Behind Enemy Lines: Alabama Crimson Tide


Claire Barnett

Vanderbilt play Kansas State in Football on Saturday, September 16, 2017. Photo by Claire Barnett//The Vanderbilt Hustler.

Cutler Klein, Sports Editor

Vanderbilt’s campus will be the place to be this Saturday when the top-ranked Alabama Crimson Tide roll into town for the Commodores’ biggest game of the year.
To get a better look at the number one team in the nation, we spoke with Matthew Speakman, sports editor of The Crimson White. He dished on the Tide’s dynamic offense and shutdown defense, as well as his expectations for this showdown in Music City.
You can follow Matthew on Twitter @speakmanmc and The Crimson White @TheCrimsonWhite.
Vanderbilt Hustler: Vanderbilt was effective at slowing down Jesse Ertz of Kansas State on the ground and forced him into the air. How effective will that strategy be against a mobile quarterback in Jalen Hurts?
Matthew Speakman: Hurts and Ertz are both very similar runners in the sense that they are very patient and dangerous in the open field. If Vanderbilt is able to contain Hurts and make him beat them through the air, then that definitely helps Vanderbilt. The thing that is different with Alabama is that outside of Hurts, this team is loaded with playmakers. Hurts can get the ball out quickly and any one of the six receivers Alabama rotates can make something happen. They also have four or five running backs that are dangerous as well. Slowing down Hurts is priority No. 1 for Vanderbilt, in my opinion, but even if they do that, Alabama cans still use its other weapons.
VH: Alabama’s defense held a players-only meeting after this past week’s game. How much do you make of that and do you think they will be able to get it together against an up-and-coming Vanderbilt offense?
MS: I think it will turn out to be a good thing. The defense did a similar thing in 2015 and went on to be lights out the rest of the season. If anything, it shows the defense has clear leaders in Shaun Dion Hamilton, Rashaan Evans and a couple of others. It also shows accountability. I dont think it means they will completely turn it around right away, but it’s a step in the right direction.
VH: The first three defenses Vanderbilt faced stacked the box against running back Ralph Webb. Do you expect the Tide to take a similar approach, or will they cede some space and try to slow down Kyle Shurmur?
MS: I do not think they will stack the box. I think they’ll take a fairly balanced approach and run a lot of base defense. Alabama gets back some key players in Rashaan Evans, Anfernee Jennings and Dylan Moses, so that will definitely help them in base packages. I dont think they will over commit to any one player on Vanderbilt.
VH: The Vanderbilt front seven has 10 sacks through three games. How effective has the Alabama offensive line been at keeping Hurts on his feet, and could that be an issue on Saturday?
MS: Pass protection has been a problem for Alabama, but the line insists that it’s improving. Vanderbilt will be a tough challenge for them. They struggled against Florida State, which is a very strong defensive line. That could be an issue. Their pass protection is very up in the air right now.
VH: Nick Saban is perhaps the most seasoned coach in the FBS, while Derek Mason is an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks. Do you expect a “David versus Goliath” coaching chess match between these two?
MS: I don’t know if I would call it that, because right now, Mason is looking like one of the strongest coaches in the SEC. What he has done with that program is very impressive, especially after losing James Franklin. His players seem to trust him and buy into his ideas. In terms of experience, they are definitely on opposite ends of the spectrurm.
VH: What is your prediction for the game?
MS: I’m going to go 27-10, Alabama. I think Alabama will struggle at first, but Jalen Hurts has been so efficient lately, it is hard to keep up with Alabama. Another factor is the fact that Alabama has not committed a turnover this year. They have been very clean with the ball and they also force a lot of turnovers. That’s very hard to beat.