We exchanged Qs&As with SB Nation blog Roll Bama Roll this week. Brad was the point on this for us, so these are his questions, and his answers to theirs are over at Roll Bama Roll. Here we go.
1. How do you beat Alabama at this point? If you're the head coach of an opponent, what's your game plan going into Saturday?
A couple of folks far more knowledgeable than myself have weighed in on this topic this week (SB Nation's Bill Connelly probably has the most insightful take) but I'll try and boil it down to the basics:
1 - Stop the run. If Trent Richardson gets on a tear you're in for a LONG afternoon. The offense will proceed to eat you alive and the Defense will be nice an rested every time they take to the field.
2 - Get an early lead. Just about everyone has tried this and come to naught but that doesn't mean it's the wrong approach. If the Alabama offense has to play catchup it means AJ McCarron will have to throw downfield, the one area of the game we know least about.
3 - Get lucky. A vastly important but often overlooked aspect of this team's dominance is the ability to limit game-changing mistakes. Fumbles are rare, interceptions rarer and the players act as if any breakdowns in composure are punishable by death. You are going to have to have a few breaks to flip the script.
2. Before the season, I don't think a lot of people expected that A.J. McCarron would be as much of a quality game manager as he's been this year, and I'd even go so far as to say we thought he may be a weakness that could be exploited. That hasn't been the case. Does his success/maturation have more to do with the fact that he has so many weapons around him that he's able to be brought along slowly, or is he just a really good quarterback who is capable of leading the team on any given day?
It's not been a surprise to Alabama fans since we watched the garbage-time from last season's games. McCarron did quite well in his few starts and it was obvious Greg McElroy took a lot of time helping him. So even though this is his first year as a starter it isn't like he started from scratch like Phillip Simms did. He's had a year in the system and his understanding of it has been reflected in his play on the field.
As for his ceiling, the jury is still out on that. Most observers seem to think he's got a better deep ball than McElroy did and promises to provide the vertical game that this offense has often been criticised with lacking. He's also got more of a reputation as a gunslinger and that usually means costly mistakes are part of the package. It's been pretty obvious the coaching staff have prioritized limiting that in lieu of exploring the firepower his arm may provide.
3. Why do you think that Alabama is able to get pretty much anybody it wants in recruiting right now? With the depth there, you'd think kids wouldn't go knowing it may be a couple of years before they play, yet Bama continues to cherry pick the best recruits. What are the principle lures?
Whatever Saban's personal style is, it clearly works. But nothing draws in a blue chip recruit with an eye on the NFL than a program that's earning a reputation of putting players in the pro ranks. Alabama had ZERO players go in the 2008 draft. Since then there have been 16 players to go in the draft and no less than 7 in the first round.
The other factor is that recruiting is a huge part of the coaching staff's responsibilities. If you look at Saban's defensive playbook, the daily schedule of every coach has a portion designated for recruiting and quite a few of the hires have been with the specific intent of acquiring people who have a track record of bringing players into the system. Also, focusing on a talent-rich state like Alabama provides a bit of selectivity on multi-star out-of-state recruits which helps on that score.
4. There's the popular opinion among some of my Alabama acquaintances that Dooley appears to be our Mike Shula. That perception gets under our skin to say the least. From the outside looking in, how can you briefly compare the two regimes and what steps need to be taken in Dooley's tenure not to produce the same outcome?
It depends on what you mean by a "Mike Shula." Despite the perjorative aspect on the appelation, the fact is Shula did a reasonable job helming a team under NCAA probation. You can't really hold the first 4-9 season against him and while two of the remaining seasons he lead the Tide were tepid 6-6 efforts, his 10-2 effort in 2005 (pre-vacated, that is) is a hell of a lot better than a lot of more lauded coaches have accomplished. And it's worth remembering a number of those guys on the 2009 team were his recruits.
But there is no question Shula was brought in as a safe hire during a period of turmoil. He was an alumni and had a good reputation on campus due to his heroics as QB in the 1980s. If people weren't happy, they weren't upset either. He gave the program an opportunity to regroup at just about every level and, despite some of the criticism he gets, didn't make a fuss when it was time to go.
Dooley clearly fits this mold in that he was brought in with a clear mandate to keep the program out of trouble. The question is does he have the ability to take it to the next level when things in Knoxville are back to "normal." I certainly can't answer that. Yet if he can handle the job with at least as much success as Shula and prepare UT for future success, I can hardly see why that's a point of criticism.
5. With conference realignment, there is at least the scary possibility that the TSIO may cease to be a yearly event. I know very few Tennessee fans -- including myself -- that this doesn't crush. Is this rivalry as important to you guys or has our recent demise kind of faded the game into the background?
Well, the first qualifier I have to make is that I am not an Alabamian, I'm originally from Louisiana and became a Crimson Tide fan after choosing to attend UA. So there's a huge social aspect of these rivalries that I kind of look onto from the outside.
Historically, though, both are incredibly important to Alabama. The Third Saturday in October is an annual recognition of the long and successful histories of both programs. When the Crimson and Orange face on in October it's part of a continuum that stretches back to the days of General Neyland and Bear Bryant (as a player).
I firmly believe that's an important aspect of both programs and a key element of fandom that we need to keep alive. To lose it is to do a disservice to a large number of players and coaches that competed in the series and consign some of the greatest games in the history of the two teams to the dustbin of college football history.
And what the hell are we supposed to do with all the HATE without it?