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Cookin’ Up the Competition: Still Alive But Barely Breathing

Seven questions with our friends at Roll Bama Roll, cooked up just for you.

NCAA Football: Alabama at Louisiana State John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

Well it’s been one week since we beat Texas A&M and it appears that it did in fact actually happen. Bad part is, we now have to play the #1 team in the nation this Saturday and something tells me they’re not as overrated as the Aggies were. In this week’s edition, we have Brent Taylor from Roll Bama Roll here to answer some questions about our match up with the Tide. He was also bold enough to toss me some of his burning questions, you can check it out here.

1) In this nonsensical year that has been 2016 so far, Alabama seems to be just about the only constant that we have left in this world. Where would you put this year's team in comparison to other recent Alabama squads?

Defensively, I think this is the best team of the Saban era. The 2011 squad still leads in some of your raw counting stats, but college football offenses have evolved since then. This defense, especially the front 7, will go down as one of the best in Alabama history.

On the other hand, the offense is still a bit of an enigma. The running game is different—more read option based with a plethora of running backs and a mobile QB—but still deadly. It may not be as consistent in years past, but the big plays are more frequent. But the true freshman quarterback is still a true freshman QB. The passing game has really struggled.

So, all in all, I think this might be the most talented team we’ve seen in the last decade of talented Bama teams, but the offense hasn’t really found a true groove yet.

2) Last time State played in Bryant-Denny Stadium, the Dawgs were the #1 team in the land. Not a question, I just wanted that on the record. Give me your nightmare scenario of what would have to happen for MSU to come out on top this weekend.

A few days ago, a friend of mine from up north was going on about Bama playing a weak schedule, and I had to remind him that this “weak” team was ranked #1 in the nation just two seasons ago and just finished off the upset over the #4 team this year.

Nightmare scenario? Mississippi State takes cues from LSU’s defensive strategy of blitzing the fire out of the edges and option mesh points to force Jalen Hurts to prove he can throw the ball further than 5 yards… But unlike LSU, Nick Fitzgerald is able to dodge the first pass rusher enough times to complete passes and keep moving the chains. If that happens, it could be a long night for Alabama.

3) Last week, Alabama's entire defense was awarded Dick Butkus Defensive Player of the Week. First, how is that allowed? Second, did they really deserve it?

My guess is that defensive end Jonathan Allen just stared down the people that make the award until they gave it to the whole defense.

It may make me sound a bit like a homer, but yeah, they did deserve it. The front seven did for sure… I guess the case could be made that the secondary didn’t really do much since LSU rarely got past the line of scrimmage. Leonard Fournette, the wonderchild running back of the universe, managed an impressive 2 yards per carry, and LSU only totaled about 170 yards on the night, 41 of which came on a prayer of a deep bomb where the receiver was underthrown and our corner outran him.

4) This year we haven't really heard about a prolific RB in Alabama's backfield like we have for the past few seasons, despite Damien Harris only being 247 yards shy of a 1000 yard season on less than 100 carries. What do you think is the largest contributor to this and should Harris be getting more attention than he is?

It has been a bit of an odd situation. Damien Harris has been good, but not to the levels of Derrick Henry, T.J. Yeldon, Eddie Lacy, Trent Richardson, and Mark Ingram before him. He’s displayed good vision, relentless strength, and some impressive agility in the back field, but doesn’t have the speed to break away from defenders (I swear he leads the team in number of times he’s been tackled from behind).

So, he’s rotated a good bit. Freshman Josh Jacobs came on strong early and put on a clinic of breaking ankles with his ridiculous acceleration, but has mostly disappeared the last three games. At the same time, physical freak Bo Scarbrough is the battering ram at 240 pounds, to go along with surprising break away speed, great hands in the passing game, and an exceptional blocker. For reasons totally unknown to me though, Scarbrough is still way behind Harris in playing time.

And then with all that, Jalen Hurts has… hurt… other teams in the running game just as much as any running back. With all four of those guys splitting carries, it is a bit difficult for any one of them to really become the main option.

5) The key to Alabama's offense seems to be the versatility of Jalen Hurts and his ability to stretch a defense. One, is he a better runner or passer and, two, if MSU can force him into being one-dimensional, do they stand a chance at catching the Tide off-balance? (10/10 pun intended)

He’s a better runner. And right now, it’s not even close. Early in the season, there seemed to be a focus on keeping him in the pocket to develop his passing game; and while it wasn’t perfect, he was a pretty good QB. Recently, however, I think offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin has become enamored with Hurts’ impressive running ability and is relying on that too much. Hurts is nearly perfect in making the right decisions with his throws, but his accuracy is scattershot. Sometimes he’ll hit a receiver in stride 50 yards down field, and sometimes he’ll overthrow a wide open man on a crossing route, allowing a DB covering someone else to get a free pick. You just never know.

6) In your mind, who is the best player on Alabama's star-laden defense and how high do you see him being drafted in April? (Yes, I already know who it is but I just want to see what you have to say.)

Jonathan Allen is the easy answer. However, I’m going to throw something out of left field here. Allen is an amazing defensive end, no doubt. But a defensive end is in a position to gather more of the spotlight and fame than almost any other position other than quarterback… just look at NFL contracts.

Middle linebacker Reuben Foster, though, is even more special. Rarely do you see a middle linebacker with the pure explosiveness that he has. Ever since his freshman year, Foster was always “That guy on special teams who is always the first one down the field and always separates the kick returner’s soul from his body.”

Without losing any of his hard-hitting demeanor in the run game, Foster has also become one of the better pass-coverage linebackers I’ve ever seen.

7) Prediction time: how many quarters do you think it will take for Alabama to cover the 28.5 point spread?

I’m not trying to humble brag here, but I don’t think Alabama does cover. I’m predicting an ugly, low scoring game for most of the first three quarters, with Alabama pulling out of reach with a late touchdown or two. Final score: 24-9

BONUS: WOULD YOU RATHER: Nick Saban be named Supreme Leader of the University of Alabama OR the city of Auburn be removed from the state of Alabama?

Remove Auburn from the state, no doubt (And that’s not just because Saban already is the Supreme Leader of UA and I like to have my cake and eat it too). I’d really prefer to excommunicate them from the entire U.S. and build a wall around the whole county. With barbed wire fences. Pointing inwards.