Saban did show that he had his team prepared for the Catamounts and there is no reason to believe that won't be the case each week. With offensive play-makers galore and evidence of a sound, quick defense in the making, that should be more than enough to handle Vanderbilt.

Oh, and Coach Kent Briggs' WCU team is in Cullowhee, North Carolina.

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