How to Take Down a Death Star: A Guide to Beating 2013 Alabama, and Off-Day Thread

No half-assed partial set of SEC football previews on a Braves blog would be complete without a discussion of Mac’s alma mater and mine, the University of Alabama.

But what’s there to discuss about Alabama? We’re really, really good. Like college-football-historical good. The last team to pull off the “three national titles in four years” trick was 1994-97 Nebraska. And that was the end of Tom Osborne’s run. Nick Saban is nowhere near done, and nowhere near satisfied. The recruiting-and-development machine is humming along.

The U.S. government may have declined to build a Death Star, but Saban accepted the challenge, and he decked his out with a waterfall just because. So the interesting question w/r/t Alabama is not “Is this thing capable of destroying any planet in its sights?” (Yes.) It’s “Where are the thermal exhaust ports through which a perfectly placed shot could blow the thing up?” Like any machine, Alabama has vulnerabilities which might, maybe, if you bring your best game and Bama is just a bit off that day, be exploitable.

We’ve only lost seven times since the 2007 Iron Bowl, but those seven games (and a few near misses) are the guide to how 2013 Bama could lose a time or two this year. A brief rundown of potential ways one might turn No. 1 Alabama into something lesser:

Theory 1: Create Chaos and Improvise

Alabama’s defensive playbook is almost literally rocket science; it’s like 500 pages long and neither you nor I understand it. But in layman’s terms, it allows the on-field defensive captain (C.J. Mosley, this year) to adjust to whatever formation the offense has out there and basically dictate ahead of time what matchup advantages they will and will not give up. As long as everyone stays in their lane, this works.

The teams that have had the most success against Alabama in the past five years are the teams that have had quarterbacks with mobility and improvisational ability. Bama doesn’t really have game-changing pass-rushers, and if you can get outside the pocket and get your receivers into a playground-style “just run around and get open, or maybe I’ll just scramble for the first down” situation, the best-planned defensive schemes can fall to pieces.

This is by far the most popular and successful method of beating Bama, but if you don’t have the personnel, forget it. (Looking at you, 2011 Auburn.) So you can limit this idea to the teams that have a really good dual-threat quarterback, which quarterbacks appear approximately 1.5 times on the 2013 schedule.

Archetypical example: 2012 vs. Texas A&M

Honorable mention: 2008 vs. Florida, 2010 vs. Auburn (second half)

A poor man’s version of this: 2010/11 vs. LSU (w/Jordan Jefferson at QB)

2013 candidate: Texas A&M; (Ole Miss if absolutely everything breaks right for them.)

Theory 2: Throw Over the Top

This team is similar to 2010’s Bama team in that for all its top-to-bottom talent, the secondary is thin and somewhat inexperienced. Dee Milliner, last year’s shutdown cornerback, was drafted in the first round by the Jets to replace Darrelle Revis. And Robert Lester, who developed into a ballhawk at safety, graduated.

Into their places slide Deion Belue, who was the DB most teams preferred to throw at last year, and HaHa Clinton-Dix, who has held the SEC’s “most amusing name” title since Captain Munnerlyn went pro and left the title vacant. Belue and Clinton-Dix were starters last year, but in lesser roles; into their old places slide John Fulton and Vinnie Sunseri.

While we remember Milliner and Lester as shutdown DBs, in 2010 they were the newbie guys who didn’t quite have the 500-page playbook down and could get caught out of position to drastic effect. There will be similar growing pains in this secondary, and a team with a competent vertical passing game could have some success. Fortunately for us, Bobby Petrino is no longer in the league. If Les Miles decides to let Mettenberger air it out, though…

Archetypical example: 2010 vs. Arkansas, 2010 vs. South Carolina

2013 candidate: LSU

Theory 3: Catch ‘Em On A Tough Week

2010 Alabama played six different SEC opponents who had a bye week to prepare for the game, and lost to three. 2012 Alabama played a brutal @LSU/Texas A&M back-to-back and came out visibly flat for the first quarter of the latter game.

A wise man once said “If you give Nick Saban six weeks to prepare, he’d beat Batman.” Actually that was just some guy on an internet message board, but the concept stuck with me. You’re much better off vs. Saban when he’s occupied with something else, and you’ve got some time to get your players healthy.

Unfortunately for non-Alabama fans, the 2013 schedule has no such opportunity; after Texas A&M comes a cupcake, and after LSU is a trip to Starkville, where no one expects Mississippi State to be anything other than its usual Statey self. And those are the only regular-season games against currently-ranked opponents.

Archetypical examples: 2010 vs. South Carolina, 2012 vs. Texas A&M

2013 candidate: none.

Theory 4: Hit ‘Em In The Mouth

This is by far the riskiest strategy, because Alabama has spent years stockpiling the best athletes suited to its particular brand of smash-mouth football, and would be more than happy to engage you on this turf. If you don’t have the dudes to get in the trenches with Alabama, you’re gonna have a bad time. Notre Dame found this out the hard way in January.

But Georgia lined up its old-man-football concept against Alabama’s beef and moved the ball all day last SECCG. They’re literally the only team in the last five years I can remember doing this, and they needed all the special teams luck to have a chance to win, but damned if they didn’t almost pull it off. (That was the second-best team in the country last year, and I will hear no argument to the contrary.)

They’re bringing back their entire offense this year, and if they can rebuild the defense quickly enough to get through South Carolina (or if SCAR takes a couple inexplicable late-season losses, as is their wont), I’d expect to see the Bulldogs back in Atlanta in December. In which case we’re back to December 2012’s concept of two teams running the hell out of the ball with a rotation of future-NFL backs, with veteran quarterbacks throwing out of play-action now and again to keep the defenses honest against the run. Should be fun.

Archetypical example: 2012 vs. Georgia

2013 candidate: Georgia

So that’s our season, basically. Two obviously loseable regular-season games (A&M, LSU), one deep-sleeper trap game (Ole Miss), one team I’d be worried about in an SECCG (Georgia), and zero chance that if we make the BCSCG we do anything but clown some hapless Big Whatever team. (Watch this clip of Saban showing how Alabama intentionally put Manti Te’o in a double-bind where they knew his assignment was to play up on the run, but he was also responsible for covering the TE on passing plays. So of course ‘Bama runs play-action, the TE runs behind Te’o, and he catches an easy TD pass off the play fake. With six weeks to prepare it’s like picking the wings off a moth for Alabama’s coaching staff.)

If you are a fan of a program on our schedule and not discussed here, my advice is to just go mow the lawn or play Ultimate Frisbee in the park or learn a foreign language or something when Alabama comes up on your schedule. It will not be pretty and you will not derive any enjoyment from watching it. Sorry. (Note: Not actually sorry.)

Off day. Discuss as you will.

108 thoughts on “How to Take Down a Death Star: A Guide to Beating 2013 Alabama, and Off-Day Thread”

  1. Because I’m obviously as much a glutton for punishment as I am a fan of great football, I’ve probably watched that SEC title game 6/7 times since actually attending it. It’s hard not to concur that those were the best 2 teams in the country. The talent on that carpet was pretty remarkable.

    Good eval WCG, it’s re-load time in Tuscaloosa.

    I’d only quibble with one item. Georgia (in the Richt Era) has put lots of emphasis on special teams, especially blocking kicks. They had 2 huge special-teams plays in that game (the blocked kick for a TD & a drive-sustaining fake punt), while Bama’s big special-teams moment (a successful fake punt) got called back due to a very uncharacteristic clock violation.

    UGA got plenty lucky that Bama drew a penalty, but I wouldn’t exactly call the TD lucky. Ogletree got a great bounce, but you still gotta block Cornelius Washington.

    Nonetheless… so many tipping points in that game, which is why it was so entertaining/excruciating, I guess. Of course, if you told me that UGA/Bama would tee it up again in December, I’d sign for it right now. (UGA’s road to ATL is gonna be much tougher, IMO, and that’s not usually the case.)

    Obviously, Bama’s got a great schedule this year and, from afar I can say this: I wouldn’t be shocked to see them wax A&M this time. Bama has the motivation, while A&M has the distractions/uncertainties & a few less NFL-caliber offensive linemen.

    But LSU? Who the hell knows? As long as Miles is there & their offense continues to avoid a distinct personality (and occasionally defy logic), they are the SEC’s great enigma.

    Outside of major injury, I believe Bama loses 1 game… maybe. (I sure hope it’s at the Georgia Dome.)


    As a Georgia fan, thanks for the assessment of the Dawgs. Keep in mind that we were playing smashmouth with y’all using a guy who’s going to be our best back since Herschel, so it’s not like teams can up and do that on a regular basis. I think the SEC East’s Big Three are all not going to be as good as they were last year (Georgia has to rebuild the defense, Crackolina is now permanently without Lattimore, and Florida won’t repeat its 2012 turnover margin), so the SECCG won’t come down to a final play again.

    I still think Bama’s best chance for a loss is aggy, despite the obvious Jonathan Football complications and the fact that Saban has probably weaponized his anger over last year’s game. If Manziel gets loose beyond the LOS, all bets are off to what the guy can do. If the Tide loses that, it’s an early enough loss to get over BCS-wise, and of course Oregon will miss FGs and lose a game they shouldn’t, Bob Stoops will crash the team bus in Lubbock or something, and Ohio State will wake up one Saturday morning to remember that they were pretty much the worst undefeated team in recent memory.

    I *really* want to try that smashmouth idea against Bama in 2014, when Gurley/Marshall will be backed up by two 5-star Rivals guys, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.

  3. Random announcement: I am in Chattanooga until Thursday afternoon if anyone wants to try and grab a drink or whatnot. Not sure if any regulars are up this way…

  4. @5, you’d have to know @1 personally to know that he’s ironically riffing on the gump culture that gives our fan base a bad name, but doing so without stating that he’s doing so in order to see what sort of indignant response he can turn up. It’s a complicated game we play sometimes, this internet thing.

  5. I’ll be sad if Bama fans don’t come up with a two-word “____ -ide” thing for UGA.

  6. Concerning other matters:

    D. Uggla tonight for G-braves: 0-3 w/ 2k and a GIDP. Then he came out of the game before his (probable) last AB…. though I don’t why…. just reading on

  7. Looks like he’s already back to his mlb form.

    As for Alabama…I’m thinking two losses. The O-line goes from the greatest in school history to something not as good. How big a drop-off is the unknown. If the new unit can gel then Bama will be right there, but I don’t expect that to happen until later on. The coaches and QB all look like world beaters when you are running for 7 yards a carry. I think this season will be one that sees how they deal with adversity. They might still be there in the end, but I highly doubt it.

  8. @10, I didn’t really address the O-line because all accounts are it’ll be pretty much as good as it has been. It’s 40% Kouandjios (Cyrus LT, Arie LG) and the rest are well-regarded dudes who have been waiting their turn behind guys now in the NFL. They’ll be fine. In any case, it might be the skill players (McCarron to Cooper, Norwood, Bell, Vogler, etc; handing off to Yeldon, Henry, Fowler, Hart, etc.) making the OL look good this year. This is the best collection of skill players I’ve ever seen at Alabama.

    We could easily lose 2, but it’ll be on our defense if we do.

    Gallardo: nope. On the hook for $11MM next year. Trust me as his fantasy owner, it’s not worth it.

    Say what you want about Uggla but he’s always a threat to put one over the fence. I’m glad to have him on his way back.

  9. Gwinnett accumulated 13 hits and 2 walks as an offense tonight and managed to score 1 run. Now that’s hard to do!

  10. #10
    You may be right to some degree, but I don’t see a whole lotta adversity with that schedule.

    Honestly, if anybody outside of A&M & LSU beats them in the regular season, I’ll be plenty surprised.

  11. Bama’s OL won’t be as good as last year. Last year’s, it should be noted, was probably one of the best ever assembled.

    You’re grasping for straws with these guys. The only teams that can beat them have talent up and down and all over, or can potentially, on a prayer, take advantage of some nonsense or one-in-a-generation individual performances.

    It is the highest compliment to my team that we took Bama to the final horn with their phasers set to kill, with a title on the line.

    Eventually, there will come a time when ESPN and Fox Sports Derp, and wherever else will want you to think that Urban Meyer and the Buckeyes will top these guys. Stir the echoes* of the 2003 Fiesta Bowl and the 2007 Fiesta Bowl and the 2008 SECCG. Do not believe them. It is a dirty lie.

    * “Pun” intended, natch.

  12. This is just awesome…

    “Uggla struck out swinging in the first inning against Norfolk Tides left-hander Tsuyoshi Wada, then grounded into a double play in the bottom of the third. He was called out on strikes in the fifth against Wada to end his evening.”

  13. What, you guys are surprised that our aging, struggling 2B who is rushing back to the field after having LASIK isn’t performing well?

  14. @18. Not surprised, just finding it funny. He now has the excuse of needing to get used to the “new” eyes!!!

    Now we just need to wait for the bad news on Beachy to come.

  15. Reading too much into Uggla’s first three at bats in three weeks is… What we do here. Never mind.


  16. Hate that Matt Harvey is having elbow issues. But I can’t say that I’ll miss having to face him 2 more times this year.

  17. Also of note in that AAA game: Freddy Garcia gave up 8 runs and walked 5 guys in 3.2 innings.

  18. Smitty, I’m downtown. Could grab dinner in a sports bar with the braves game on tonight, perhaps?

  19. If you get to September call ups with a ten game lead you let Garcia take a couple of starts maybe. He gets a little more pension time and the young kids get some extra rest.

  20. How much would it cost for us to have Chipper come work with BJ for the next month? He can’t even touch a fastball right now.

  21. Count me as happy Uggla is coming back. He led the team in home runs and walks at one point recently, not sure if he still does.

    Way, way preferable to Janish.

  22. Hotspur in the last thread seemed to think Heyward would not be back for the postseason. Based on the recovery time window given at the time of the injury, I’ve been assuming he will be. Who is right based on what we know now?

  23. @36 – no one knows

    They inserted metal plates into his mouth and jaw. It’s a case by case time table. He either will or will not be back. Not what you wanted to hear, I know, but honestly, no one outside of his doctors and Jason Heyward have any idea how soon he might return.

  24. I got two seats in section 237 and a parking pass.

    (I got the two ends seats on row 16, if anyone wants to sit close, we will have fun)

    Total cost is around $99 bones.

  25. ububba and I will win the first two games. Someone will need to go to game three on the road and finsih the sweep.

  26. Matt Harvey is going to be down all year in 2014. No reason to not punt and wait for 2015.

  27. Not sure that getting rid of those two guys constitutes giving up, but yeah their chances of contending without Harvey don’t look that great. They need position players badly though. Maybe that’s the plan for 2015.

  28. Byrd is on a 1-year/$700K contract. Buck’s in the last year of his contract, which pays him $6M this year.

    I just hope those are Games 1 & 2, not Games 3 & 4.

  29. @12, certainly does give the lie to the notion that ticket prices are a function of those greedy player salaries, doesn’t it? Houston plays in a 68% publicly financed stadium. Bet there isn’t any paying down of that part of the debt happening.

  30. @54 Did anyone ever buy that? It’s a bit Economics 101…ticket prices influence player salaries, not the other way around.

  31. @36 I was just parrotting what all the news sources and the Braves were saying. They say a 4-6 week recovery time; there were about 5.5 weeks left in the regular season when he had the surgery; even without his jaw wired shut, Heyward is likely to lose at least a little weight and strength during the recuperation; and whatever shape he’s in when he’s cleared to play, he’ll still need some games at a lower level to get his timing back. (Oh, and the minor league seasons will be over by then, so he’ll have to do it at the instructional level, which I don’t trust to provide much competition.)

    Put all that together, and what it says to me is: even in the best case scenario, he’s not back with the ML club until the last weekend of the season. And whether he’s able to perform at anything like the level he had done for several weeks before the injury is highly in question. But one never knows.

    Anyway, don’t listen to me — I’m no expert. I’m just a guy who reads the interwebs a lot. :-)

  32. @ajcbraves: Indications are its nothing more serious for Beachy than inflammation as suspected, Beachy to talk here in a few mins and then Fredi.

  33. You’d think the other owners might get tired of the Astros and Marlins of the world leeching off the revenue-sharing and fielding intentionally low-salaried non-competitive teams. Or maybe they are too busy counting their money to give a damn.

  34. @57 Yeah well, no one ever accused Slate of understanding economics. Anyway, I wasn’t suggesting that people haven’t claimed the point, just that I’m dismayed by the idea that anyone else might buy it.

    @58 God let’s hope that’s true.

    @59 I can see that with the Marlins, but the Astros are actually putting a decent organization together. Give them a few years, they’ll be competitive.

  35. Braves all-time vs. Cleveland:

    1948 WS: CLE 4-2
    1995 WS: ATL 4-2
    2004 IL: CLE 2-1
    2007 IL: ATL 2-1

    Looks like we’re even.

  36. @59: I’m not so sure they mind. (1) Noncompetitive teams raise your team’s chances of making the playoffs. (2) When crap teams are worth more, a rising tide lifts all boats. (3) those teams form an excellent set of teams to trade with, by making an offer of prospects from your team for any good player entering his arb years on that team. The Yankees did that with the Royals for years. This lowers the cost of developing your own players.

    That said, I’m sure the Yankees would rather not pay a luxury tax, but they have to pay that whether Houston was hurting or not.

  37. All the Harvey articles seem to contain sentences such as “big blow for the Mets’ chances in 2014” and whatnot.

    Did anyone really believe they were going to realistically compete next season?

  38. I would ordinarily post to hype up Alex Wood’s start tonight, but to be honest, I am terrified of Danny Salazar.

  39. #65
    Compete for some meaningful 2nd-half baseball, perhaps.

    With Harvey at the top of an improving starting staff, closer Bobby Parnell repeating a surprising 2013 campaign & some much-needed offensive luck/additions/whatever, it wasn’t unreasonable to see them as a .500 club next year. (Granted, base-case scenario.)

    But now Jeremy Hefner and perhaps Harvey are slated for Tommy John & Parnell is considering neck surgery, so hope in Metland, genuine or otherwise, just took another gutpunch.

  40. The Mets had a decent chance to win 85+ games in 2014. At some point they’ll spend more money, and the kids are going to allow them to field a relatively cheap, yet very good, rotation. Now that Harvey’s on the shelf they’ll put those plans on hold for a year, but I’d assume the Mets will be pretty good in 2015.

  41. @36 et al —

    DOB tweet regarding Heyward:

    “Heyward here in good spirits, no timetable for return but hoping to be back for playoffs. Lost 4-5 lbs but pounding the protein shakes”

    Like I said. His strength is going to be a big question after more than a month of no hitting or eating much solid food.

  42. At the game and of all the unlikely things I’ve seen Elliot Johnson turning on a Salazar fastball has to be up there. Liked totally overmatched early in the at bat.

    Quick scouting report Salazar’s got good stuff but in love with his fastball too much early on.

  43. Does anyone know what this “built for the playoffs” spin that analysts cite every year even means? Every 90+ win team that makes the postseason is “built to win.” Every team can match up with one another. What teams did the World Champion 83-win 2006 Cardinals match up well with in the postseason?

  44. No one was more “built for the playoffs” than the team with a front-line of Maddux, Smoltz, Glavine. How’d that work out?

  45. As was mentioned above, Elliot Johnson’s usefulness has been amazing so far. He was 1 for his last 51 and 0 for his last 31 in KC. He comes to Atlanta and is 5 for his first 17. He also has 3 rbis in his first 17 Atl at bats compared to a total of 9 rbis in 162 abs for KCR.

    Either the Braves are incredibly lucky or they saw something in his approach that they immediately fixed. EJ may not get another hit all year, but with Uggla coming back, he has done his job and then some already.

  46. @83 There was a lot of pressure on EJohnson in KC. Barves asked him to field his position well. Without pressure he started to hit.

  47. Is something wrong with Walden? We had Kimbrel with the 4 out save the other day and he’s not in the 8th again here.

  48. “News: Walden did not pitch in the four-game series against the Cardinals after striking out four over two scoreless innings in his most-recent appearance Wednesday. (Mon Aug 26)

    Spin: Presumably, it was the heavy workload that led the Braves to rest Walden over the past four games, as no further issues with his hand (or any other ailment) have been disclosed by the team.”

  49. With Janish, Simmons and Johnson in the infield any grounders have to be really well placed to get through.

  50. Didn’t see any of tonight’s game. How did Wood look? The box score looks somewhat rough. No runs is no runs, but not exactly efficient. If we can just win every game while getting 3 hits I guess we’ll be fine.

  51. Knock knock

    Who’s there?

    Eliot Johnson

    Eliot Johnson who?

    (Okay, I don’t know him, either. But I hope he sticks around for awhile. Good job tonight.)

    Go Braves!

  52. Caught the last out tonight (on the MLB app) as I was standing outside a restaurant waiting to meet up with some folks.

    After listening to the whole game on radio, there’s something really satisfying about seeing Kimbrel doing that long, underhand toss to 1B for Out #27. All the beers tasted especially great after that.

  53. Dan @93. I too hate the layout, very clunky.

    We seem to have a bit of magic in the team this year, people like Success!, Pena, Laird, Elliot Johnson, David Carpenter all coming in and contributing in meaningful ways.
    Nobody wanted these people and we would be in trouble without them.

    Lets keep it up and make for an amazing October.

  54. I think I’ve said this before, but Terdoslavich can really hit. I’m a fan. Wish we had a place to play him, going forward.

  55. Terdo at third base is a borderline possibility (for future seasons) given that he played 3B in the minors – albeit poorly – as recently as 2012. That said, Terds’ potential value to the Braves is with his bat, not his glove. Relative to his minor league stats, he’s walking far more than expected, but hitting with a lot less pop. Hopefully he’ll get the power stroke going as he adjusts to major league pitching – that’s what happened in his 2nd time through AAA this year.

  56. @104 I like his approach against good pitchers of hitting ball where it is pitched. Less power, more getting on base.

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