Before I say anything, allow me to establish this caveat: nothing written herein, especially complaints or criticisms, are such that I mean to suggest that, had certain things "gone our way" the Rebels would have won. Alabama was the better team and we knew that coming into the game. It would have taken a lot for a Rebel victory yesterday but, oddly enough, I feel pretty good despite the loss.
Of course I don't like losing, but there were some things that we all saw yesterday which should give any Rebel legitimate cause for a bump, even slightly, in fan confidence and optimism. We lost to Alabama by thirteen points and struggled mightily against what may be the conference's best defense, but we weren't embarrassed whatsoever. An Ole Miss victory was never really out of reach and, while they never came, both Ole Miss and Bama fans watching could feel that one or two big plays out of the Rebels would have completely turned the game around.
Overall, I was very pleasantly pleased by the performance of our defense last night. The defensive line did a fine job of pressuring Greg McElroy, a crucial element of the "how to beat Bama" guide. Gerald Rivers looks to have a lot of promise, although he's still a bit of a feast or famine type of rush end. Jerrell Powe had a great game, generally terrorizing the Tide's offensive line with a ferocity that we should expect out of the star defensive tackle. Dorsey, Scott, Laurent et al are also a great supporting cast for Powe. I just cannot help but wonder what this line could be with OleForty out there.
The linebackers and secondary showed great improvement. There were mistakes - broken tackles, poor pursuit, missed assignments, dropped interceptions - but the effort and execution we saw out of them last night were absolutely nothing like what we've seen all season. Our players were, simply, running around and knocking the shit out of people. They were in the right places at the right times. They were all over Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson (holding the duo to a paltry 105 yards) and generally slowed the Alabama offense, an incredibly talented and well-coached squad, as well as we could have hoped for them to do. Individually, I feel that DT Shackleford and Joel Kight had excellent games, and knowing that they're both sophomores really excites me about the future of this defense. Generally, aside from the big touchdown screen pass given up to Trent Richardson, I am more than pleased with the D's performance and look forward to their continued development throughout the season.
The offense, on the other hand, was pretty damned pathetic. The rushing attack was fine I suppose (Brandon Bolden, per my opinion, had an alright game) but was underutilized due to the Rebels having to play from behind from the first quarter on. Masoli looked lost, the offensive line offered little protection most of the time, and the wide receivers... sheesh.
Markeith Summers is.... ugh... I can't even make myself type about his horrible play yesterday. Dropping sure touchdowns is inexcusable in and of itself, and establishing yourself as a consistent pass-dropper is just shit icing on a shit cake. Seriously, how does this guy have a scholarship to play football in the SEC? Melvin Harris is a fine receiver and Lionel Breaux showed promise, but Markeith... oh, Markeith.
Masoli, the "scramble around and then hop out of bounds two yards behind the line of scrimmage offense" isn't an effective one. Stop that please. Throw the ball away. I know Bama was giving you a hard time, but you're a better decision maker than that.
My thoughts are, frankly, a bit fried right now, so I'll leave the offensive criticism at that, but I'm not moving on before giving Alabama due credit. The Crimson Tide's defense is excellent. While others may be recruiting for speed, Nick Saban is recruiting for size. The Tide defenders are all gigantic and incredibly well coached. It's tough to move the ball downfield when your opposition has a few inches and 20 pounds on you man for man and are always seemingly in the right place at the right time. They got embarrassed by Sakerlina last weekend and came out with something to prove, and prove it they did. So, to the Bama defense, I tip my hat. I was sufficiently impressed.
And finally, I'm not a conspiracy theorist or anything - Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone, 9/11 was not an inside job, and we very much landed shit and drove cars around on the moon - but it cannot be a coincidence that the least penalized team in the SEC before last night walked into Bryant-Denny Stadium and gave up over 100 penalty yards to the Tide. And it can't be just fantastic convenience for Alabama to have a slew of our penalties come during crucial special teams plays. But, shit, we're used to this by now. Tide fans call everyone else crazy but, until you're in our shoes, just shut the fuck up and be grateful as hell that you're always on the favorable side of SEC refs playing favorites. Had the calls gone our way, we still would likely have lost, but yesterday's game was somewhat evenly played and undeniably unevenly called.
So as I said, I'm fine with last night. The chips were stacked pretty highly against us and we handled it fairly well. What we saw was a team vastly improved from week one, and that's something we can build upon for the next few weeks.
What did I miss? The game kicked off at 9PM for me so, as you can imagine, my mental clarity was a bit lacking for me to make entirely accurate observations. Help fill in the blanks.