Shane: Chinks in the armor

A Critique of a champion
By Shane from Centerpoint

In my opinion, Alabama running–back Mark Ingram cemented himself firmly as the front-runner in the Heisman trophy race Saturday night in Bryant-Denny Stadium. He sliced and diced his way through Steve Spurrier’s South Carolina Gamecocks like a Ginsu knife through butter. Ingram touched the ball 26 times and rumbled for 269 yards, setting a stadium record with 24 runs for 246 yards. In the end the Crimson Tide offensive line dominated, shoving one of the best rush–defenses in the nation around.

Yet, the passing–game seemed to digress, turning in a poor performance for the second week in a row. Truthfully, for the past two-weeks, Alabama quarterback Greg McElroy has been playing like a rookie. The offensive line and receivers have done a good job, but G-Mac’s timing seems to be off. However, his problems do not appear to be catastrophic in nature.

We must remember that the young signal-caller (in terms of on-field experience) is still learning. He just needs to settle down and play with instinct like he did earlier in the year.

Actually, I don’t think Tide coaches are ready to push the panic button, mainly due to the fact that the running game is simply awesome. South Carolina’s defensive coordinator, Ellis Johnson, put 8 and 9 men in the box attempting to slow Ingram down. It didn’t work!

Much like he did last week at Ole Miss, Ingram “trucked” the Gamecocks, leaving jock straps all over the field. This guy is a “thoroughbred”. He displays the same speed and powerful moves in the fourth quarter that he does on the first play of the game. That winning trait is the mark of a champion.

Meanwhile, McElroy needs to get a grip on his poise in the pocket because the Crimson Tide’s next two opponents, Tennessee and LSU, are just as good as the Rebels and the Gamecocks on the defensive side of the ball — especially defending the pass.

In other words, extreme pressure is going to be coming at Greg for the rest of the season. He must refocus and respond in order to get the football into the hands of the open playmakers — instead of throwing into triple coverage.

McElroy – like all winning quarterbacks – must limit the turnovers as well. “Sudden changes” could be the difference between Alabama’s being a champion or a runner-up.

Head coach Nick Saban said it best when he said that Alabama was basically one-dimensional on offense Saturday.

He knows the passing game is also important and the Tide has too many explosive athletes for it not to be utilized.

With that said, the Alabama offense can afford to go through a few growing pains because this Tide defense can literally destroy an opponent’s will to play.

Like I said after last week’s dismantling of Ole Miss’s gunslinger Jevan Snead, somebody will have to show me this stop unit’s Achilles heel. I just don’t see one!

They now understand Saban’s system and are executing every game plan to near-perfection — and should get even better. Watch out!

I’ll say this: I don’t envy Tennessee’s Jonathon Crompton or LSU’s Jordan Jefferson. They have the unenviable task of being the next two “victims” in line to face this vicious pack of quarterback–killers.

Perhaps the most impressive part about this defense is the fact that, when they lose a player, another steps in and the unit continues to play with deadly precision.

The one area that leaves me suspicious and puzzled centers on the Crimson Tide’s special teams, specifically the kick-off team’s kick coverage, or lack thereof. Opponents are gaining too many return yards.

Alabama is also getting penalized constantly on both kick and punt returns. Numerous “block-in-the-back” and “holding” calls are negating very good field position.

In fact most favorable outcomes in the tougher SEC match–ups are directly affected by field position. As a result, Alabama cannot afford to continue giving up territory by stopping themselves.

Realistically, I think everybody agrees by now that this football team is very good. But, they do have areas where they need to improve in order to win the national crown.

Ultimately, consistency is most important because Alabama is going to get the “best shot” from every team they play.

Also, college-age young men tend to become complacent with winning. They have a tendency to rest on their laurels and relax due to being undefeated and the status it brings.

Some very good teams even punish themselves with a loss before they get totally focused on execution and winning. Florida and Texas barely escaped on Saturday.

By all indications, Alabama shows no signs of heading in that direction. Nevertheless, if all else fails, doesn’t defense win championships?
—Shane writes a weekly column for the Call News and the Capstone Report.