Sunday, November 05, 2006

Mississippi State 24 Alabama 16


COMMENTARY: Bama hits low Tide as LSU, Auburn await

Shula, Tide watch State horror again

Crimson Tide among SEC's worst teams

Bulldogs jump out to big lead, burn Bama

Here is my two cents' worth on the status of the Alabama football program. Let me say up front that I have been optimistic about our prospects under Coach Shula since he was hired. Many fans cannot say that. He came on board under the worst possible circumstances. He had a few weeks to prepare for his first season, with a team that was suffering from probation. That team lost more than they won, but no one in their right mind would have blamed Shula. The following year, 2004, Bama improved but still had a mediocre record, mostly due to probation and injuries. Again, no one in their right mind could have blamed Shula. Last year, despite losing to Auburn for the third year in a row, Bama finished 10-2, won the Cotton Bowl, was proclaimed to be "Back" by Sports Illustrated, and finshed the year ranked 8th in the country, ahead of Auburn. Shula got a contract extension to 2012.

This year started with expectations of an 8-4 record. It is not looking good for them to make it. The Tide, after losing to Mississippi State, is now 6-4 with two games left. Fans are mad at Shula and are calling for heads to Roll; no pun intended, trust me. This is where I stand: First, I am doing my best to wait until the end of the season before making any final conclusions. So come back and read my final thoughts later this month.

As of now, it appears this Bama team, and the program in general, is headed in the wrong direction. Like most fans, my biggest complaint is with the offense (or lack thereof). Despite a blue chip recruit and claims that the O-line was greatly improved, I haven't seen it. John Parker Wilson has had very little pass protection which has gotten worse as the season has gone on. The running game has been almost non-existant all year. The play calling has mostly stunk, to put it mildly. Running the ball with Darby, off tackle, on 2nd an 15, trailing by 8 with 6 minutes to go, when that play usually results in no gain makes absolutely no sense whatsoever. We've seen that all season. Darby is a finesse back who needs blocking to open up some daylight so that he can use his quickness. Why run him into the teeth of the defense over and over.

I am concerned that whoever is calling the plays can't seem to recognize when something fails repeatedly, especially against poor opposition, it needs to be changed. Bama struggled to get 200 total yards against FIU, arguably the worst team in the country, despite the fact that FIU was shorthanded with 18 players serving suspensions. That is downright scary. How much worse could it get? It came as no surprise, then, that the offense was unable to score a touchdown against Mississippi State, one of the worst teams in the conference. As a matter of fact, without excellent skill players like John Parker Wilson, Keith Brown, and DJ Hall, Bama would really be in bad shape. I blame the performance of the offensive line and the play calling.

Who is responsible? Ultimately the responsibility falls on Coach Shula, the head coach. I understand that he calls the offensive plays himself. Can we really blame the offensive coordinator at all then? Most fans I have heard believe that Shula needs to replace offensive coordinator Rader and get a great coordinator and for Shula to take his hands off the offense. That might work, but some fans say that Shula needs to go himself.

I will not decide until after the regular season ends. If (and I mean if) Bama somehow wins the last two games, everything may change. If the Tide finishes 8-4 and defeats LSU and Auburn, why would anyone want to fire a coach who met, or even slightly exceeded expectations?

However, if Bama loses these games, as predicted, Bama will be in crisis mode. Actually, the Tide is crisis mode now. Reports are that there is dissention among fans, the team, and even people close to the program. Athletic Director Mal Moore was quoted today as giving Shula a vote of confidence. Kenny Stabler last night said that the only thing he was certain of is that Shula would be coaching the next two games and then decisions would have to be made.

These are interesting, scary, and embarassing days for the Tide. If you doubt it, just take a look at the AP photo circulating around the internet with students in the stands at the MSU game with bags on their heads. Stay tuned!


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