Special thanks to Tim Gayle, a jack of all trades with The Montgomery Advertiser.
PA: What is the feeling around the Alabama program and with the fans? Do they believe this team is as dominant as it has appeared the last two years?
Tim: No, they see what everyone else sees. An offense that looks dominant one game and can’t run the ball the next. A defense that looks dominant one game and out of place the next. It seems almost as if players are reading their press clippings instead of working to get better. We know their talent level is better than just about anyone but the chemistry is missing and a couple of the younger players seem to have replaced hunger with entitlement. This team looks a lot like the 2010 version. It’ll beat most of the teams on its schedule with sheer talent, but it will likely lose two or three games because it doesn’t take care of all the little things. At least, that’s the feeling at this point. There’s still time to correct that.
PA: Has the offensive line been able to absorb the loss of three NFL draft picks and perform at or near the same level?
Tim: The offensive line has struggled through some of the same problems. Ryan Kelly has more physical ability than his predecessor, Barrett Jones. Cyrus Kouandjio is an All-American. Anthony Steen should be better (although he’s been injured since the Texas A&M game). For some reason, they’re not on the same page. As a result, Alabama has struggled running the ball.
PA: A.J. McCarron has often been referred to as a “game manager.” Is that label fair, and does it bother him?
Tim: AJ doesn’t care, he says repeatedly, but you know every quarterback has an ego so I’m sure it bothers him, some. The label doesn’t fit but it’s one every quarterback in a successful “football factory” system endures. Steve Young endured it for a while, and in his first couple of years Aaron Rodgers wasn’t as highly regarded because they’re products of a successful system. If Alabama keeps winning the way it has, McCarron will get his due. It was McCarron, not a dominating defense or a punishing running attack, that beat Texas A&M and Colorado State. Alabama is winning right now because of McCarron’s ability to get the ball into the hands of the Tide’s best offensive asset, its receivers.
PA: Obviously the Texas A&M game skews the numbers a little bit, and A&M will pass on a lot of folks. What has pass defense been like against Virginia Tech and Colorado State? Will Alabama match up well with Ole Miss’ physical wide receivers?
Tim: The question of how Alabama matches up with Ole Miss’ receivers will probably be the focal point of the game. Against Texas A&M, Saban played his defense a certain way to hold down the rushing of Johnny Manziel, which left the defensive backs in one-on-one matchups. That situation will not be repeated, he has insisted several times (including this week), because the circumstances are slightly different. The results won’t be repeated, he insisted, because players will get it right or sit on the bench. Deion Belue, Alabama’s most experienced corner, was injured against Texas A&M (hence a couple of those embarrassing plays, including the 95-yard pass to Evans against his replacement) and two reserves started against Colorado State — seldom-used sophomore Bradley Slyve and true freshman Eddie Jackson. Injuries to Belue and nickel back Jarrick Williams, along with continued questions revolving around Dee Milliner’s replacement John Fulton, leave the Tide vulnerable in the secondary. For the most part, though, it’s been solid other than one Saturdayafternoon in College Station.
PA: Not a lot of sacks for the Tide right now. What’s going on with pass rush?
Tim: The pass rush hasn’t garnered statistics, but going up against an unknown quantity with Virginia Tech and a new coordinator and playing more of a containment style against Texas A&M, I believe, kept them from building any statistics. Brandon Ivory and Darren Lake aren’t the same as Jesse Williams, but the dropoff isn’t much. Ed Stinson returns at one DE and Jeoffrey Pagan is considered a more dominant defensive end than the two guys that played that position last year. And all of the linebackers are back, so I think it’s more a reflection of the teams they’re playing. But that unit, like all others that don’t include AJ McCarron or C.J. Mosley, has undergone intense scrutiny from fans wondering if their heart’s in it.
PA: Anything to the Saban to Texas talk or just wishful thinking from Texas fans?
Tim: Nick Saban is his own man. Money won’t lure him that many more miles away from the Lake Burton vacation home in north Georgia he’s had for a dozen years, but he probably flies there anyway, so that’s a wash. Alabama, you would think, would match anything Texas throws at him in the form of money so that’s a wash. What is Saban thinking? If you know that, you have your answer. I will say he has mellowed a little in the last couple of years and has a relatively easy relationship with the media, something he hasn’t had in the past. He’s gotten everything he has ever wanted at Alabama in the form of hires and building construction and anything else. Of course, the guys who hired him (A.D. Mal Moore) either passed away a few months ago or (president Robert Witt) were promoted to chancellor of the UA system and that may have an effect, or he may like being the big dog who can make presidents and ADs do what he wants. His wife Terry does seem genuinely content in Tuscaloosa and he stated publicly he’s too old to move any more. For whatever that’s worth. If you want the unofficial Alabama fan answer, they’re certain he’s staying put. But they’re also holding their breath.