The Offense Is More Reliable, the Defense is Even More Dominating And The Crimson Tide May Be Fielding the Best Team In School History
It’s hard to compare teams from different eras, but it’s not difficult to look at two recent squads and draw comparisons.
And as the college football season moves past its halfway point, it’s clear that – to this point – the 2011 Alabama football team is better than the one that won the BCS Championship in 2009. And that was a really good team!
The biggest difference in the two is that the 2011 version is coming into its own on offense and no longer has to rely on the defense to bail it out of trouble.
The ’09 team went through an, ahem, “offensively challenged” stretch in the early and mid-SEC schedule. It rode the back of Mark Ingram – as did many Gamecocks – in squeezing past South Carolina, 20-6 in which the offense only scored one touchdown. It didn’t get any in a heart-stomping 12-10 win against Tennessee. That win took not one, but two, blocked field goals by Terrance “Mount” Cody, including one on the final play of the game.
But for a more parallel comparison, let’s look at the Ole Miss games in 2009 and 2011. Both were on the road and in each the Tide was still in the fairly early stages of breaking in a new quarterback (Greg McElroy in ’09, A.J. McCarron this year). In 2009, Alabama relied mainly on field goals and the defense to win 22-3. The game’s outcome was never in doubt with that defense – it intercepted Ole Miss quarterback Javon Sneed four times and all but ruined his NFL aspirations – but the offense could not quite put the final “ahh,” points on the board.
In 2011, however, the Tide delivered a complete beatdown to the Rebels. They annihilated them 52-7. Ole Miss never had a chance, not even after starting out with a long pass and surprising TD on its opening possession. Yes, it was a relatively close 17-7 at the half, but the Tide was running the ball and wearing down the Rebels for the second half. Only it didn’t take that long, for Alabama scored 28 points in the third period, then rested Trent Richardson after he made his electrifying, “Heisman signature” 76-yard TD run.
Granted, Ole Miss is weaker in 2011 than in 2009, but not 26 points weaker, the margin of victory differential in the two games. McCarron is as poised as a young bride is nervous on her wedding day – that early-season road game at Penn State matured him beyond his experience in what may go down as the key moment of the year – and is starting to show some swagger in his passes (the throw-it-instead-of-run-it TD against Vanderbilt, for example).
Richardson is just like Mark Ingram, Bama’s ’09 Heisman Trophy winner; the two appear to be the same back wearing different numbers.
There’s no receiver that strikes Julio Jones-type fear in defensive backs, but Marquez Maze is lightening fast, Darius Hanks is a solid underneath target, tight end Michael Williams is proving to have excellent hands and even can be a bit of a downfield threat and watch out for the quickly-emerging DeAndrew White. That guy may turn out to be a superstar.
And as hard as it is to believe – unless you see these guys – the defense is somehow even better than in 2009 when it carried the Tide to the title. Its only real weakness appears to be a momentary blip in concentration, allowing one receiver per game to get behind the secondary for a touchdown. Florida hit it early for a score and Ole Miss did it to set up a score. Even Vanderbilt had a play, but the receiver dropped what would have been an 80-yard bomb.
Perhaps the defense does this on purpose, because that only serves to make the players mad, like someone stirring up a beehive. All of a sudden, bees come out attacking from every direction and the offending person (in this case, the quarterback) is relentlessly hounded and pounded. It was so bad for Arkansas’ Tyler Wilson that the coaches took him out of the game to preserve him for the rest of the season. Florida’s Jeff Brantley and Vandy’s Larry Smith were each knocked out of the game. In the first half.
Of course, the real measure of the 2011 Alabama football team comes at the end of the season. It must still beat BCS #1 LSU, endure cowbells at Mississippi State and those rabid “cheer at anything” fans at Auburn. Then it must beat (most likely) Oklahoma or Wisconsin (perhaps even Clemson!?) in the BCS title game, Jan. 9 in New Orleans.
In other words, it must win a National Championship in order to equal the 2009 team in terms of accomplishment and to pass it in terms of comparison.
And if it does that, and continues to hammer teams the way it’s doing now, then an even bigger discussion will start to emerge: Is this the greatest team in Alabama history?