Alabama football is like a great ice hockey goalie. Opponents beat their chests, confidently talk strategy, fly out of the dressing room and take their very best shot – which is then unceremoniously rejected.
Florida State knows what we’re talking about. The Seminoles came into the season opener full of hope, with a young QB (Deondre Francois) who easily rivals ‘Bama signal-caller Jalen Hurts in the talent category. The Crimson Tide won 24-7 with Francois leaving the game injured. Fresno State and CSU clashed with Alabama in the weeks following, and both were dismissed in similar lopsided scores.
Now it’s Vanderbilt’s turn. The Commodores are coming off an impressive 14-7 win over Kansas State. Head coach Derek Mason gave a defiant statement about pundits who disrespected his 3-0 team. Defensive lineman Nifae Lealeo was quoted after the contest, “Alabama, you’re next.”
But is it just more noise before the inevitable beat-down?
Who: Alabama Crimson Tide at Vanderbilt Commodores
When: Saturday, September 23rd, 3:30 PM EST
Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, TN
Lines: Alabama (-18.5) at Vanderbilt (+18.5) / O/U Total: (44)
The Tide defense was so dominant in 2016-17 that the team could have literally ran up the middle for no gain 90% of the time and still have finished with a winning record. Though Alabama may still have the finest front-7 in the game, 2017 is not destined to be a repeat of last year’s tendencies – at least not when judging by the first 3 weeks.
Before getting hurt, Francois melted down in a flurry of interceptions and miscues, handing ‘Bama their signature season-opening win. The Tide shut down the run and forced a fumble, but allowed 200+ passing yards and only sacked Francois twice.
CSU scored 10 points in the 2nd quarter to close the gap to 17-10. The mid-major program enjoyed almost 400 yards of total offense. That would never have happened in 2016.
Is Vanderbilt good enough with the football to exploit a less-imposing Nick Saban defense? Maybe. QB Kyle Shurmur is having a terrific season so far, passing for 8 touchdowns and 0 interceptions with a 71% completion mark. WR Trent Sherfield has 234 yards catching passes in 3 games.
But Vandy’s defense will be the key in this one. If the Commodores can shut down Hurts like they shut down Ertz (Jesse Ertz of KSU, who had a pitiful 76 yards passing and 2 ints against the Nashville upstarts) then it’s game on. If the score is low and tight, 4 quarters are more than enough time for Shurmur to find a rhythm.
BetFirm strongly recommends an ATS wager on Vanderbilt plus (18.5) points.
In fact, it’s a mystery why this spread is set so high, given that Vandy is playing at home – and ‘Bama is on the road for the first time all year.
Look for a Commodores surge in the 1st half behind a raucous home crowd, followed by the inevitable Tide comeback in the 2nd half. Alabama should win, but not by 3 touchdowns – or anything close to it.