September 7, 2006

Tide meets first SEC defense

Despite some obvious deficiencies, offensive coordinator Dave Rader was pleased with the way his unit performed in the opener against an unpredictable Hawaii defense.

"They came in with the idea that they're going to stack the box," Rader said. "John Parker Wilson threw it well and we had some guys make some fine catches and we had some excellent protection. There were some completions that were definitely due to our receivers making the catch and there were some incompletions where the ball was where it needed to be. John Parker had very few bad reads."

The Tide was surprised by some of the things they saw from the Warriors on defense, particularly their commitment to stopping the run.

"I've got to give credit to Hawaii for their defensive schemes," said Tide center Antoine Caldwell. "They changed things up in the second half and gave us some looks we hadn't seen on film. I feel like if we had executed a little better it would have led to more rushing yards in the second half. More than that was how we didn't punch it in inside the red zone. We had some opportunities and could have scored a lot more points but I think playing against a more conventional defense this weekend I think we'll convert on more of those opportunities."

The Tide expect Vanderbilt to watch the things Hawaii did well and try to imitate them, particularly when it comes to stopping Kenneth Darby and the running game.

"I expect them to stack the box," Rader said. "I think we'll see a lot of white jerseys near Antoine. We still have to block and we still have to make guys miss. That's football. We'll work hard on fundamentals this week and see if we can beat it. We're not going to put in the option and we're not going to bring back the wishbone. We'll take our game plan and say here's how we're going to block them. Here's your assignment, go block them."

Wilson said with his first start out of the way he has begun to focus on preparing for the Commodore defense and does not expect an easy day of pitch and catch.

"They have a very sound defense," Wilson said. "Hawaii was a little bit out there on their schemes and Vanderbilt is more what we're used to seeing. It won't be easier, just closer to how we've practiced all summer."

"I know what to expect now. Having that game experience is tremendous going into the second week. I'll know how to practice better this week."

Family matters

Crimson Tide tight end Nick Walker helped lead Pike County High School to the 3A State Championship but he couldn't have done without his teammate and cousin Chris Nickson. Now the former Mr. Football is quarterbacking for the Commodores and the two will meet on the football field for the first time since graduating from Pike County.

"It's a real big game between me and him but it's just a regular week for the team," Walker said. "I talked to him Friday night before their game against Michigan. I wished him well and told him to have a good game and good luck. I don't think I'll talk to him this week. I'll talk to him after the game."

Walker said that despite their family ties, he won't be rooting for Nickson's success against the Tide.

"Family goes out the window this week. He's just another player."

Special teams

Trying out two freshman kickers at key positions could make any special teams coach nervous but Dave Ungerer has had confidence in injured Jamie Christensen's backups from the get-go.

"Leigh Tiffin struck the ball really well all camp and I was pretty confident he'd be able to do it in a game," Ungerer said. Tiffin hit on three of four field goal attempts against Hawaii. "He's a pretty even-keeled young man and I thought he handled that really well."

One thing Ungerer felt his team didn't do so well was kickoff coverage, allowing over 28 yards per return to Hawaii.

"The first one was pretty ugly," Ungerer said. "We didn't have the same hang time or distance that we normally have had the last couple years so that affects your coverage some. I thought we did better as the game went on but that's definitely an area we need to work on."

Ungerer said he believes one reason that Tide was not able to make big plays on special teams was that the Warriors changed up their schemes dramatically from what the Tide had seen on film.

"Hawaii also did something different than they've done before on special teams so we were having to make adjustments. They changed a lot of their return schemes and their coverage schemes. All the things we prepared for in two-a-days went right out the window."

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