By Ray Glier
ATLANTA___Here is what Alabama’s football team does and yours does not.
“We practice in pads a lot,” said linebacker Shaun Dion Hamilton. “It pays off in games in terms of tackling. We don’t miss tackles.”
You saw it on the field against Florida State in the 24-7 drubbing here Saturday night. Alabama’s tacklers get their near leg, near shoulder into blockers, or what they learn in “The Boss Drill.” They control two gaps, which means they can get to either side of the blocker to grab a running back. And they do not miss tackles when they read where he is going. Arms shoot up under shoulder pads and they wrap up.
Alabama controlled the gaps so completely that FSU coach Jimbo Fisher started running reverses and misdirection. He tried to go wide and the Crimson Tide ran down the swift Noles and made sure tackles.
I talk about these fundamentals a lot in the book I just wrote with Phil Savage, “Fourth and Goal Every Day.” It is Phil’s view of The Process, his textbook.
Alabama on Saturday night was all textbook on defense.
It is amazing, consistent fundamentals. NFL scouts will tell you Alabama practices in pads more than any college football team. Practices are harder than games, said linebacker Mack Wilson because of the work in pads.
Alabama lost linebacker Ryan Anderson, linebacker Tim Williams, defensive lineman Jon Allen, linebacker Reuben Foster, safety Eddie Jackson, among others. But the new group held Florida State to 40 yards rushing and made the Seminoles play one-handed….the pass.
Nick Saban has an expression he uses often with his players in practice.
“Every play either ends in a tackle or a touchdown.”
“Coach Saban is hard on us every day about tackling,” Wilson said. “You better tackle or you will hear about it.”
I wrote in USA TODAY on Friday that Alabama needed to get smoother in third-and-eight. It’s still a problem. The Tide was 3 of 16 on third down against Florida State, but the defense and FSU mistakes made sure the wobbly play on third down did not matter.
Quarterback Jalen Hurts just did not look comfortable in third-and-long, especially when veteran wide receiver Calvin Ridley could not get loose. Hurts kept looking for Ridley over and over. It was not a good look for the sophomore quarterback to stick on his first read.
I think a door is open for the freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa. He is a better pocket passer.
Alabama is one of maybe three programs in the country that can win a national championship with a quarterback who does not achieve on third down from the pocket. You saw it Saturday night with the Complimentary Football (offense, defense, special teams).
Saban said Hurts “did what we asked him to do.” And he did. No turnovers, few bad plays.
But it will be interesting to see Tagovailoa when he plays. I’m told his pocket presence is much better than Hurts and he comes off his primary receiver much quicker. We’ll see.
Savage and I were speaking at the Decatur Book Festival on Saturday when there was a question from the audience about a story in The Washington Post. Neither Sav or I saw the story.
WaPo wrote a story decrying the fact Alabama linebacker coach Tosh Lupoi makes more salary than the president of the University of Alabama.
So whose fault is that?
The president is the CEO of the school. He approves these contracts and this largesse in football. The presidents in Division I abdicated their responsibility with football 25 years ago. They bowed to the moneyed boosters who build new classrooms, but also want a winner in football.
You ask college presidents___and I have___and they will tell you there is immense pressure to spend and spend and spend in football. Their jobs depend on it in many cases.
Besides, football is not the only business upside down. Look at what we pay teachers and policemen compared to Hollywood actors and money changers on Wall Street.
The Post story is old news. The better story is to get college presidents to collude and stop the train.
It was telling to hear Saban talk about FSU’s game plan. The Alabama coach said the Seminoles didn’t do anything the Tide had not seen on film.
“They didn’t do a whole lot of stuff that they haven’t done in the past, so I think our coaches did a really good job of preparing our team to take advantage of some situations in the kicking game,” Saban said. “The blocked punt was good scheme based on their protection and how they protect.”
You cannot give Alabama so much time to dissect a tape. They will find “tells” and “tendencies”. Florida State had a weakness in their punt game and Alabama was all over it. If FSU used the same punt scheme with a hole in 2016 against Bama that is Fisher’s fault. Alabama has a dozen analysts that study film every day looking for weaknesses.
I don’t see a demon pass rusher for Alabama. Yet.
It could be Shaun Dion Hamilton, the linebacker off the edge. It could be Raekwon Davis, the interior lineman. But I don’t see a Tim Williams. It’s early.