Bama Mag's Kirk McNair: Alabama and Nick Saban seem to be a perfect match. Saban has an athletics director in Mal Moore who is a football man (he was Bear Bryant's offensive coordinator for many years) and who understands the importance of facilities, etc. Saban is in the hotbed of college football interest and support in a state which is not high population, but which has traditionally produced excellent football players. Saban recruits well and he coaches well. He does seem to have changed the mindset from the Mike Shula years. In any event, the change has not only been dramatic, but considering the 2009 team went undefeated and won the national championship in Saban's third year, it has been faster than anyone could have predicted.
Everyone knows about the running backs and the depth there. How many backs are we likely to see running with the first team?
Throughout the 2009 season, Alabama used three running backs in most games. Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram got the most carries as he set a new Crimson Tide rushing record, but Trent Richardson – a true freshman last season – got about one-third of the carries. When the 2010 pre-season All-Southeastern Conference team was announced in August, it was no surprise that Ingram was one of the two running backs. What was a surprise was that the other first team running back on the pre-season All-SEC team was Ingram's back-up, Richardson. In Ingram's absence Richardson rushed for 144 yards on 22 carries against Penn State last week. Redshirt freshman Eddie Lacy had 111 yards rushing in his first college game, the San Jose State season opener. Ingram is expected to play this week, but it would be a surprise if Richardson did not get at least half the snaps.
For all the talk about the running game, the passing game is just as explosive. Aside from Jones, which targets should Duke watch out for? What makes the Bama air attack so scary?
As with many things football, there is more than one key to Alabama passing success. It probably begins with Bama's...running game. The Crimson Tide is intent on running the football, physical running between the tackles. Most opposing teams crowd the box with defenders, so Alabama frequently gets one-on-one coverage on one or more receivers. Although Tide quarterback Greg McElroy has a reputation as a game manager rather than a play-maker, he is an accurate passer who makes good decisions. Last year he completed 198 of 325 passes (60.9 per cent) for 2,508 yards with 17 touchdowns and only four interceptions. Thus far this season, he has completed 29-40 (72.5 per cent) for 447 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions. He was the MVP of last year's SEC Championship Game, a game in which the opposing quarterback's name was Tim Tebow. While Julio Jones is the favorite receiver, the Tide has very fast wide receivers in the likes of Marquis Maze and Darius Hanks. Additionally, McElroy likes to throw to the tailback and tight end.
Overall what's the secret to Alabama's offensive attack?
Nick Saban is a defensive coach and that may have something to do with the attitude of the Alabama offense, which is a physical, attacking unit. Bama's offensive linemen are strong and control the line, both for the running game and as pass protectors. Against Penn State last week, Alabama was flagged for its first offensive holding call in over 10 games. Then it becomes a matter of the defense picking its poison. Crowd the box to stop the running game and Greg McElroy cuts you up with passes to very effective receivers. Play back and Mark Ingram or Trent Richardson will be ripping off long runs.
Obviously Duke has improved in the running game, but the Blue Devil offense has been through the air. How will Alabama try to attack Duke when Sean Renfree is dropping back to pass?
Saban makes no secret of Alabama having a complicated defensive scheme that is usually well-disguised. Although Bama's defense is listed as a 3-4 – three linemen, four linebackers, four defensive backs –the Tide will only rarely be in that alignment. More often there are five or six defensive backs, or five defensive backs and a linebacker playing almost like a strong safety. The blitz comes from linebackers, cornerbacks,and safeties. Saban wants the rush to affect the quarterback. End Marcell Dareus, who returns to the Tide lineup this week after having served an NCAA-mandated two-game suspension for a summer incident involving an agent, and jack linebacker Courtney Upshaw, limited last week with an ankle injury, return to the line-up this week and should provide an improvement in outside rush.
Clearly Alabama is favored to win this game. By a lot. What has to happen for this one to be close in the fourth quarter? Is there any chance - in your mind - that Duke can push Alabama or more? Why or why not?
I always think Alabama is going to win and I am almost always right. I certainly think Bama will defeat Duke. SEC partisans have great respect for the work of David Cutcliffe as a coach, and particularly an offensive coach, but the Blue Devils gave up 54 points to Wake Forest, which doesn't have the Heisman Trophy winner at tailback. Alabama has a fast-pursuing defense and is sometimes susceptible to misdirection plays--end-around or halfback pass type plays--,but there is a limit as to how much the game can be controlled with that style. Only Alabama can beat Alabama in this game. More likely, the Crimson Tide is vanilla and wears down Duke.