TRips: Three questions revisited

Revisiting three questions for second-ranked Alabama following its 49-0 win over Auburn.

With McCarron leading an uptempo attack, the Alabama offense cruised against Auburn.

Will Alabama end this one early?

TRips Friday: Auburn is so bad that I've yet to read or hear the obligatory "you can throw the record books out the window when these two teams get together" reference this week. There's no doubt AU fans would like to throw something and/or someone out the window. But fitting an entire coaching staff through such a narrow opening might be asking a little much.

Clearly, all signs point to an easy win for the Crimson Tide on Saturday. And seeing as how the Tigers have been outscored 63-0 in the first quarter of their last five SEC games, UA would seem to be a good bet to take Auburn out early.

That said, this isn’t the quick starting Alabama we saw earlier in the season. In games with LSU and Texas A&M, the Crimson Tide was outscored 23-0 in the opening quarter. The UA defense failed to produce a first quarter three-and-out in either game, while the offense went three-and-out on four of its six first quarter drives.

Again, playing at home against a bitter rival with multiple championships hanging in the balance would seem to make the chances of an early knockout more likely. And did I mention that a senior class that will dress for the final time at Bryant-Denny Stadium Saturday doesn't have a home win over Auburn on its otherwise stellar resume?.

One doesn’t need to be Mike Mayock to see that Alabama is the better of the two teams. The question is, how long will Auburn hang around?

TRips Sunday: I forgot to mention that hanging around would require the Tigers actually showing up.

I’ve seen bad Auburn teams. I’ve seen Auburn teams that underachieved. Prior to Saturday, I’d never seen a bad Auburn team mail it in against Alabama.

Add another one to the list of firsts for Alabama football under Nick Saban.

At least an undermanned Western Carolina team put forth an effort last week. If nothing else, the Catamounts earned their $475,000 paycheck. Auburn, on the other hand, will likely have to pay somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 million (Gene Chizik’s buyout) to try and erase any and all evidence of the 2012 season.

Lost in the Tigers’ tailspin was an impressive performance by Alabama. The Crimson Tide did exactly what a team with aspirations well beyond beating its in-state “rival” should do: it took control with devastating ease, sending a large number of Auburn and Alabama fans to the exits by halftime.

This wasn’t the Iron Bowl (not that it really has been since 1989). Given the manner in which the Crimson Tide bludgeoned their “rivals”, this was more like the Tire Iron Bowl.

After Saturday’s 21-0 first quarter start, Alabama has outscored the Tigers 59-0 in the opening stanza since 2010. Amazingly, the Crimson Tide lost one of those games. That was two years ago. By sundown Saturday, it may as well have been two hundred years ago.

What's the biggest area of concern for this Alabama team as it wraps up the regular season?

TRips Friday: Some UA supporters would tell you it’s the offense’s perceived bout with multiple personality disorder that heads the list. While there may be some merit to that charge, if there's one area that will keep UA from playing for the national title it will likely be the defense's inability to get off the field against a good passing game.

LSU and Texas A&M faced third down 38 times against Alabama. They combined to convert 21 of those opportunities for first downs.

Heading into the final stages of the season, it’s difficult to recall another Nick Saban-coached Alabama team that had as many question marks in the back seven as this one does.

Who will be the answer at the star position in the nickel package, Geno Smith, Dee Milliner or Vinnie Sunseri? Where have the takeaways this defense produced in the first eight weeks of the season gone? Other than CJ Mosley, who is going to make championship plays on the back end the next two weeks?

An Auburn offense that ranks thirteenth in the SEC in passing offense may not be good enough to take advantage of an Alabama defense that has looked more lumbering than electric in recent conference matchups. But there’s little doubt that Georgia quarterback Aaron Murray and the rest of a Georgia passing game that ranks fourth in the SEC is more than capable.

TRips Sunday:The return of the takeaway -- two by safeties Robert Lester and HaHa Clinton Dix and another by cornerback Dee Milliner -- was good to see. Still, I saw just enough from the Auburn passing game (two third-and-long crossing routes to Emory Blake for first downs on the Tigers’ second offensive possession of the game) to keep the Alabama secondary at the top of the concerns list for Georgia.

The good news is that if UA gets past the Bulldogs, a Notre Dame offense that isn’t exactly explosive in the passing game wouldn’t represent a difficult matchup for the Crimson Tide D in a potential national title showdown.

For now, though, there are a few secondary personnel questions confronting UA defensive coordinator Kirby Smart, who will next match wits with Mike Bobo, Smart’s longtime friend, former UGA teammate and the Bulldogs’ current offensive coordinator.

The health of cornerback John Fulton (turf toe) will continue to be closely monitored this week as his availability could alter the roles of at least two defensive backs (Milliner and Smith) for Georgia. Fulton saw action with the 2s against Auburn Saturday, but it was Smith who worked as the third corner in the first nickel against the Tigers.

As for the Bulldogs, we’ll find out next Saturday if Georgia’s improvement on offense is the result of across the board improvement (especially along the offensive line) or if it is a byproduct of a schedule that went soft in November. While this is easily the most balanced Georgia offense in recent years, blocking Alabama won’t be as easy as blocking Georgia Tech, Georgia Southern, Auburn and Ole Miss was.

What's next?

TRips Friday: Potentially, a shot at capping the most dominant four-year run in the BCS era. There might also be a seat alongside Nebraska, winners of three national titles in the mid-1990s, at the dynasty table for the last 20 years.

In other words, Alabama is playing for history.

All of that will be determined down the road. For now, it's about surviving and advancing because there won't be any coming back from a second loss.

TRips Sunday: Remember when preseason No. 1 Southern California was going to pass its way past the Crimson Tide and all other challengers? Five losses later, Lane Kiffin’s paper Trojans are wondering what the gift suite at the Holiday Bowl might have to offer.

Meanwhile, Alabama is right where it thought it would find itself in late November, which, by the way, is where few predicted it to be at the end of the regular season.

In terms of atmosphere, the BCS Championship Game won’t surpass what will take place next Saturday in Atlanta. Alabama’s national title wins over Texas and LSU featured great settings for the biggest of stakes -- and neither registered seismically like Alabama’s SEC games against Florida in 2008 and 2009 did.

Regardless of what the BCS rotation tells you, the Georgia Dome is the epicenter of college football. Next Saturday, it will shake and shift one more time en route to offering up a conference champion who will likely be favored to win the BCS Championship Game for a seventh straight year.

At this point, the only surprise would be if it didn’t play out that way.

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