At the midpoint of the season the Tide is rising as usual
Let’s see. Taxes are still a pain... check. Gas prices are still too high... check. The rain in Spain still falls mainly on the plain... check.
Annnnnnnd, Alabama is still atop the national polls... check.
Some things just never seem to change in our world. The Crimson Tide began the season at No. 1 and they are still there now as we sit at the midpoint of the season. In fact, couldn’t we have written the same thing for the past five or six years? Okay maybe not, but it sure seems like it.
This year’s 6-0 start has had some curious bumps for the red elephants, including some defensive lapses, lack of consistent production in the passing game and that strange fourth-quarter slump in the recent 27-19 win at Texas A&M. It seems like this team can turn into a monstrous domination machine when it wants to, like in their ridiculously easy wins over Vanderbilt and Ole Miss. So the big question is, which team will show up the rest of the season in Houndstooth Hat-land? Stay tuned. But more than likely, it’ll be the one that challenges for another national title.
Offensive MVP: QB Jalen Hurts
Yes, this is the working definition of a no-brainer. The only big concern is the fact that Hurts takes a lot of punishment, especially with his knack of tucking and running on drop-back-and-run scrambles. Remember, three backup QBs transferred before the season, so if Hurts should go down in the latter part of this long 2017 season, there are only two true freshmen behind him in Tua Tagovailoa and Mac Jones. The game plan has to be to distribute the ball a bit more and take some pressure of Hurts.
Defensive MVP: DB Minkah Fitzpatrick
No defensive player in the country changes the game like the Bama defensive heat-seeker who packs a punch upon impact. Fitzpatrick's (above, right) numerous responsibilities include pressuring the quarterback on a blitz, blanketing the opponents’ top receiver, blocking kicks and making an impact on every play he is in for. Statistics-wise he has 28 tackles, 4.5 tackles for a loss, one sack, one interception, four pass breakups and one blocked kick. But his mere presence out there is enough to disrupt opponents.
Best Moment of the First Half: The rout of Vanderbilt
It was hyped as the biggest game in Vanderbilt history as the Commodores entered the game unbeaten and sticking their chest out and even doing a little bit of trash talking. Well that was not the route to take ‘Dores. The Tide made them pay for it, out-yarding them by 599 and laying a 59-0 stink-bomb on them. It seemed like the old days of Bama dominating another hapless VU squad.
Best Newcomer: DL Isaiah Buggs
The junior college transfer has been a force on the D-line of the Bama defense, notching 22 tackles so far, including a team-high 10 in the 27-19 escape at Texas A&M. For this honor, Buggs barely beats out backup quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who has hit on 64 percent of his passes while throwing four touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Biggest Surprise: First-quarter dominance
The Tide has outscored the opposition 83-9 in the first 15 minutes of their games this year. That’s why so many of their games have been laughers from the get-go. And usually it is helped by the fact that they’ve yanked a couple turnovers from their opponents in the early going as well. Runner up to that? The Tide also has outscored their opponents 80-7 in the third quarter.
Three Things to Watch in the Second Half
1. The passing game to open up
You knew Alabama would be predicated by another strong run-first, throw-second type of team for this season. But the Crimson Tide seems to be leaning more and more on the run this season and even though Hurts has thrown well (63 percent completion rate, seven TDs, zero picks), Calvin Ridley is the only receiver with more than 10 catches (he’s got 29). They’ve got to get the ball spread out a bit more and stop being predictable. Sure, they haven’t lost yet, but tough games lie ahead and they’ll need to go to the air with more diversity.
2. More consistent defense
As mentioned above there have been some curious lapses in defense, especially in the Colorado State and Texas A&M games. But the Tide has also shown pure clampdown abilities, like snuffing Florida State – who at the time had Deondre Francois at the controls – in the 24-7 season-opening win. Again, this team took some heavy losses from last year’s defense, including five talents who are now in the NFL. Yet, the Tide are still ranked fifth in the country in both total and scoring defense and are capable of even better.
3. Another couple of Nick Saban press conference blowups
The contemptuous Tide head honcho is flat tired of getting questions about how playing second-rate teams is “a week off.” I can’t wait until the press conferences leading up to Tennessee and Mercer are here and he is ready to rip the head off of another local reporter who has a dumb question for him. Grab the popcorn.
Ranking the Toughest Remaining Games on the Schedule
1. Nov. 25 at Auburn
Man alive, with the way the Auburn Tigers are playing right now this year’s Iron Bowl is going to be another epic battle. It could even be a battle of SEC unbeatens. The winner of this one gets an inside track on both the SEC title but also a College Football Playoff berth.
2. Dec. 2 SEC Championship Game (Atlanta)
All indications point to this being a Bama-Georgia showdown in Atlanta. And no, I’m not saying the Auburn game is a gimme W by any stretch. The Dogs have won at Notre Dame (by a point) and also blasted Mississippi State 31-3, just a week after the Maroon Dogs had beaten LSU 37-7. So this Georgia squad presents a legit threat to Alabama’s conference crown they’ve had a hold on in recent years.
3. Nov. 11 at Mississippi State
This one all depends on which State team shows up, the one that dominated LSU behind some magical work by quarterback Nick Fitzgerald or the one that got lambasted by Georgia a week later. All indications point to this being a tough chore for the Tide, especially since the cowbell fans in Starkville will turn this into a wild environment. Not that the Tide isn’t used to that kind of stuff, of course.
4. Nov. 4 LSU
This is not shaping up to be a typical Alabama-LSU showdown, not with how the Tigers have been struggling in Ed Orgeron’s first full season at the helm. However, never underestimate a rivalry, especially considering an upset in Tuscaloosa would pretty much save LSU’s season (and put a stop to the increasing grumbles about the coaching staff).
5. Oct. 14 Arkansas
The Hogs’ new-look defense has experienced some growing pains and quarterback Austin Allen is in pain (shoulder injury). Not exactly the recipe for a team that's coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium looking to pull off the upset.
6. Oct. 21 Tennessee
The Third Saturday in October is probably going to be another long afternoon for Butch Jones, his Volunteers and their disenchanted fan base. Something along the lines of last season’s 49-10 outcome in Knoxville seems like a good place to start.
7. Nov. 18 Mercer
The Bears from the FCS ranks have already played Auburn, losing to the Tigers 24-10. But that was before Gus Malzahn’s team got things rolling and for this one, Mercer serves as Alabama’s lead-in to the Iron Bowl. Nick Saban will probably call the dogs off early but it won’t matter.
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.