Every so often, yours truly says something or does something that prompts his friends to cock their heads at him, scrunch up their faces and ask: “Why exactly did you do that again?” So it is now with that ridiculous prognostication.
Damn it, Alabama, how did you pull off that opening night win so seamlessly last Saturday? New quarterback, new safety, two new offensive linemen, new starting runningback – all gelling in time to beat the seventh-best team in the country? Not to mention overcoming the offseason distractions – NCAA sanctions, fishy fishing excursions and a star lineman getting shot in the arm five days before game night.
Mike Shula’s Alabama was so much more predictable than this. What? Shula’s coaching and College Gameday’s on campus? What’s my bookie’s secret knock again? I could afford to go out on a crazy limb when he was coaching. Boy if Alabama figures out a way to beat Oklahoma …Alabama wasn’t going to figure out a way to beat Oklahoma! Alabama couldn’t figure out a way to beat Northern Illinois for heaven’s sake!
Those of us who are stupid enough to prognosticate college football in this state, specifically Alabama football, have been doing so from an East Berlin mindset. Mike DuBose erected the wall in 2000, Dennis Franchione strung the shock wire, Mike Price installed the stripper pole and Mike Shula dug the trenches and starved the dogs. There was no hope then, Alabama fans. No hope. And even though Bama finds itself in year three of the Saban era, the new-old Crimson Tide still refuses to die away, as evidenced by the Louisiana-Monroe and Utah games. Recent history still suggests that Bama will struggle on the big stage, and I made my call from deep within that mindset.
By now it should be painfully obvious that I didn’t expect Alabama to beat Virginia Tech last weekend, else I never would have written myself onto the twig end of the branch as I did. But no one, no one, expected them to win the way they won. If I were George Teague or Tommy Johnson, Eric Curry or John Copeland, now would be a good time to make like the insufferable ’72 Dolphins – pop and pour, baby! Because this year’s Bama team, though formidable, isn’t a threat to take away the “best defense ever” mantle from the 1992 squad any time soon.
No, Alabama won this past weekend because the offense (which we all figured would struggle early this season) performed in the clutch. Greg McElroy looks like the real deal. Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson appear unstoppable. And Colin Peek is the best transfer since Manhattan.
By the time Mark Barron settles in at safety and the rest of the defense coalesces around Rolando McClain’s leadership, Alabama could be the same SEC West menace they were last season. But hey, there are at least 11 more games to be played.
Meanwhile, down on the Plains, who was that wearing Chris Todd’s jersey at Jordan-Hare on Saturday night? Whoever that was looked like an accurate, strong-armed quarterback, and I was under the impression that Chris Todd was anything but an accurate, strong-armed quarterback. Picking Auburn to beat Louisiana Tech was one of the few correct calls I made in last week’s column, but that’s not to say I was feeling very confident about it.
If you thought Alabama had questions to answer going into last weekend, trying to get a bead on the Tigers was like filling out the eHarmony questionnaire. Does Auburn have the personnel to execute the Gus Malzahn offense? It appears that they do. Todd looked sharp, the running backs were solid, the line held up… all in all a good start for the Tigers and new head coach Gene Chizik.
Speaking of Chizik, last weekend’s victory marked his first as a head coach in 364 days. There’s one monkey off his back. Of course, it’s been 670 days since he last won a conference game, and Auburn is playing Mississippi State this weekend…
I did get an opportunity to see one game in the flesh last Saturday – UAB vs. Rice at Legion Field. It rained, unexpectedly and unrepentantly, throughout much of the game. In fact, last Saturday was one of those rare occasions where I preferred the relative comfort of the press box over the traditional bleacher experience. But regardless of where you sat and watched, I’m guessing you couldn’t take your eyes off UAB quarterback Joe Webb.
Now I’m a traditionalist when it comes to quarterbacks. I like them in the pocket, looking downfield, checking down, throwing spirals, etc. But I think I’ll make an exception for Webb, who exhibits about as much patience standing in the pocket as I do at the Thanksgiving dinner table during pre-meal prayer.
Every snap is the Wildcat formation for UAB – there’s a lot of scrambling, not a lot of passing. Sooner or later they’ll run into a defense that can shut that down and figure out a way to double up Frantrell Forrest – but Rice can lay claim to no such defense.
One of the trade-offs of spending most of your life working in or covering football is that you rarely allow yourself to be amazed by what you see on the field any more. Plays that might make an average fans’ jaw thud against the earth don’t really affect sportswriters in the same way. Rather, each play is like an incomplete thought or sentence fragment that, when pieced together just right, forms the story you’ll read the morning-after over toast. When you’re picking your bottom lip off the grass, we’re rummaging the thesaurus for a list of suitable adjectives for “amaze” (Roget’s lists 24, by the way).
Every so often though, someone makes a play that amaz – uh – astonishes everyone, even the credentialed crowd. It was early in the second quarter and UAB was driving from their 29-yard line. Webb ran an option look around the right end. A Rice defender gambled and made his move toward the trailing back. He apparently hadn’t been paying attention in the film room, because if he had then he would have known: Anytime Joe Webb has the ball, it behooves a defender to put Joe Webb on the ground.
Webb saw the defender make his move and shifted fluidly and effortlessly to his left and into the open field. Between him and the end zone was the Rice defensive backfield, which he blew past like Usain Bolt, untouched, into the paint. 71 yards.
It took me a second to realize that my mouth had been open during the entire duration of the play…frankly it was a wonder I didn’t chip an incisor on the Formica countertop beneath my chin.
Why am I telling you all this? I don’t know. I guess it’s my way of saying UAB looks dangerous offensively this season, as long as Webb stays upright. The defense has obviously improved over last year. They might just live up to the five-win prediction I made last week. Heck, they might get to six and a bowl! I don’t know.
Maybe I’m telling you this because football is the most awesome thing ever. I’m happy for all our fans — not to mention the brave souls that work the suicide prevention hotlines — that our in-state schools are looking good this season. Most of all, I guess I’m just happy that our new national pastime is back. And that it’s only just begun.