Talkin' ball with Coach Bill Clark: Really good and really calm
What is Bill Clark doing on the weekends now that he's rehabbing after back surgery and not coaching football for the first time since his freshman year in college? He's watching games like a coach. Every week, he shares his insight and observations on what caught his trained eye.
Week 8: On the fear factor when Mississippi State plays Alabama, a cornerback change for the Tide, a quarterback change at Clemson and a quarterback in Bo Nix who's found new life at Oregon.
Mississippi State hasn't beaten Alabama since 2007. The State touchdown on the final play of its 30-6 loss Saturday in Tuscaloosa was its first in three games against Alabama under Mike Leach. Are there just games that are bad matchups for certain teams?
BC: I do think that. Sometimes your strengths are their weaknesses. I do think that's possible, I really do. And there is a mental part to the game if that's a real belief that players and coaches have. Plus there's a home-field advantage. That's a real thing. There are a number of factors that go into it, but I do think there are some teams you match up better with than others.
What was Alabama's mindset coming off that (Tennessee) loss. They had a lot to prove. Of course, Mississippi State did, too (after the loss to Kentucky). Mississippi State had a player's death. There are so many factors that go into a game, and a lot of that stuff you don't ever see. It can be psychological or a certain person is injured that creates a bad matchup somewhere. But there is something psychological when you've struggled against a team for years.
After the game, Mike Leach said some of his State players "are afraid of the jersey that says Alabama on it." Thoughts?
BC: What I have seen is it's when you get down. It's like when everything's good, you're OK, but when you get those scenarios, all of a sudden you're down two scores. That's when you've really got to have a strong mentality. You see it all the time. You see people come back. It's not that big a deal, but it can be if you let it be.
Alabama finally put LSU transfer cornerback Eli Ricks in the starting lineup, and he played well. Pro Football Focus said he gave up only one catch despite being targeted 10 times, and he had four pass breakups. How difficult is it to make that kind of lineup change this deep in the season?
BC: If a guy is not practicing the way you want him to, that's a factor. A big factor for me. When you do have a loss, sometimes now's the time to make a change. Sometimes you don't want to upset the apple cart. I feel like this guy might be better (than the starter), but we're going to keep it going because we're undefeated. All of a sudden you get this loss, and maybe somebody gets exposed and you're like, shoot, we may as well try this talented guy. Maybe it all coincides with that guy figuring out how to practice the way that we want him to. I watched (Ricks) in that game. He was impressive.
Former Auburn three-year starter Bo Nix played maybe his best game as a college quarterback with five touchdown passes in a big win over undefeated UCLA. Isn't he a great example of how a transfer can work out well for a veteran player?
BC: He's the perfect example. To be a person from this state, you understand football in Alabama. Your dad played at the institution where you're playing. You're going to put a lot of pressure on yourself that maybe doesn't help, especially at the quarterback position. You can be a linebacker or an O lineman and a lot of that stuff may not matter, but when you're the quarterback, there's too much bad and too much good. Getting out there where he can be himself, a little more free, that's what he looks like. He looks confident. He threw it well. He ran it well. Now that's not an SEC defense by any stretch, but it's probably relative to Oregon's talent, too.
I thought he looked really good and really calm. You'd have to say if that's who he really is, he has to be a prospect at the next level. What he's come from, where you're supposed to be the savior, I'm sure he's learned from that. They've got a really good team. They're multiple. I'm really impressed with what they're doing offensively, and it fits him.
In another quarterback development, with starter D.J. Uiagalelei struggling and Clemson trailing Syracuse in the second half in a battle of unbeatens, Dabo Swinney subbed in five-star freshman Cade Klubnik. The move sparked the Tigers to a come-from-behind win to stay on track for another ACC title and a potential return to the College Football Playoff. After the game, Dabo said D.J. is still their guy. How do you handle a delicate situation like that?
BC: There's a lot going on there. They needed the change at that time for a spark. They're very thankful they got that late hit penalty (on third and 25), but that other guy brought you a spark. He really affected that defensive end, the overhang, because he came sprinting out of those inside zone handoffs, carrying out the fake. Now Syracuse had somebody they were scared about pulling it, and it opened up their whole running game. He made some big throws as well. In Dabo's mind, I think he thought they just needed a spark, but in his mind, he'll also be saying as well, if this happens again, we're going to be ready for it.
I'm sure Dabo was trying to cut off any controversy before it happened. It's a little surprising, but I'm sure that's what he thinks is best for them.
Klubnik carrying out his fakes at full speed was so obvious watching the game on TV. Not every player does that, do they? That's one of those little details that can make a big difference, isn't it?
BC: That's what you've got to do when you're really running their offense. I come from the option. That's what I grew up with. If you give the ball to the fullback, you're still running at that (defensive) end. That really affects pursuit. You've held the corners. You've held the safeties. You break one tackle, and all of a sudden, the ball's gone.
It's the same theory. How many people can you affect with a fake? You watch Tennessee. What they do is, after every run, the quarterback acts like he's throwing the ball. Then when their play-action comes along, they're trying to make it all look the same. Defensively, we're looking for what does he do that's different. Like on a draw, when a guy would put the ball up over his head. You saw that a lot, and you're like, thank you for doing that. It's the only time you ever do it. As soon as we saw the ball up high, we'd all start screaming "Draw!"
There are all kinds of things like that, like foot placement, and they matter. Carrying out fakes is extremely important.