Thoughts About Tide Vs. Rebels

There are things I wonder about sometimes watching Alabama football. Why is this done? Why don't they do that? It's not criticism. It's curiosity. I am far more aware than anyone else how much more about football the coaches know than I do. And, yes, I know Coach Paul Bryant said, "Everything I do, I'm trying to win the game."

Alabama Coach Nick Saban doesn't owe anyone an explanation of why he makes the decisions he does. His reputation and record make it a given that it an be taken for granted that he knows best how to prepare his team and how to guide it through games.

Alabama had a 22-3 lead when Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead's fourth down scramble came up a few yards short of a first down with six and a half minutes to play in Oxford Saturday. Alabama had the ball and the Rebels needed three scores to defeat Alabama.

Waiting along the sidelines waiting for the game to end and seeing Star Jackson standing there watching the game wind down, one who doesn't know very much about football couldn't help but wonder why starting quarterback Greg McElroy -- and every other offensive starter -- was still in the game.

Alabama didn't need to score. The first team players would hardly seem to need the additional game work.

The only two things that seemed to be happening were:

(a.) Key Alabama offensive players were needlessly exposed to injury in a game that had been won. Call it a Prothro phobia. (b.) Players who might be needed at any time and who might benefit from additional work and who would get positive reinforcement from playing were not getting game experience.

That wasn't the only thing to wonder about Saturday.

Just days after McElroy explained (somewhat passionately) that Julio Jones not having many receptions this year was nothing to be concerned about. McElroy pointed out that when Jones is double covered that other receivers are likely to be open. And he said that the Alabama offense did not include McElroy trying to force the ball to Jones.

So it was something of a surprise that quite a few passes were thrown to Jones in situations that made success unlikely. That wasn't particularly bothersome. The Ole Miss pass rush didn't leave a lot of time for decision-making, and Jones has shown in the past that he is capable of beating double coverage (and even pass interference).

McElroy threw to Jones 15 times. Four of them were completed for a total of 42 yards. The average McElroy-Jones play gained less than three yards.

A much-delayed surprise came following the game. Saban was explaining the first start of Nico Johnson. Johnson started at weakside linebacker, the position formerly manned by Dont'a Hightower, who has been lost for the year with a knee injury.

When Hightower was injured against Arkansas, Alabama adjusted by moving Cory Reamer from strongside to weakside, Eryk Anders from jack to strongside, and inserting Courtney Upshaw at jack. That was also the lineup the next week against Kentucky.

Against Ole Miss, Johnson was at weakside and Reamer was back at his strongside spot, Anders back at his jack position.

Saban explained that he decided the shift of linebackers had made all three positions weaker. By putting Johnson in for Hightower, only one position could be weaker.

That makes perfect sense. And it also would have made sense last January against Utah in the Sugar Bowl. Left tackle Andre Smith had been suspended. Instead of just moving the number two left tackle up and having that position weaker, Bama moved left guard Mike Johnson to Smith's spot and put Barrett Jones in at left guard.

Didn't that make two positions weaker? And when Johnson was injured early in the game, Drew Davis was shifted from right tackle to left tackle and John Michael Boswell went in at right tackle. Three positions weaker.

Is Roy Upchurch okay? It was a bit surprising that he wasn't used against the Rebels.

This week's college football polls are not a surprise. The Associated Press poll, the votes of sportswriters and sportscasters, moved Alabama ahead of Texas this week. Sports reporters attempt to pay attention to detail and make conscientious votes. The Coaches Poll kept Texas number two. Coaches are pretty busy and most of those listed as voters in the poll probably don't really do the work.

The polls midway through the season don't matter. Alabama is in position to control its destiny. That's because Saban knows what he's doing in building the Crimson Tide and in running the games.

I'm sure I'll continue to wonder about Alabama football situations. But mostly I enjoy what happens.

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