Peeps, I'm not sugarcoating yesterday. Alabama dominated us. I'm tempted to say we played well other than four big plays, which would be somewhat accurate, except that big plays are part of the game. But where it really showed up was along the line of scrimmage. Bama just lined up and whipped us in trenches. With that observation out of the way, here's what I saw:
1. Overall, I feel like the D played really well. We held them to just 24 points offensively and under 400 total yards for the game with 379. And they got 200 of those 379 yards on the 3 big TD plays - 60, 65, and 75 yards respectively. But like I said, big plays are part of the game. Bama took advantage of our mistakes and made plays. Bama's 3rd down efficiency was pretty poor as well, just 5-14 on the day. And Bama had just 13 first downs total.
2. Derrick Henry is really freaking good. His stat line is freakish: 22 carries for 208 yards, 9.3 YPC, 2 TDs. But that doesn't really tell the whole story. He got 140 yards on 2 carries - the 65 and 75 yard TD runs. That's 67% of his yardage total. He had all of 68 yards on the other 20 carries, just over 3 YPC. We stoned him over and over, but he pops two runs and it's a monster day. But that's what the big time backs can do. You think you're bottling them up and BAM! - He Gone. It's just frustrating as a fan to see your D get stop after stop after stop against an elite player then the stat line show them having a monster day because of 2 mistakes.
3. Every big play was the result of a missed tackle. We didn't miss many, but Bama made us pay for the ones we did. On Ridley's catch and run, true freshman Mark McLaurin hesitated half a second. That gave Ridley time to make a video game quality juke to break into the open field. If McLaurin closes and wraps up, it's another 3 and out. Henry breaks a tackle near the LOS on both of his TD runs, breaks into the clear, and is off to the races.
4. DL played their guts out. They didn't register a sack, but Coker was under pressure for most of the day. Several of Henry's runs went nowhere, especially the 3rd and short runs, because the DL just absolutely blew up the OL.
5. Nick James deserves a helmet sticker. Once again, he didn't light up the stat sheet with only 2 tackles. But one of those tackles was a TFL and he had a QBH to his credit. Most of those runs in short yardage were clogged up because Big Nick destroyed the guy across from him, freeing up his teammates to make the play. He's one of those players you just have to watch to appreciate what he does and how important he is. And the way he hustles now should bring a tear to the eye. He's turned into one of my favorite players to watch.
6. Beni Brown is a beast.
7. Will Coleman and Jonathan Calvin have finally made the JUCO adjustment. I've seen it coming for a few games now, but it was really obvious yesterday. Those two guys made several big plays, especially in run support. Nice to know we have some depth at DE behind AJ and Ryan Brown.
8. Chris Jones continues to be inconsistent. He'll have a couple of big plays but disappears way too often. He really needs accept that he's outgrown being a DE and come back for his senior season. If he'll play with a wide open motor at DT next season, he can get himself back into the First Round of the Draft. Right now I'd say he's a 3rd round pick at best.
9. Brandon Bryant is a freak. Love the way he plays. His INT was really nice. He's going to have a huge career moving forward.
10. Zach Jackson can't graduate fast enough. Another missed tackle results in a big play for Bama. JT Gray needs to take all his reps. Between Gray and Peters, we have plenty of flexibility without Jackson.
11. Really proud of the way the D fought and kept playing all game. They never quit. They kept getting stops and giving the offense chances. The only sustained drive Bama had all day was the one that started late in the 3rd quarter, lasted about 8 minutes, and ended with a blocked FG in the 4th.
1. Special Teams had another awful day. Several miscues, but the worst was the punt return TD.
2. Devon Bell had a decent day handling KO duties, but had the on KO out of bounds that gave Bama the ball at the 35 when we had just cut the lead to 14-3. It gave them good field position and damped the crowd right after we'd started to get back into the game with the score.
3. Westin Graves provided the only offense of the day. He was 2/3 on FGs. His lone miss was from 50. It was on target but fell short. Guess we can all stop wondering "what if" in regards to him kicking against LSU. That said, I'm not sure he got all of that one or what. We've seen him bomb some that would have easily been good from 50+. In the end, it didn't really matter.
4. Logan Cooke had a terrible day. The numbers themselves are actually pretty good: 6 punts for 266, 44.3 YPP, long of 59, 2 inside the 20. But he kicked two low liners to Cyrus Jones. The first one he got lucky on because we had decent coverage and Jones couldn't return it. The second one Jones took to the house after making one guy miss.
Of course, I'm asking why we were punting to Jones in the first place. He's well known as one of the upper echelon PR guys in the SEC with multiple PR TDs in his career. No way I'm letting him touch it, especially when my D has been playing lights out to that point. That PR really started the stampede for the Pachyderms.
5. Nice to see Tolando Cleveland block a FG in the 4th. He just came flying off the edge and managed to get a hand on the ball.
1. Worst day on offense in the last two years. I don't even remember the last time we didn't score a TD. We were completely putrid all day. Offense came up short of 400 total yards, too.
2. For everyone who wanted to see us abandon the run and air it out, you got your wish. And you saw the results. Outside of two drives, we never seriously threatened a score on Bama's D. Dak threw it 43 times and we rushed it 42 times. Butttttttt.........26 of those 42 rushes were Dak himself, which includes scrambles and sacks. Another 6 of those were carries by Fitz & Aeris in garbage time. One rush was by Ross. So when it actually mattered, we rushed it fewer than 30 times. And of those 30 rushes, only 9 were by a RB. 7 of those 9 were Holloway then 1 each for Shump and Williams. Really, really terrible game plan, coaching, and play calling. Now you understand why I've spent all season harping on our failure to develop a run game when we had a chance.
3. If you're easily offended and/or unable to handle the truth, you might want to stop here. I'm about to excoriate our OL. The OL got its butt kicked. No other way to put it. Bama's front 3/4 absolutely dominated them. They gave up 9 sacks and another 4 QBH. I can't even count how many times Dak got hit as he was throwing the ball or right after he'd thrown the ball. The Tide DL just ran past our OL like they weren't even there.
Remember when I said a month ago that Rufus Warren & Devon Desper need to sit so Elgton Jenkins and Dion Calhoun can play? They got benched in the second quarter for those two Pups last night and the OL improved. It still wasn't "good" by any stretch, but it was definitely better. More edge, athleticism, and attitude. Those two kids have what it takes to play OL in the SEC, but they weren't ready to go full time. That's partly because they didn't play much when we were beating up on powerhouse programs LA Tech, Kentucky, Mizzou, etc. They'd have still taken some lumps, but they wouldn't have been as severe as they were last night.
In contrast, I'm not sure Rufus Warren or Devon Desper laid a finger on a white jersey all night. They ought to be charged with aiding and abetting battery on Dak. The only block Warren had was knocking down Gray to prevent him from breaking a big gain. Yet somehow inexplicably, they were both back in the game after halftime all the way until garbage time. They are both slow and have terrible footwork. I can't wait for Warren to graduate. If we're stuck with Desper, he needs to be in ballet or boxing, anything to improve his feet.
Justin Malone is soft, too. He's played his way out of the NFL. He's soft and doesn't use his size to his advantage. He might be a more natural fit at tackle, but he sure as hell isn't mean enough to be a guard.
The only two SEC OL we have starting are Clayborn and Senior. They're physical and get the job done.
About the only positive thing I can say is that we won't play another DL as good as Bama's the next two games. But Kimdeechee is going to have a field day against this bunch of softies.
4. RBs are a joke. Holloway is 5'3 and 120 LBs soaking wet - and you'd need to make sure his boots are full. He's tough, but he's not a feature back in the SEC. 7 carries for him are too many. Especially up the damn gut. Don't even get me started on his "pass blocking."
Shumpert needs to be processed. He's a waste of a scholarship. But he can't pass block or some stupid garbage that really means Mullen is too damn scared to play an underclassman, even when he's clearly the best option.
Aeris got one carry for 4 yards when the game was actually within reach.
5. Dak is a warrior. He took a beating for the ages. Guarantee you he'll have problems moving around the next couple of days. Another good night throwing statistically for him, going for 300 yards. He had the one INT late, but I don't count that. He was frustrated and threw it up for grabs trying to make something happen. A couple of nice runs, but there wasn't much room for him since Bama keyed on him as our only run threat and we did nothing to change that with our play calling and ball distribution.
That said, even Dak isn't immune to criticism. 9 sacks isn't just an OL problem, it's a QB problem. Dak took 3-4 sacks that were completely unnecessary because he held the ball too long. As a QB, you have to know your protection is only going to hold up for so long, especially against an elite DL, and get rid of the ball. Throw it into the first row of stands, but don't cost your team field position by taking a sack that's avoidable.
Also worth noting, Dak had several misses because he let the pressure get to him mentally. He rushed throws and overshot some wide open guys. Hard to blame him, but the elite QBs make those plays.
6. WRs are the only group offensively that had a solid day, but there were a couple of big drops. The one that really sticks out is Donald Gray dropping a TD.
7. Bear Wilson only had 3 catches. I know they made an effort to take him away, but you've got to force feed him. If you're going to get beaten, do it trying to get the ball to your best players. Can we please get more creative and move Bear around to get him better matchups? Put him in the slot, out wide, in tight, whatever it takes but get him 10 touches a game. No more excuses.
8. Another day, another huge game for Fred Ross. He continues to put up great numbers. 8 catches and 114 yards to lead all WRs on both teams. Part of that is because of the attention Bear draws on the outside freeing him up in the slot, but Ross is really good himself.
9. Where was Darrion Hutcherson? He's emerged as a big factor the last several weeks and is a matchup nightmare. I don't recall us targeting him even once. Seemed like Gus Walley was on the field the whole game.
10. I'm just going to assume that Malik Dear has a lingering case of Moultrie Knee. Would've been nice to have one of our most explosive players available.
1. Yesterday was A Tale of Two Mullens. We started off the game with Coach to Win Mullen. Offense made a few plays, play calling was sharp and gutsy. We drive the ball down to the Bama 4. Then Mullen let Hugh Freeze call the plays and we get stuffed on 4th down.
After that stop, Coach Not to Lose Mullen reemerged. Play calling got stagnant and predictable. The result is Bama's DL got to pin their ears back and rush unchecked.
2. Speaking of that decision to go for it on 4th down, I completely agree with it. We weren't going to beat Bama not scoring TDs. The problem I have is the play itself and the three play calls preceding it. I'm sure you watched, but here's how it played out:
1st down: Slant to Bear. Most obvious play call of the century. We've used it all year and Bama had it completely scouted. Their CB jammed Bear and didn't let him get inside. Then their DE dropped into the passing lane and batted down the pass.
2nd down: Fade to Bear. Another totally obvious call. The Big Red Elephants had it scouted and completely covered, too. Then Dak throws it too far and doesn't give Bear much of a chance to come down with it anyway.
3rd down: Dak power. Third play in a row with a completely obvious call, but Dak is good enough to get 2 out of it by himself. One of the few times all day when the OL got even the slightest push. And it should be noted that if Dak had bounced it to his left, he walks in for the TD.
4th down: Dak power aGAIN, only with lost of motion. If the first 3 downs were obvious and 1st down was the most obvious call of the century, then this call was the most obvious call of the millennium. Needless to say, the motion didn't fool Bama in the slightest. They sold out on the run and stuffed Dak for a TFL.
Honestly, that's arguably the worst stretch of consecutive play calls I've ever seen Mullen make. A 3rd grader could've guessed what we were going to do there, much less defensive coaches with the skill of Saban and Kirby Smart. Why not try the jump pass to Hutch? Or slip Hutch/JJ/Walley into the flat for a quick throw? Play action in to Ross or Fred Brown? Slant from the side opposite Bear with Morrow? And if you've decided ahead of time you're going for it on 4th down, why wait until 3rd down to run it? Take your one shot to Bear, then give Dak and/or Aeris 3 cracks at getting in. Just a really, really terrible set of downs.
3. Diaz called the D about as well as possible against Bama. Broken tackles lead to the 3 big play TDs. That's execution, not coaching. I have no idea what Mullen was babbling about in the postgame saying a busted coverage was responsible for Ridley's TD. As I discussed above, we had a guy in position to make the play and he whiffed the tackle.
4. It's time for Hevesy to go. I've defended him, but the OL play this year as a whole is indefensible. How can you keep running 77 and 62 out there every week when they're clearly the two weakest links? Especially when their backups are out playing them every time they get a chance. He hasn't developed this group as well as he has in the past. And Justin Malone is a natural tackle, but Hevesy managed to waste his entire career at G because he never got around to moving him. There's no excuse for that.
As for the talent level of the OL, that's only partially his fault. He has input on who we sign, but he recruits a territory just like everyone else on staff. It's up to Mullen to reevaluate how we ID our OL targets and where we find them in general. But that change desperately needs to happen. Mississippi just doesn't produce enough SEC quality OL to split between two teams. Not to mention the 1-2 a year that wind up going out of state. OL is probably the second hardest position to recruit, but we need to do something or we'll be stuck exactly where we are now.
5. Crowd was really into the game early. Second half, not as much. But our play on offense in particular didn't exactly give us a reason to stay into it.
6. The tribute to the veterans was the highlight of the year, as it should be. Well done to all who made it happen. And a huge thank you to all our veterans for your service.
7. Bama beat us up physically. Bear got carted off late and apparently Justin Senior limped off after the first team OL's last possession. Holloway and Dak both took some absolutely brutal shots.
I didn't expect to beat the Pachyderms, but I didn't expect to get dominated, either. I certainly didn't think we'd essentially get shutout. The way they manhandled us up front on offense was sickening. We still have the same old personnel issues, especially on the OL. Frankly, we need some big, mean cats up front on the OL who enjoy knocking the hell out of the guy across from them and imposing their will. D gave up the big play, which was disheartening. It was something that hasn't really happened all season. I thought our freshmen really held their own.
Mullen has to improve his play calling in big games, especially after a little bit of adversity. We got passive and predictable after Bama's goal line stand. Our typical series after that: First down - pass. If incomplete: Dak power or Dak draw on 2nd down. 3rd down - pass. It was excruciating to watch.
Most importantly, Mullen needs to regain his offensive creativity. We've become a predictable and bland spread offense. Why did we get rid of the two back sets? What about some triple option with the inside pitch? We see that play maybe twice a year. What happened to the unbalanced line plays we ran back in 2009 & 2010? We were so much more creative 5-6 years ago. It's almost like now that we've improved the talent level Mullen wants to try to beat teams straight up instead of continuing to use the creativity that leveled the playing field in his early seasons. Regaining the creativity to go with the increased talent would make us even more potent offensively.
That's how I saw it. Fire in the Hole!