From time to time, we have the luxury of reaching out across the SBNation network to talk with bloggers from other teams. With Alabama up next, Brent Taylor was kind enough to preview the Tide.
Hint: they aren’t bad. Let’s dive in.
1) Is this the best Alabama team you’ve ever seen? If it’s too early to answer that question, do you think this group is on their way to being the best ever?
Offensively, it absolutely is. Not only does the Tide have a superstar QB for the first time, they have 3 running backs that could give any previous Tide runner a run for his money, a trio of receivers who are all equally effective at scoring from anywhere on the field, and an offensive line with experience, chemistry, and three 5-star talents.
Defense has been another story. Obviously, our perspective here is a little skewed as Alabama fans as this is still one of the better squads in the nation, it’s the weakest secondary since the 2014 season, and the weakest front 7 since 2007. I’ll go into more detail in the next question.
Overall though, this offense has been so good that the defense nearly doesn’t matter. You have to take in the level of competition, of course, but if Tua and the rest continue to play like they have been, this will absolutely be the scariest Alabama team the nation has ever seen.
2) Just looking at the numbers — and they aren’t bad by any stretch — Alabama’s defense seems to be just a tick off of where they usually are. It hasn’t mattered because the offense can name their score, of course. But what’s the main issue there defensively?
Going into the season, we all expected the secondary to be the weak link, as we lost the top 6 guys to the draft and graduation. Every single contributor in the entire secondary is new. However, they’ve actually played pretty well overall. The safeties in particular have been absolutely stellar.
The front seven has been a different story. Quinnen Williams has been a one man wrecking ball in the defensive line, but that’s really been about it. Raekwon Davis hasn’t lived up to the flashes he displayed in 2017, and senior Isaiah Buggs is a dependable player, though definitely not a difference maker. Mack Wilson and Dylan Moses are both extremely athletic in the middle of the defense, but have been liabilities when it comes to pass coverages and communication of defensive plays. The outside linebackers lost freak-of-nature Terrell Lewis before the season, and upperclassmen Anfernee Jennings and Christian Miller have only been somewhat effective rushing the passer without him.
All in all, the starting 11 have still been pretty solid, compared to the rest of the nation, if not a truly special defense like we saw the last three years. But the major issue has been the depth behind them. Once those top guys come out of the game, opposing offenses have run ramshackle through anyone on the second team. Now, that’s a real #BamaProblem to have, but it’s also very real. We already lost an outside linebacker and a cornerback to injury. Any more and things start getting really dicey.
3) Can this offense be slowed down? It seems like a runaway freight train at this point. Is there anything at all, a certain look or situation, that they’ve struggled with?
Not really, no. I hate to sound like the homer here, but this offense has looked unstoppable. Obviously, if Tua Tagovailoa’s knee injury is worse than we thought, then that could derail things. Jalen Hurts is a good runner and has improved his downfield passing in the last year, but he doesn’t kick the offense into hyperdrive like Tua does. Without him, we go from an offense that very nearly score at will to one that can drive the ball down your throat, but struggles to overcome negative setbacks.
If Tua proves to stay healthy though, I have yet to see any sign of anything that can slow them down.
4) What’s your personal opinion of Jeremy Pruitt?
Man, I loved Pruitt. After years of watching Kirby Smart consistently field a defense that could stuff an opponent on 1st and 2nd down only to give up 3rd down on any distance with a vanilla play call, watching Pruitt scheme blitzes from all directions was like caffeine to the soul. He excelled at finding ways to bring pressure with different types of players from all areas of the field, and also injected an energy into the defense that had them competing with each other for sacks, turnovers, and defensive touchdowns on every single play.
We didn’t get to see him in the media very often, but the energy and playcalling he brought to the defense in his years as Alabama’s defensive coordinator were head and shoulders above what we’ve seen from coordinators both before and after him.
5) How do you see this one playing out? More specifically, can Tennessee cover a 28.5 point spread?
I think they’ll cover. Nick Saban is really good at just barely screwing Vegas on games with big spreads like this. Plus there’s a very real chance that Tua Tagovailoa barely plays in this one, if he plays at all. Like every other Alabama game this year, I’d expect the Tide to start hot and jump to an early lead while the Volunteers are still trying to find their footing. Once they settle in, they’ll make some explosive plays and extend some drives to get things back within striking distance by halftime, but Alabama ultimately pulls away in the 3rd quarter before coasting through the 4th and allowing enough points to lose out on the spread. Final score: 42-21