Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Serving the campus of the University of Alabama since 1894

The Crimson White

Impact performer: Yeldon has 618 yards rushing so far


In short, it was loud. Then, suddenly, it wasn’t.

With 55 seconds left in the game, running back T.J. Yeldon caught a screen pass from then-quarterback AJ McCarron, making a man miss and running 28 yards for the game-winning touchdown, later to be dubbed “The Rally in Death Valley.” The stadium went silen except for the Million Dollar Band, a few traveling fans and the Alabama bench.

Blake Sims, then McCarron’s backup, was one of the players on the Alabama bench celebrating the victory. Sims’ reaction was a little more outlandish than most as he showed the LSU fans his ring finger and executed a slightly off-color celebration well-known to fans of WWE. CBS cameras caught the display, and suddenly the quarterback who hadn’t seen the field was one of the game’s stars.

“I was just pumped,” Sims said. “I remember that year. We were on the right track to win the national championship, and that was going to be my first one. I was just so happy. That stadium was like, it gets you that way. I just jumped up and started acting.”

Now in his first year as Alabama’s starting quarterback, Sims will be called upon to contribute much more if the No. 5 Crimson Tide is going to survive its upcoming trip to Death Valley. Sims has been one of the nation’s top quarterbacks this season, trailing only Oregon’s Marcus Mariota in Total Quarterback Rating. On the road, however, Sims’ inexperience has shown, averaging a 78.7 QBR, 12 points below his season mark. At home, Sims’ QBR jumps to 91.8. This Saturday, Sims will face his most difficult opposing environment yet.

“I think he’s made a lot of improvement,” Alabama coach Nick Saban said of Sims. “We’ve made some improvements with him. Sometimes when you understand what the struggles are, it’s something that you work to try to improve and fix. I think the coaches have done a good job of that. I think Blake has done a really good job of that. The way we started the Tennessee game was really good, but when I talk about playing complete games, I think that’s the one thing that will be imperative for us playing on the road again this week.”

Sims and the Crimson Tide will be confronted with the No. 4 defense in both scoring and passing yards allowed. The No. 16 Tigers have conceded 158.4 yards per game through the air, while Alabama has averaged 290.2 passing yards per game.

“They play a lot of man-to-man, and they’ve got very good players,” Saban said. “They’re very athletic. They’ve got nice-sized corners. They like to pressure. The combination of pressure and the man-to-man has affected people’s ability to have any kind of efficiency in the passing game. Obviously it’s going to be important for us to be able to do that, because I don’t think you can be one-dimensional against them because they’re capable and playing well against the run, too, especially when they start stunting and loading the box on you. You’ve got to be able to have balance, and the players have got to do a good job of executing.”

Alabama will likely look to look to its corps of running backs for production against LSU. The Tigers have the No. 63 rushing defense in the nation, conceding an average of 159.7 rushing yards per game, and Alabama is poised to take advantage of that weakness. In his third season, Yeldon has grown to become one of the top running backs in the SEC despite splitting carries with Derrick Henry.

“Hopefully we’re going to be able to continue to make him a guy who we can feature in our games and continue to be productive,” Saban said of Yeldon. “But I also think it’s important that our other running backs play well down the stretch here, too. They’ve all played fairly well all year long. We want T.J. to continue to be able to have the same kind of production that he’s had. He’s been a very effective player for us, run and pass. He’s a good pass protector, so hopefully all these guys will be able to be productive.”

On the other side of the ball, LSU has its own outstanding running back in freshman Leonard Fournette. In his first season, Fournette has scored seven touchdowns, and he picked up 113 yards against Ole Miss last Saturday.

“I think just being a young player, he’s got a lot more confidence right now because of the experience that he’s gained throughout the season,” Saban said. “He’s got great size. He’s a very instinctive runner. He’s got really good speed, and he can run with power. He’s difficult to tackle, a very physical player. They have a very physical team, and they’re playing physical football right now.”

Alabama’s secondary will have to fight to communicate through the Tiger Stadium noise but shouldn’t have too many concerns with the LSU passing attack, ranked No. 101 in the nation. Particularly motivated for the game is safety Landon Collins, a Louisiana native who was berated by LSU fans after choosing to attend Alabama.

“Personally, this game means a lot,” Collins said. “Just want to show them I picked the right team, definitely, that we’re the dominant force, that we’re the best team in the SEC. Show them that basically, I picked the better team.”

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