Here at Dawg Sports we don’t always do pregame Q&A exchanges. But when we do, there’s a good chance they’re with the gang from our SB Nation sister site, Roll Bama Roll. That’s because we usually save these for big games, and even though this one is, for SEC standing purposes, just another a cross-divisional game it’s still noteworthy.
So in an effort to uncover every angle we talked to Roll Bama Roll’s Executive Editor Brent C. Taylor about this evening’s matchup. Brent provides some thoughts on how Nick Saban being MIA would affect the Tide, the special teams matchups, and some players to watch. Enjoy.
MD: Obviously Nick Saban hates distractions as much as anything. How distracting do you think his Covid diagnosis and the shift to an improvised #SarkWeek will be for the Tide?
Brent: Saban’s made it a point throughout his press conferences since Wednesday that he’s doing basically everything the same way and just having some poor waterboy hand a laptop to the players he wants to talk to in practice. It’s obviously bothering him that the rules will prevent him from even talking to the sideline coaches via phone or internet or whatever. Just sitting around at home while he feels fine is going to eat him alive. The coordinators already do the bulk of the in-game playcalling and personnel movement anyway, so I don’t think there will be much a difference there. The only real change will be along the lines of “how aggressive is Sark on 4th downs” and other situational decision making.
MD: Alabama currently sits 8th in the SEC in scoring defense, a pretty unusual spot. How worried are you about the Tide defense? How much of the point totals are just a function of sharing the sideline with an offense that’s been scoring quickly and putting them back out on the field?
Brent: Point totals aren’t what concerns me. As you said, if our offense scores quickly there ends up being more drives per game, and, hence, more points. What concerns me is that Alabama only kept Ole Miss from scoring on 2 drives all game. Their ability to force teams to punt or get turnovers just hasn’t been there, and that’s... not good. If the opposing offense was only scoring on 50% of their drives while the Tide was scoring on 80%, that’s a winning formula, no matter how many drives there are. But giving up points on nearly 80% of drives as well? That’s not a good way to beat the #3 team in the nation.
MD: If Alabama has to complete a clutch pass to someone not named Waddle, Smith, or Metchie who would it be?
Brent: Trick question: It’s Najee Harris. Everyone forgets that the former 5-star running back was also considered a 5-star receiver as a high school recruit. Najee LOVES the wheel route, and he’s made a lot of bank the last two seasons toasting some hapless linebacker down the sidelines and then using that 6’3” frame to catch it right over their heads.
If not him, then it will be senior tight end Miller Forristall. He’s good for about 1 catch each game about 15 yards down the field.
In regards to wide receivers, though, Waddle, Smith, and Metchie have pretty much taken all the snaps this season. There hasn’t really been any rotation there. Slade Bolden is the 4th man up, and he was used in short yardage Wildcat-type trick plays fairly often last year, as he was a high school QB. So if things get really tight, watch for him on a trick play, maybe?
MD: Perhaps you’ve heard, Georgia decided to take a gamble on an inexperienced special teams coordinator this season. So far, so good. But I continue to worry the kicking game could be a differentiator in the Tide’s favor on Saturday. Am I just being paranoid, or is that fear well-founded?
Brent: I mean, I dunno. It’s not like Cochrane has ever coached special teams (or anything other than S&C) before, so who knows if he’s a benefit or a detriment? As for Alabama’s special teams, their punt and kick coverage units have been phenomenal, and Jaylen Waddle is possibly the best return man in college football (if anyone would ever kick it to him again...). Kicker Will Reichard was a top-rated recruit in 2019 before messing up his hip at the start of last season. He’s made both his attempts so far this year, but neither was particularly difficult. So he’s a bit of a wildcard... As always with Alabama kickers.
The Tide’s punter is probably the weakest link. Freshman walk-on Sam Johnson won the job out of nowhere the day of the season opener, and he’s averaging something like 37 yards per punt. I don’t believe any of his punts have been returned, so he’s getting good hang time, just not much distance at all.
MD: It’s Sunday morning at sunrise. You open your eyes after a fitful night of sleep following an Alabama loss. Fill in the blank: The obvious reason we let that one get away was ______.
Brent: Mac Jones just couldn’t handle the pressure of a constant pass rush and the offense stalled while the defense wasn’t quite good enough to carry the team to a win.
MD: It’s Sunday morning again. You pour a steaming cup of coffee and prepare to dig into coverage of Alabama’s resounding defeat of the Georgia Bulldogs. You pause and say to no one in particular, “I knew that one was in the bag when ____.”
Brent: Jaylen Waddle took the opening play of the 4th quarter for a 75-yard touchdown to put Alabama up by two scores.
MD: Because we must. What’s your score prediction?
Brent: Most everyone has been using the criteria of Alabama’s offense = Georgia defense and the Alabama defense = Georgia offense (in other words, the former was both are great and the latter was both are... meh), and therefore the game will be medium scoring for both teams... Mid to high 20s. And that makes sense. And because that makes so much sense, I’m going to say this one goes kinda crazy. The first half has maybe all of two scores as the two teams feel each other out, and then the second half is an explosion, with special teams and defensive scores mixed in with huge plays and chunk gains running the ball (think that 2012 SEC Championship game... but with modern-ish offenses). It’s neck and neck until, with just a couple of minutes left, Georgia goes for it on 4th down while down 5 points and gets stuffed. Alabama drives for one more TD to technically make it a 2-score game, but we all know it came down to that final drive.
Thanks again to Brent for joining us. If you’re interested you can find my responses to some questions from Brent over at RBR. Until later...