Joe Medley: Big start a big key for Bama
by Joe Medley
jmedley@annistonstar.com
Oct 30, 2012 | 3990 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Alabama receiver Kenny Bell hauls in a touchdown pass last season against Mississippi State. (Photo by Trent Penny)
Alabama receiver Kenny Bell hauls in a touchdown pass last season against Mississippi State. (Photo by Trent Penny)
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TUSCALOOSA ­— Alabama’s games have followed script this season, with dominance and fast starts as recurring characters.

Lately, mid-game lulls have been written into the script, so there’s mystery in the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s showdown with No. 5 LSU on Saturday.

How will it go if dominance and a fast start get written out of the script?

That Vegas has made Alabama as much as a 10-point favorite says mystery will play a small role, at best, but we’re talking LSU in Tiger Stadium.

We’re talking about an LSU team that hasn’t lost at home since 2009.

We’re talking about an Alabama team that last lost away from Bryant-Denny Stadium the last time the Tide played in Tiger Stadium.

So, it could just be that an Alabama team that has outscored its opponents 104-3 in the first quarter this season won’t get out to such a lead this time, not against an LSU team that gives up 2.4 points in the first quarter and 5.4 in the second.

It could just be that those quiet second and third quarters could become disquieting second and third quarters at LSU.

It could just be that Alabama finds itself in a game where the outcome remains unclear for four quarters, and then what? How will this Alabama team react?

Because this Alabama team isn’t used to that, a fast start becomes crucial Saturday.

Because LSU wants to be a running-first, play-action-passing team, a fast start becomes crucial for Alabama on Saturday.

If Alabama gets out to a lead and forces quarterback Zach Mettenberger to drop back more, then it’s the Tide’s game.

If LSU keeps it close, making it possible for its running backs to stay in the lead role, then it’s LSU’s game.

If LSU makes this Alabama team sweat and keeps banged-up Alabama quarterback AJ McCarron dropping back, then watch out.

Alabama coach Nick Saban knows it and said as much in his postgame remarks following Alabama’s 37-8 victory over Mississippi State on this past Saturday.

“It was important for us to get off to a fast start in this game,” he said. “You’re preparing yourself to fight a 15-round fight, knowing that you’re going to have to take the fight to them in the early rounds.

“You can’t necessarily win the fight in the first round, but you can certainly lose it.”

Alabama hasn’t had to worry about that this season.

There was that brief discomfort against Ole Miss a month ago. Alabama trailed 7-6 early in the second quarter, but the Tide only trailed 15 seconds.

Ole Miss is not exactly LSU, and it happened in Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Otherwise, Alabama has achieved separation from opponents in the second quarters of its games. To name a few second-quarter scores, it was 21-0 against Mississippi State at home, 31-0 against Michigan in Dallas, 28-0 at Missouri, 20-3 at Tennessee and 24-0 at Arkansas.

Alabama has clearly gone into its games ready, but we’ve also seen big lulls after big starts.

At Missouri, Alabama went scoreless from 8:40 of the second quarter to 8:05 of the fourth. That was blamed on a 30-minute lightning delay, but we saw it again two weeks later.

With only a chill and brisk wind in the late-October air, Alabama managed one field goal between 13:33 of the second quarter and 13:06 of the fourth against Mississippi State.

Alabama’s defense held Missouri and Mississippi State without an offensive touchdown during those stretches, but Alabama’s offensive lulls raise a question … what happens at LSU, if Alabama doesn’t get out to a fast start?

It’s more likely that Alabama won’t get out to such a fast start against LSU’s defense, especially in Tiger Stadium.

It’s a scenario that this team isn’t used to, and a big start is a big key for reasons other than Alabama’s comfort. A big Alabama lead makes LSU rely more on Mettenberger and less on its running game, which the Tigers count on to open the passing game.

If Mettenberger is dropping back more against Saban’s blitz packages, then it’s a good day for Alabama.

If McCarron has to do more than manage the game from the second quarter on, it could be a not-so-good day for Alabama.

So far this season, Alabama has followed the script. Following that script will be key in Tiger Stadium.

Sports Columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576. On Twitter @jmedley_star.

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