Where Can Tide Attack Vandy?
Alabama and Vanderbilt, both 1-0 after warm-up games against lightweights, open Southeastern Conference play in Nashville Saturday. The Crimson Tide and Commodores will kick off at Vanderbilt Stadium/Dudley Field shortly after 11:30 a.m. CDT. The game is a sellout, but will be regionally telecast on the SEC's Lincoln Financial network.
Other than Alabama Coach Nick Saban (second only to Appalachian State's upset of Michigan as topic number one in college football),most talk has been of Vandy's dynamic duo, quarterback Chris Nickson and wide receiver Earl Bennett. Nickson is from Pike County High School in Brundidge, Bennett from West End High School in Birmingham.
The two are certainly worthy of the attention they are receiving from fans and the media, and certainly from Alabama's defensive staff and players. In Vandy's season-opener Bennett caught 13 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns, all best in the SEC and ranking in the top three in all three categories in the nation. Nickson had an SEC best four touchdown tosses and his 284 passing yards ranks second in the conference.
Almost overlooked is Alabama's offense, but Vanderbilt has probably noticed that the Crimson Tide put up 52 points and had 575 yards last week, both best in the conference. To be sure it was against out-manned Western Carolina, but when Bama got its 35th first down against the Catamounts that was the most ever by an Alabama team. And Bama has had some pretty good teams.
Redshirt freshman tailback Terry Grant was the big news in Alabama offense last week as he rushed for 134 yards and three touchdowns against Western Carolina. It will be awhile before anyone forgets Grant running 47 yards for a touchdown on the Tide's first offensive play of the season.
Running against Vandy won't be easy. The Commodores have very good tacklers on defense. The first Vandy name most think of is 6-4, 235-pound senior linebacker Jonathan Goff,who opened the season with seven tackles and an interception.
Vanderbilt is also very good on its defensive line with all-star seniors at key positions. Curtis Gatewood, a 6-3, 245-pound defensive end, had seven sacks last year. Theo Horrocks, a 6-4, 290-pound tackle, led the SEC in forced fumbles last year.
Alabama puts a veteran offensive line up against the Commodores. Led by center Antoine Caldwell and left tackle Andre Smith, the offensive front is expected to be a strength of the Tide attack.
Can we agree that Alabama has had some pretty decent quarterbacks over the years? Do the names Starr, Namath, Stabler, Rutledge, Shula, Barker, Croyle ring a bell?
John Parker Wilson set seven Alabama records in his first year as starting quarterback in 2006. Last week he didn't get a lot of credit for his play as he comleted 17 of 25 psses for 189 yards. He didn't have a touchdown, but he didn't have an interception, either. And he directed a very efficient offense.
You expect Wilson to look for D.J. Hall (although Hall dropped Wilson's first pass of last week's game), but the Alabama receiving corps looks to be an expansive one.Keith Brown may get back into the rotation this week after serving a one-game suspension, but he has a battle to work his way up through the likes of Nikita Stover, Matt Caddell, Mike McCoy, and surprising Earl Alexander.
One pleasing aspect of Alabama's offense in week one was the emergence of the tight end as a receiving target. Nick Walker (the cousin and former prep teammate of Vandy quarterback Nickson) had a team best five receptions for 40 yards and Travis McCall had another catch from the tight end position.
Vandy has some secondary players of note, led by all-star candidate strong safety Reshard Langford and sophomore cornerback D.J. Moore.
One would suspect that Richmond's offense is not as strong as Alabama's. Last week against the Vanderbilt offense the Spiders got 17 points in the 41-17 Commodores' victory. Richmond had 18 first downs (nine rushing, eight passing and one by penalty). The Spiders had 35 rushes for 149 net yards (4.3 yards per carry) and completed 18 of 30 passes for 161 yards. That amounted to 65 plays for 310 yards, 4.8 per play.
Time of possession can be a misleading statistic if a team picks up yardage in big chunks and scores quickly. That was the case in Bama's opener as Western Carolina had the ball for nearly 32 minutes, the Tide only about 28. And in Vanderbilt's opener it was Richmond with the advantage in time of possession, 33:15 to 26:45.
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