November 19, 2007

Grading the Tide: ULM 21, Alabama 14

John Parker Wilson connected on about 70% of his passes (21 of 31) for 246 yards and two interceptions. If blame for one of those interceptions falls on the receiving corps, as coach Nick Saban said it should, Wilson's performance can only be described as a marked improvement over last week. His lone TD pass to Keith Brown was thrown over the wrong shoulder, but he got away with it thanks to a nice adjustment by Brown. The throw he might most like to have back was the deep ball that Brown out of bounds in the final minutes. Brown had his man beaten by more than five yards.

Running backs
The combined numbers on three Alabama backs (32 for 158 yards) wasn't bad, but like last week, a closer look reveals a less impressive effort than the statistics indicate. UA rushed for 22 yards in running out the clock at the end of the first half, and ULM's defense stoned Terry Grant on a third and 2, then fourth and 2, in the fourth quarter. Jimmy Johns averaged 8.5 yards on four carries, but his fourth-quarter fumble was a killer. Surprisingly, Grant's longest run of the season remains his first carry of the season, a 48-yard score against Western Carolina.

Offensive line
Lay more of the blame for Grant's inability to gain two yards on two key downs on the offensive line than on Grant. Regardless of any lineup shuffles, there is no reason why a Sun-Belt Conference defensive front should be able to stop a running back (big or small) twice for no gain against a Southeastern Conference offensive line at crunchtime. That's exactly what happened. Suspensions or not, this line should have been able to pave 200 rushing yards minimum. The only positive: ULM recorded no sacks in the game and only two QB hurries.

As with the suspensions on the offensive line have for the last month, DJ Hall's one-half suspension factors negatively into this grade. Will Oakley rightfully catches most of the blame for a critical interception that resulted in an easy ULM touchdown, but had Hall not been suspended, a different receiver might have been running that route. Brown played well in Hall's absence with 97 yards and a score on six catches. Tight end Preston Dial made the first catch of his career, a 21-yarder in the first half.

Defensive line
ULM only averaged 2.8 yards per carry, but much the opposite of Alabama's, ULM's ground game was productive when it mattered most. The pass rush sacked Kinsmon Lancaster twice and got five pressures. Once again Wallace Gilberry led the way with 10 tackles, four for losses, and a sack. Other than a 4-yard TFL by Brian Motley, however, Gilberry didn't get a lot of help. Brandon Deaderick was credited on five tackles and continues to get the lion's share of playing time at his end spot.

The linebackers got an impressive 24 tackles between Darren Mustin and Prince Hall, but that number is also somewhat indicative of ULM's ability to stay on the field offensively. Mustin's 14 stops were the most by a UA defender all season, and two were for losses. Ezekial Knight made three TFLs among six tackles and continues to show up in the offensive backfield consistently. Freshman Rolando McClain played a bit, but it was largely the starters' show on Saturday.

Simeon Castille had a pass breakup and an assisted sack Saturday, but also gave up ULM's longest completion of the day, a 40-yarder to Marty Humphrey. For the day, ULM completed 14 of 24 passes for 161 yards - pedestrian numbers, but turnover-free production as well. Run support was largely unimpressive. Safety help was nowhere to be found when Humphrey cut back on a crossing route for the game-winning touchdown. Lionel Mitchell gave up the catch, but not the score.

Special teams
ULM blocked an Alabama field goal try, and recovered one of its own punts when it caromed off of the Crimson Tide's Simeon Castille. Those two plays alone bury this grade beyond much help. The return game did get a 19-yard punt return from Jonathan Lowe, but Alabama's sputtering offense couldn't take advantage of it. Leigh Tiffin did get a rare touchback on a kickoff.

The plan
At some point, it might have served the staff to tell the defense to cheat a bit on the zone-read option. ULM QB Kinsmon Lancaster never kept it even once, and the give to Calvin Dawson was a staple for ULM offense in the second half. Fans call for trick plays all too often, and they should never be necessary against a team like ULM, but Saturday's second-half sputtering on offense might have benefited from a gadget. And as for motivation, it's clear the staff generated none.

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