I did a Q & A exchange with the folks over at Roll Bama Roll. Here is what they had to say. The Bulldogs and Tide kick off at 6pm Saturday night in Starkville. The game will be televised on ESPN. You can read my answers to their questions over at Roll Bama Roll.
1. Alabama seems to be playing games closer and closer as the season progresses, which is different from the early blowouts of non-conference teams like Clemson and even SEC West foe Arkansas. Are injuries becoming an issue, or is it just the competition is getting stiffer?
We've had season-ending injuries develop with a couple of contributors and one of the absolute stars of the team, but injuries haven't really been our problem, per se. Certainly we have had a ton of guys banged up with minor, nagging injuries, and that has slowed us down with the stretch run of the SEC schedule kicking in, but our biggest problems have been offensively. The passing game practically went in the tank after the Hogs left Tuscaloosa, and still hasn't entirely found its rhythm just yet. The lack of a passing game matched with our complete inability to convert in the red zone has just kept things closer than we would like in several of the games recently. To blow someone out you have to score a lot of points, and that's hard to do when you only score four offensive touchdowns in your previous four games.
Greg McElroy played better against LSU than he has at any time since Arkansas left. It was clearly a step in the right direction, and we certainly hope that he continues to improve as we close out the season over the course of the next several weeks. Without doubt, having both Julio Jones and Marquis Maze looking healthy and effectively over the nagging injuries they suffered earlier in the year helped out the passing game.
On the other hand, as I have mentioned several times this week, McElroy was far from flawless against LSU, and in fact made a lot of really bad mistakes. He missed a touchdown pass to Maze deep, missed another touchdown pass to Julio, threw a dumb interception in the red zone to close out the first half, missed a wide open Brad Smelley deep on a trick pass out of the Wildcat, held the ball too long taking a safety, and also made another dumb decision to throw the ball on the controversial incompletion / interception with Patrick Paterson. Furthermore, his stats are inflated greatly by the 73-yard touchdown pass to Julio Jones, which being a simple wide receiver screen is really a play that most any quarterback would make.
So, again, he looked a lot better than he had in recent weeks and he did take a step in the right direction, but he also still did a lot of bad things too. It goes without saying that we hope that McElroy plays really well from here on out, but I'm really not sure anyone really knows what to expect out of him.
The two guys to keep your eye on in the passing game are tight end Colin Peek and wide receiver Marquis Maze. Peek is a great possession receiver at tight end, and he was actually the team's leading receiver prior to suffering a knee injury in pregame warm-ups against Tennessee (he'll play against you guys, but likely won't be 100%). Maze is actually the team's leading receiver in terms of yardage and yards per completion, and he is easily the team's best deep threat. He's a small, shifty guy that can beat you deep and make something happen after the catch.
In the running game, keep your eye on both Trent Richardson and Roy Upchurch. Both have looked good in all three phases of the game -- running, catching the ball out of the backfield, and in pass protection -- but Ingram's general dominance and a high ankle sprain early in the year to Upchurch have kept their touches limited a bit. Both have played at a high level when given the change, though, and with Upchurch completely healthy now, both are guys to keep your eyes on when they go into the game.
I've talked about MSU previously as being a team that forces you to make some hard decisions at time with regard to how to respond to their offense. You guys spread the field, but at the same time really pound between the tackles in the running game. As a defensive coordinator, you have to either choose to play the run with your normal set and hope that the passing game on the outside doesn't get you, or play nickel and dime and hope that your interior players can limit the run.
For 'Bama, we're multiple on defense. Saban loves to give a lot of different looks and use players in a variety of different roles, all of which is the hallmark of his defenses. I imagine our coaching staff likes how we match up on the outside with you guys, so expect to see some stuffing the box with man on the outside, but again we're a multiple defense that gives a lot of different looks, so I would say expect to see a little bit of everything defensively.
The line is around 12 points now, and I think that is probably about where this game will end up. Before the season I thought MSU was going to be an absolute trainwreck, but you guys have been a surprise this year and have been very competitive. You've played four teams to date that are legitimate top 15 teams, and kept it close with all of them. I really expect the same thing to happen when we make the trip to Starkvegas.
My thinking is that you guys shouldn't have much success offensively against our defensively. That puts us in a position to where, unless we beat ourselves, if our offense can do anything whatsoever then we should win. My thinking is that there is a small chance that 'Bama loses this game, but by the same token also a small chance that 'Bama wins in a blowout. I'm expecting a relatively close, relatively comfortable victory for the Tide on Saturday night.