The Semi Final Game Preview – Alabama vs Ohio State

When it was announced that the University of Alabama would be playing “the” Ohio State University, it was said that somewhere Nick Saban was grinning like a Cheshire cat. Instead of having to deal with the high flying Baylor Bears or TCU Horned Frogs, Saban instead was matched against his old foe Urban Meyer. And, his old nemesis would be starting his third string quarterback who was making only his second career start on the largest stage imaginable. Yeah, I’d say Coach Saban and the team were thrilled with their semi final matchup against “the Ohio State” Buckeyes.

By the way, can we quickly address the whole “the” Ohio State University thing? I mean, as opposed to what? Or who? I mean, did Ohio State used to be confused with Ohio University or Akron? Was Ohio State commonly mistaken for Toledo or Cincinnati? Is that what caused them to start saying Ohio State was “the” state university? And yet their version of “Roll Tide” is simply to yell “O-H” and wait for someone else to scream “I-O!” So, does that mean they are Ohio Bobcats fans? Strange bunch, this Buckeye group is. And, ask anyone in the Big 10 and they’ll tell you the absolute worst fan base is that of “the” Ohio State University. So, Bourbon Street should be fun!!!!

So, our semi-final game boils down to two of the most legendary college football programs in the nation. Ohio State vs Alabama. Nick Saban vs Urban Meyer. The Process vs The Processed. While Alabama and Coach Saban celebrated the Ohio State selection, rumor has it that Meyer’s first call was to his cardiologist. Ok folks, let’s get this party started

Alabama on Offense

The Ohio State University defense comes in ranked 15th in the nation in total defense – 35th against the run and 15th against the pass. However, it appears that those numbers are skewed by playing run heavy Big 10 teams who struggled mightily to pass the ball. Consider that an anemic Michigan offense threw for 251 yards and scored 28 points. The best offense the Buckeyes faced was that of the Michigan State Spartans and the Spartans rattled off 536 total yards of offense, including 358 passing and 178 rushing.

When you watch film of Ohio State against Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota, you realize that there are huge holes in the secondary and that they can also be pounded on. I’m very, very optimistic about Alabama’s chances to put up big points against this group. Their front four is very, very good – in particular, Joey Bosa (Bama finished second in his recruitment) is an absolute beast – but behind that they appear very, very average. Put it this way, after I was fooled by watching Notre Dame’s defense in 2012, I’ve begun peeling back the layers of any team that I think has played a suspect schedule. The Big 10 blows, as evidenced by the bowl games thus far, and the only truly balanced offense they faced absolutely torched them. Advantage Bama.

Immon Be Dey: I never have understood anything Michael McDonald has ever sung but this much is clear – the Ohio State defense is typically going to line up in their base 4-3 defense and they won’t change their looks very much.  As far as blocking schemes go, they should be right there were we think they will be.  Against Wisconsin, they often had nine and even 10 men in the box as they walked safeties down but I don’t think you’ll see much of this against Alabama.

One on One I Wanna Play That Game Tonight: The teams that have slowed down Amari Cooper the best played a ton of zone. Ohio State plays very, very little zone. Good times…

Orinoco Flow: That’s right, I just went Enya on ya. Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota all made yards in the running game by starting the flow going one way and then cutting back or countering against the flow. There should be big yards available here. The OSU ends crash down hard so this vacates the edge and allows for cut backs and bouncing outside.

Radar Love: Joey Bosa had better be in Blake Sims’ radar at every snap. Bosa is outstanding at getting upfield and turning outside plays back inside and he disengages from blockers easily. Basically, Bama should either run away from Bosa or target his end position directly (allowing for more of a head up block rather than an influence or reach block). FYI – he had 20 TFLs and 13.5 sacks and you absolutely cannot block him with TE.

Slots of Fun: Against Wisconsin, Ohio State struggled MIGHTILY to cover anyone in the slot. Tyvis Powell (#23) got burned repeatedly so look for him to get exposed Thursday night. At corner, look for Armani Reeves to get targeted, as well. Additionally, OSU failed to even cover the Badger TE when he flexed out to the slot, giving up 10 uncontested yards on 3rd & 2.

At First You Should Succeed: Look for Alabama to throw on first downs quite a bit as Ohio State plays a very traditional, safe defense on first downs.

The Way We Swing: Michigan effectively used swing passes out to their backs throughout their game against the Buckeyes. Ohio State’s linebackers typically failed in pass coverage so…paging TJ Yeldon….

Tidebits

  • In three games, I didn’t see the Buckeyes get beaten by a traditional screen to the running back one single solitary time. Very well coached.
  • Unlike Auburn’s defense, Ohio State’s run fits are very sound and solid. Again, well coached.
  • One of my notes says “seriously, slot receivers are wide ass open.” I’d imagine Amari may line up in the slot quite a bit.
  • I have another note saying “there’s tons of room in the Ohio State secondary. This should be a pass first offense which is basically what we’ve been all season anyway.   Advantage Alabama.
  • Michigan and Minnesota used the QB draw against the Ohio State defense with deadly results. Blake Sims should have some opportunities in the running game.
  • Look for Amari Cooper to have a huge game. Also, big backs like Derrick Henry had a lot of success between the tackles against Ohio State. I think there will be several opportunities for big plays Thursday night.

Alabama on Defense

As we said in the intro, you know that Nick Saban and Kirby Smart have been licking their chops to construct a defense against a third string quarterback making only his second career start. There isn’t a whole lot of game film to analyze when breaking down Cardale Jones (and he will be the key to Ohio State winning or losing) but I have to say that what we saw in the Wisconsin game is certainly impressive.

At 6’5 and 250 lbs, Jones is a completely different animal from Braxton Miller and J.T. Barrett and it’s quickly evident as to why he was the third string QB on the Buckeye roster.   While Miller and Barrett threatened defenses with the speed runs to the outside, Jones is a much bigger and therefore slower trigger man. However, what he can’t do with his feet, he certainly does with his arm. Wearing the #12 jersey, Jones has the nickname of “12 gauge” and when you watch him sling the rock, you understand why – the kid absolutely has a gun.

In the Wisconsin game, Urban Meyer had Jones getting the ball out of his hands on short, quick throws to his wide receivers on curls and hitches. Then, after forcing the corners to come up, Jones stood tall in the pocket and easily flipped the ball down the field to #9, Devin Smith, who adjusted to the underthrown balls. I can tell you that Jones holds the ball a long time and, when his first read isn’t there, he seems to take a bit of time to come off his #1 receiver. That should be where the Bama defense takes it to the Buckeyes.

OH-NO…: Nick Saban will certainly be varying the looks that he gives the sophomore quarterback and he’ll mix in blitzes with four man rushes, forcing Jones to try and figure out what Alabama is doing on defense. Rest assured, Alabama will stuff the running game of Ezekial Elliot so the game will hinge on the right arm of Cardale Jones. This should certainly favor the Tide. At the end of this game, Buckeye fans should be yelling “O-H” to be answered with “N-O!”

Same as it Ever Was: This Once in a Lifetime game for Cardale Jones is old hat for veteran coaches of Urban Meyer and Nick Saban. And, for Meyer, when you watch his offense it isn’t a whole lot different than the Tebow-led Florida Gators bunch from 2008 and 2009. You still see the H-back/TE motion like you saw with Aaron Hernandez and you still see the short, quick passing game that tries to get their speedy players in space. Luckily for us, Saban has seen all this before and is likely one of the reasons he was pleased with this matchup.

Wide Open Spaces: From this season, the Ohio State offense resembles the Mississippi State offense almost perfectly. Alabama slammed the door shut on the running game but State found success in getting the ball out to their backs and throwing deep to their WRs. Look for Ohio State to come out four wide, as MSU did, and try to get the ball out to their backs out of the backfield. If Alabama’s defense has a weakness, it’s pass coverage with their LBs and this is likely where OSU will attack. That and…

Proud Mary: After watching Auburn and Mizzou roast the Tide secondary deep, look for Meyer to use the big arm of Jones to throw Hail Marys down the field in an effort to duplicate the Tigers success. Meyer had Jones throwing deep often against Wisconsin and while the results were there, the passes were woefully underthrown. Devin Smith was 3 for 3 in catching 50/50 balls. However, I look for Alabama’s safeties to have two picks in this game on underthrown passes (or Jones throwing high which he has a tendency to do).

Speed Racer: The Big 10 is knocked for not having speed but Devin Smith and Ezekial Elliot are extremely fast. They run Elliot a lot between the tackles but they also run him off the edge, a la Ole Miss or Auburn on the sweeps. Thankfully, Alabama rarely, if ever, gives up much yardage here. And, OSU has had to revamp their running attack with the losses of Miller and Barrett – Jones does not run very well at all.

Young Guns: The Buckeyes started four new OL this season and they’ve given up a ton of pressure against a few teams – most notably Virginia Tech. Look for Alabama’s front four to be very effective in controlling the line of scrimmage.

Hurt: In all three games I watched, I saw the Ohio State offensive line commit false start penalties. I suspect the Superdome crowd will be 70-30 in favor of the good guys so I think this environment will cause the Buckeyes numerous problems. Also, the Buckeyes had to burn multiple early timeouts and even had to take a delay of game on a punt – little things like this can be big things on a stage like the Sugar Bowl.

Twelve Blind Mice: I really don’t think Jones (#12) makes a read in the OSU zone reads. I think it’s a straight blind give. He also threw into double coverage a couple of times against Wisconsin. Sometimes he shows his youth and makes some questionable decisions – again, this should strongly favor the Tide.

Tidebits

  • I really liked what A’shawn Robinson did against Missouri and I think these last four weeks have done wonders for his health. I look for him to dominate Thursday night.
  • In fact, Alabama holds an advantage across the entire defensive line of scrimmage so I would be shocked if Ohio State is able to run the ball. So….
  • If they can’t run the ball, then the entire game falls onto the shoulders of a sophomore QB making only his second start in his career.
  • If DePriest or Ragland gets locked up on Elliot then that’s not gonna be good for Alabama at all. Oftentimes Saban/Smart match up Collins or Perry on the running backs out of the backfield so it will be interesting to see how that plays out Thursday.
  • You’d think Alabama would blitz the bejeezus out of Jones but somehow I expect the Tide to be patient between the 20 yard lines and only bring pressure in situations where they think they can disrupt the passing game.
  • With three plus weeks to prepare combined with a winning history against Urban Meyer (and his protégée Dan Mullen), the X&O advantage has to go to Nick Saban. And, the offense that Alabama is running today is completely and totally different than the one that Meyer saw when he last faced Alabama.

Special Teams

Both teams feature strong kicking games so I think this should be basically even. Of course, big returns can swing the momentum one way or another. Ohio State is 20th in kickoff returns (Bama is 54th) and 18th in punt returns so this could be a factor in an upset by the Buckeyes.

In net punting, Alabama ranks 2nd in the country but Ohio State is actually 6th. And, Ohio State is 16th in kickoff coverage while Alabama is 88th. This is a decided advantage to the Buckeyes. This could play a huge role…but let’s hope not!

One interesting thing I saw was that OSU nearly had two rugby punts blocked and after three weeks of film study it’s conceivable that Bama will go after a couple of punts.

Conclusion

Statistically and numerically, Ohio State offers up a ton of impressive numbers that would give most folks pause. However, when you watch them play you realize that they have been the beneficiary of a substandard conference and a substandard schedule. The few decent opponents they have faced have given them a world of trouble so it’s very difficult for me to imagine that Ohio State will come out ahead in this game. In order to pull off the upset, Ohio State will need to win the turnover battle and connect on more than a couple of deep throws in order to generate some points. Additionally, their advantages in the kicking game could produce some scores, as well. But…

In watching the back seven of the Ohio State defense, you find a ton of holes that should be exploited. Alabama will put up a high number of points which should shift the weight of the game to the right arm of Cardale Jones. I just don’t see any way that Jones can get the better of the Tide. I don’t see any way that Meyer can get the better of Saban. And there is simply no way that Ohio State is the better team than Alabama when they are relying on their third string quarterback.   While Alabama has lost the last two Sugar Bowls, this should be a historical win for the Tide in New Orleans!

Final: Alabama 41   Ohio State 16

A True Christmas Miracle

Please pardon this interruption of the football blog but, at a time when the nation seems to be completely overrun by anger and hatred, I feel compelled to share with you all a wonderful story of a true Christmas Miracle.  While we read about tragic, senseless deaths that are resulting in even more tragic and senseless deaths, I’d like to tell you a story about a couple who have chosen life.  They’ve chosen to breathe a life into someone who is much less fortunate than the rest of us…

Earlier this summer, my wife and I were on our way back from a trip when we happened to share a cab with a sweet family from South Carolina.  We struck up a conversation with Brent and Claire and, as with most of my conversations, Brent and I quickly found a common ground by talking football – specifically, Clemson football – and after two or three hours we’d become fast friends.  Brent reached out to me via Facebook and suddenly a two or three-hour conversation turned into a great little Facebook friendship.

About two weeks ago, I saw a post from him saying that he and Claire decided that they weren’t going to celebrate Christmas this year.  I was intrigued so I clicked the “more” button and what I found was that this couple was doing far more for a human being than most anyone else I’ve ever heard of.  Brent and Claire were providing a true to life Christmas miracle.

A 58-year-old homeless person named Tony had spent the last year living in a shed behind Claire’s business partner’s office.  He’d actually been homeless for over three years until the business partner suggested that Tony take refuge in the shed to get out of the weather.  Unlike the typical homeless people that you see with their hands out at busy intersections, Tony’s only request was to simply ask for work.  Even at his age, the former Navy veteran still had a valuable carpentry skill set and the drive to put forth an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay but, of course, not many people were willing to take a chance that a homeless person could have any real value.  That is, until Brent and Claire happened along…

Brent owns a condo that had been a home to some exceptionally bad tenants.  These folks left behind a hurricane’s worth of damage but Brent found a way to turn his bad fortune into someone else’s good fortune – and that person is Tony.

Brent and Claire decided to pack up Tony’s belongings, which were little more than a knapsack, and they moved Tony into their condo where he now works to repair the damages in return for food and free rent.  In my eyes, it’s an amazing act of kindness and one I would have never considered!  But, here is a couple who decided that instead of spending money on gifts for Christmas, they’d invest in the greatest gift they could provide someone – hope.

After Brent posted this amazing story on Facebook, there has been an outpouring of love and support from many, many different places.  Offerings of food, clothing, bedding and an array of other items have been coming in from friends, family and people they don’t even know.  In a time when the world seems so full of violence, hatred and anger, it’s heartwarming to come across a story that renews your faith in your fellow-man.  When I asked recently about what Tony needs now, Brent simply said, “encouragement.”

So, as you enjoy this Christmas time with your friends and your families, I’d encourage you to remember this story and give an act of kindness whenever and wherever you see fit.  Whether it’s a donation to a Salvation Army bell-ringer or giving the gift of food to someone less fortunate, maybe if we can collectively give an outpouring of good deeds we can make a little difference in this world – especially at a time when we all could use an uplifting story this holiday season.

Update:  Here is the news story (click here) about this wonderful act of giving.  After this clip ran, Tony was offered a job!!!!  What a tremendous Christmas story!

The Lighthouse staff would like to take this time to wish you and your loved ones happy holidays and a very Merry Christmas!

SEC Championship Game Review – Adieu Mizzou

When the clock hit 0:00 and hundreds of blue and yellow streamers descended from the ceiling, it occurred to me that this wonderful moment wasn’t really about Alabama beating Missouri or winning their unprecedented 24th SEC championship.  Instead, it was about the Alabama head coach who proudly grabbed the microphone away from Allie LaForce so that he could beam about his newest championship team.  And, Nick Saban should be immensely proud of this team because they are the result of the finest coaching job that he’s done in his many years of being a head football coach.

Teams are funny things.  Sometimes a team can be composed of a group of tremendously talented players – an embarrassment of riches that should honestly never lose a game.  Yet, that same team can fall short of every single goal they set out to achieve.  The 2010 Alabama football team had a treasure trove of exceptional football players.  Thirteen players from their two deep on defense are in the NFL today.  Twelve offensive players were drafted into the NFL, eleven of which are still in the league.  All told, 25 players off the two deep roster of this team made an opening day roster in the NFL…and yet this team finished with a very disappointing 10-3 record.  When everyone isn’t marching to the beat of the same drummer, teams can find themselves offbeat.

However, the pride and joy of Nick Saban’s 2014 team is its ability to work together and operate with one collective heartbeat.  You may recall that in February Saban mentioned to the leadership council the need to “get players to buy in” in 2014.  Brian Vogler quickly spoke up and said, “We need to get players to WANT to buy in.”  One simple word.  One simple message.  One simple thought can change an average group of players into one great team.  What Saban and his staff (and don’t underestimate the value of Kiffin here) set out to do in February, they saw come to fruition in December.  This game was less about overcoming the Tigers and more about overcoming the mindset that had led to disappointing defeats.  Mission accomplished.

Alabama on Offense

I apologize for getting this review out to you all in such a late fashion.  The beauty of having a blog is that there are no deadlines and there are no editors banging away at you for content.  Unfortunately, that’s also the detriment of the blog as writing can only flow when it’s given time to pour out and flourish.  Given the late date of this posting, this will probably not be one of those flourishing times but I hope to use the off time before the bowl, er, semi-final playoff game to post more pictures and diagrams of how the Tide was so successful in this game and during this season.  For now, please accept the abridged version of the game review and know that more is on the way…

  • Why were we in road whites again?   The #1 team in the country can’t wear their home crimson jerseys?  Blasphemous.  Ok, moving on….
  • Alabama won the toss and elected to score in 3:36. Loved it.  But, has Danielson seen us play?  We’ve used hurry up throughout the year and not because Auburn had some success against Missouri with it last year!
  • This game, more than any other, featured strong play action to one side to create flow only to see Alabama drag a player against that flow in the opposite direction for a big gainer. The game opened up with Jalston Fowler on a little play action boot and then saw Amari Cooper and Christion Jones catch passes as they ran behind the line of scrimmage against the flow of the play.
  • As we stated going into the game, Mizzou is perfectly comfortable in giving up short passes – hence the 12 catches for just 83 yards. Credit Kiffin for designing a play that would cause the safety to jump a Cooper crossing route, leaving DeAndrew White open for a 58 yard bomb.
  • I plan to diagram this later but there’s a reason safeties and corners often jump the wrong routes when they are in their zone concepts. Kiffin oftentimes will run patterns that are in direct lines with one another and the quarterback.  On the above play, Sims’ eyes appeared to take him to Cooper but White’s pattern was directly behind Cooper and within the same sight line.  Later, Sims found Jones in the seam when his eyes followed Cooper on the slant and then led him to the open white jersey behind Coop’s pattern.  This has happened time and time again but, put simply, the patterns lead Sims’ eyes to the next pattern in the progression so it’s impossible to read which receiver will get the ball.  I’ll diagram this and it will make more sense, I promise!
  • I will also diagram this for you guys but hopefully I can make it make a little sense right now. We talked about how aggressive the Mizzou defensive ends were and how Bama could take advantage of this.  They did.  Many times, they left the DE unblocked which allowed the Bama tackles (Shepherd and Robinson) to make their way out to the second level.  As the DE raced upfield, Alabama brought Brian Vogler or OJ Howard over to “trap block” them – this opened a huge running lane that was exploited time and time again.
  • On TJ Yeldon’s two touchdowns, I loved the fact that he didn’t pitter-patter his feet. Instead, he took the ball and hit the hole hard each time.  Loved seeing this out of Yeldon.
  • How about Blake Sims’ ability to hang in the pocket and deliver the ball, knowing he was going to get popped. The bomb to DeAndrew White was a thing of beauty and when Sims let it go, I think he knew he was going to get jacked.  He also hung in the pocket til the last instant on a throw down the outside seam to Jones and on a jump pass thrown to a crossing Cooper.  This was the first time I’ve really seen Sims wait inside the pocket and allow his progressions to work themselves free…
  • And once again, Kiffin raised his arms signaling a touchdown long before Sims launched the ball deep down the field to White. That’s so cool…
  • I think my favorite play was a new wrinkle that Kiffin came up with to get two massive lead blockers in front of Cooper. The play starts with Cooper motioning towards Sims, who is in the pistol look but with the addition of big Jalston Fowler to his left.  It’s kind of like an off-set I formation from the pistol.  At the snap, the ball is pitched forward to Coop and he allows 250 lb Fowler and 240 pound Henry to get out in front of him on what ends up being a student body left sweep.  Love getting the two big tanks out in front of the fleet-footed (but patient) Coop!
  • Once again, when the opponent closed within one score, Alabama answered on the very next drive. It’s uncanny how they are able to answer scores immediately.  Once Mizzou closed to within 21-13, Bama outgained them 225-65, and outscored the Tigers 21-0 the rest of the game.
  • I think there were a few “business decisions” late in the game that resulted in some Tiger defenders not getting in the way of big Derrick Henry. I need to diagram the touchdown that put Bama up 35-13.
  • It was fun to watch the offense early in the game as they turned the “Show Me” state into the “Fool Me” state. Kiffin trotted out four wide receivers and then would run the ball.  Then, he’d send in multiple tight ends and/or a fullback and would take to the air.  The Mizzou defense was off-balance all afternoon long.

Alabama on Defense

In the interests of time, I won’t spend a lot of space or effort breaking down the defense.  If you saw the game, then you know the defensive front six absolutely dominated the Missouri Tigers offensive line.  Sometimes the box score doesn’t tell the story but this time, it certainly does.  Missouri rushed 23 times for only 41 yards as Bama’s front line spent most of the afternoon in the Tigers’ backfield.  The only play that worked for the Mizzou offense was a backyard “go deep and I’ll run around and throw it as far as I can” kind of Hail Mary and, much to our dismay, this worked three different times.  Passes to Jimmie Hunt for 32, 63, 47 accounted for 142 of their 272 yards – that’s a staggering 52% of the offense!  And while that number certainly indicates how brutal those Hail Mary’s were, it also speaks to the otherwise inept offense that the Tigers had during the rest of the day.  Those three plays averaged 47 yards per play but the other 53 plays averaged just 2.41 yards per play.  Wow.  Here are a few things that stood out to me…

  • A’shawn Robinson had his most dominating performance of the season. Plagued by injuries early in the season, Mr Robinson owned the Georgia Dome neighborhood all day long.  He led the Crimson Tide with nine tackles, including three for a loss and was also credited with a hurry and at times would penetrate 3, 4 and 5 yards into the Missouri backfield.    The next three weeks should allow him to get even more healthy so Buckeyes beware.  And God help the pourous Oregon offensive line if Robinson gets to line up against that bunch.
  • Alabama continues to turn the opponent’s red zone into the dead zone. The Tigers reached the Dead Zone on three occasions but had to settle for just one touchdown and two field goals.  In today’s game of football, field goals are the equivalent to a punt so kudos to the Tide defense for standing strong once again.  FYI – amazingly, Alabama has given up ONE rushing touchdown in their last five games.
  • One Saturday it’s Eddie Jackson giving up big plays and then the next week it’s Geno Smith. Mizzou went after Smith with Hunt all afternoon long – targeting eight times with four completions for 111 yards.  Meanwhile, Jackson appeared to be targeted only four times, giving up two completions for 33 yards.
  • Bama’s front four were amazing. Not only did they destroy the running plays, they also flushed Mauk numerous times forcing throw aways and Hail Marys.  Dickson and Anderson were particularly good at applying pressure…
  • As Auburn did with Quan Bray, Missouri motioned a back out of the backfield out wide and he ended up being single covered by Reggie Ragland. If I were Ohio State, I’d attack this.
  • I thought Hunt pushed off on two of the three Hail Mary’s. One was blatant.
  • There was a beautiful defensive play that most folks probably missed. With the Tigers threatening on the Alabama 15, they faked a bubble screen and slipped Hunt down the sidelines to the end zone.  The hope was that Bama would bite on the screen but they didn’t – the Tide secondary played this perfectly, forcing a check down pass for one yard.
  • I thought DJ Pettway and Dalvin Tomlinson were very effective on the inside.
  • Alabama continued using just one linebacker as they often flanked Ragland out beyond the defensive ends. No one has been able to run on this look that they’ve been using since the Mississippi State game and that’s a credit to the front four.
  • I think on the touchdown, Bama’s secondary was supposed to be in combo coverage which switches on crossing routes. It appeared two of the three Tide defenders played combo while one (Geno Smith) played straight man and this allowed the pick play to work.
  • How about JK Scott getting that punt off after the low snap? Pretty smooth under pressure by the true freshman!
  • Since Mizzou was so inept at running the football, it was pretty interesting that they stuck with it even late in the ballgame. Show Me how to run down that clock, Mizzou!
  • During the broadcast, Gary Danielson mentioned how Oklahoma’s loss to Ok State actually hurt both Baylor and TCU. No one else mentioned that but he was so right.  Also, he correctly predicted FSU in the #3 spot.

Final Thoughts

How perfect was it that Blake Sims ended up getting the MVP trophy?  The kid who everyone questioned going into the season actually set a championship game record for completion percentage by completing 23 of 27 passes (85.2%).  That’s amazing to me.  And after Sims received his curtain call, it was easy to see how his teammates responded to him when Collins, Fowler, Ivory, Saban, Kiffin and others embraced the senior.  The Kiffin hug was particularly poignant as they shared a long embraced that seem to be a thank you both from coach to player and from player to coach.  What a moment…

And while Allie LaForce was on stage and accidentally proclaiming the Alabama Crimson Tide as “national” champions, Kiffin was over 50 yards away simply playing with three blonde little kids that clearly belonged to him.  Somehow I found this to be fascinating – the man who was as responsible as anyone for the team’s success was more interested in playing with his kids than he was basking in the glow of the spotlights.

But the thought that stayed with me long after we left the Georgia Dome was the sight of Bill Battle holding up the SEC Championship trophy with Nick Saban.  It was usually Mal Moore who got to share this special moment with Saban, and somehow you knew that Mal was upstairs smiling down on the successes for the coach and the AD that he selected to continue the Alabama tradition.

W2W4 – The SEC Champion Edition

A few weeks ago, following Alabama’s loss to Ole Miss and then their narrow escape in Fayettville, not many people would have predicted that Alabama would be ranked #1 in the country and playing for yet another SEC Championship.  I’m not breaking any news here but this year has absolutely been Nick Saban’s best coaching job at Alabama to date.  He’s taken a former running back and turned him into a solid quarterback and in order to do that, Saban had to take make a reclamation project out of Lane Kiffin.  I’m not sure which odds were worse – Sims to perform at a high rate at quarterback or Lane Kiffin to direct a highly successful offense.  But, somehow and some way Saban has culled it all together to produce the nation’s best collegiate football team.

Across the field, almost as improbably, Gary Pinkel has the Missouri Tigers back in the SEC championship for the second year in a row.  Less than a Big 12 stalwart, somehow Missouri has easily navigated the SEC East going 14-2 in the SEC over the last two years.  That’s amazing.  Even more amazing is the fact that a 3-9 Indiana Hoosiers team beat Missouri earlier in the year.  Now, this same Tigers team is in Atlanta and is the last remaining hurdle to keep Alabama out of the playoffs.  We’re pressed for time so, after watching Missouri play A&M and Arkansas, here’s the best W2W4 we have time to cobble together before we head to the Georgia Dome…

Alabama on Offense

Here are a few tidbits that you’ll need to know about the Missouri Tigers when they are on defense.  First, they are extremely sound both in their run fits and in their coverages.  This is a well coached team that doesn’t allow the gaffes that we saw last week against the Auburn Tigers.  Also, they are athletic – they like to sit in a zone and allow their front four (especially their two defensive ends) to wreak havoc on the offensive line.  When you watch them play defense the best comparison I can give you is Ole Miss as they played a very, very similar style of defense (and you all know how that went).

Statistically, their defensive stats bear out exactly what I saw on tape.  Here are a few numbers that stood out to me:

  • #1 in the conference in getting sacks
  • #16 in the nation in total defense (Alabama is 11th)
  • #35 in the nation against the pass (Alabama is 54th)
  • #26 in the nation against the run (Alabama is #2)
  • #20 in the nation in turnover margin (Alabama is #72)

So, if you have seen them play or you’re good at math (or if you can just read this article), then you should realize that Alabama is going to have to earn each and every yard they get versus the Tigers.  Here are some other notes we gleaned from 8 hours of watching the Show Me bunch…

Tidebits

  • Mizzou plays a very sound 4-3 defense that utilizes zone pass coverage combined with speed rushing defensive ends. The  speed rushers can be encouraged/influenced upfield so draws, QB draws/runs and any runs to their vacated area should be available.
  • Their defensive front is small like Ole Miss’ so you’ll hear me screaming to run the @#$@#@ ball repeatedly.
  • And, we are now a pass first team so I fully expect to be frustrated throughout much of the game.
  • The windows to throw into their zone are much more open than the windows of the Ole Miss Bear Rebels with slants and square ins being available. Hunter Henry (TE for Arky) was open quite a bit but at this point mentioning OJ Howard is about as pointless as diagramming plays for Ozzie Newsome.
  • Wide receiver screens should be available.
  • The Tiger linebackers take deeeeeeeeeep drops so look for some underneath routes from the backs and, dare I say, tight end during the game. The short flats were wide open consistently.
  • The Mizzou LBs come up to stop the run with reckless abandon so play action should be effective if and only if we’ve established the threat of the run.
  • Shane Ray (#56) leads the conference in sacks and his best move is the outside/in move against the tackle. He arcs outside as if to speed rush but then knifes inside, beating the tackle easily.  He’s outstanding.
  • I’d concentrate my running plays between the tackles. With few exceptions, Missouri’s defense is able to get to the edges with numbers so the best attack would be to take them head on at the point of attack.
  • Missouri’s front four weighs: 260, 280, 295 and 245.  Ends Ray and Golden look like our linebackers.  This is why I’ll be begging Alabama to run the @#$@#$% ball!

Alabama on Defense

This matchup should be the difference in the game.  While Alabama has a fairly prolific offense, Missouri is downright anemic.  Here are some stats to marinate on as you get your popcorn ready for the game:

  • Missouri is 12th in the conference in total offense (11th in passing, 8th in rushing)
  • Against Florida, Missouri rushed for 99 yards and passed for 20. TWENTY!
  • Against Georgia, the Tigers rushed for 50 and passed for 97.

As you can see, when Mizzou has encountered a decent defense, they more than struggle.  Again, the Missouri Tigers offense will remind you of the Ole Miss offense where all of the runs are from the shotgun and all of them are designed to get to the outside of the defense.  Alabama has never, ever had any trouble in stuffing these types of runs.  I didn’t see a lot of push from the Tigers’ OL so I look for Bama’s front to dominate this matchup just as Florida, Georgia and, for the first half, Arkansas did.

Missouri does have a couple of outstanding wide receivers so if Maty Mauk can get the ball in the general area then they will be able to make plays vertically in the passing game.  However, the Bama safeties will not be concerned with the Tigers’ running game so their ability to help in the passing game will be sure to not allow Alabama to give up another 4 million yards of passing.  Here are some other notes…

Tidebits

  • Mauk is a 53% passer.   Good.  His short stature doesn’t allow him to see the field well so he blindly flings the ball around whether it makes sense or not.  In the two games I watched, I saw SEVEN batted balls (not his but, rather, the football) so keep an eye on that.
  • Mauk will check his first read and maybe his second one but, after that, he tucks and runs. He’s an adept runner so Bama may use a lot of the “mush rush” principals once again during this game.  However…
  • The Missouri right tackle is AWFUL! Against Arkansas alone he was beaten like a rented mule on six different occasions.  So, I’d like to see Bama put an edge rusher and let him play sic em around the Tigers’ right tackle.
  • There are two favored plays in the Missouri offense – the wide receiver screen (seen five times against Arky) and the swing pass to the running backs (seen five times). So, our linebackers are going to have to play well in coverage against their backs.
  • Speaking of their backs, their top running back (#32 Russel Hansbrough) was seen being carted off last week after suffering a severe ankle injury at the end of the game. Word is that he’ll play but he may not be 100%.  This is a major development.
  • Missouri loves throwing the quick slants to #21 Bud Sasser (6’3). Look for a Bama linebacker to get into the passing lane and make a play here.
  • Their deep threat receiver is #88 Jimmy Hunt and they will stretch the field with him at least three times during the game. Against Arkansas he dropped two balls before he finally hauled in a juggling catch for a big gainer.  He’s hit or miss but he could be a problem down the field.
  • Alabama will dominate in short yardage situations. Missouri’s line is athletic but they are not physically dominant at the point of attack – Arkansas pushed them back repeatedly.
  • Mauk runs the zone read with the backs but, frankly, I have no idea what he’s reading. I think the play is called and he just gives the perception of reading it b/c he consistently makes the wrong decisions here.
  • Look for Alabama to play press man to eliminate the quick, easy throws. The vast majority of the Tigers’ offense is predicated on quick, short throws and when those are taken away Mauk panics and makes very, very, very bad decisions.

Alabama on Special Teams

We hope the two weeks off have been good to Adam Griffith because after watching Conor Rayborn’s low kick get blocked it’s obvious that Griffith is our Obi Wan Kenobi – he’s our only hope.  Both Griffith and Baggett come into the game hitting a mere 67% of their kicks and Baggett has had a particularly rough patch recently.  I’ll say this is a draw but if Griffith is close to healthy then this is an edge for Bama.

JK Scott leads the world in punting so that will help the Tide flip the field consistently.  However, look out for the Missouri return game – they are ranked 2nd in the conference in kick off returns and 4th in the conference in punt returns.  As a good friend of mine pointed out, Alabama seems to be required to give up a huge return on special teams each and every time they play in the Georgia Dome so look out!

 

Conclusion

Before I sat down to watch Missouri, I assumed that Alabama would win this game by at least 20 points.  But, after watching them play Texas A&M and Arkansas, I can’t help but give much due respect to the Tigers’ defense because it is very, very impressive.  But, while their schemes remind me of Ole Miss, the Mizzou D simply is not quite as good on the back-end.  And offensively, the Tigers have put up some massive stinkers against the two decent defenses they’ve faced and they looked rather pedestrian against Arkansas, as well.

At the end of the day, you have to look at Missouri’s offensive failures against Florida and Georgia and understand that the Tigers’ offense should have even more difficulty moving the ball against the Crimson Tide.  Alabama’s physicality along both the offensive and defensive lines should eventually win the game but I think it will take a while before Alabama gets their footing offensively.

 

Final Score:  Alabama 27                Missouri 13

Anatomy of a Derrick Henry 25 Yard Touchdown Run

This was probably my favorite play of the game to break down.  Keep in mind that, at this point, Cam Robinson left the game due to a shoulder injury so Austin Shepherd (#79) was forced to move from right tackle to left tackle.  The footwork at left tackle is completely different than when you are on the right side so what Austin Shepherd did here was remarkable.

In the first slide, you can see the end zone look at Alabama’s formation and you can see how Auburn matched up against it.  Auburn’s Jonathan Mincy (#6) is responsible for containing the left edge and to do that, he’ll have to take on big Jalston Fowler.  Spoiler alert – Mincy will lose this battle.  Mincy is in the white jersey furthest to the left.

Henry Run

In this next slide, you can begin to see how this play is going to unfold.  Fowler will kick Mincy outside, creating the outside of Derrick Henry’s running lane.  Brandon Greene, playing the role of a 300 lb tight end, is assigned to the defensive end directly across from him and Greene does a lovely job of turning his man to the inside.  While Green performs his block, Austin Shepherd pulls around to lead Henry into the hole.

Henry Run 1

Here’s the sideline view of the play as it begins to take shape.  Notice that Shepherd is working his way around the block of Greene at the tight end position.  Mincy is in good shape here but Fowler will take care of that very soon.

Henry Run2

This is where things get fun.  At the bottom of the screen, Fowler has locked up on Mincy.  Shepherd (circled) has maneuvered around Greene’s block and has an angle on the Auburn linebacker who is in pursuit.  With the linebacker and safety coming up to attack the hole and Austin Shepherd, things look good here for Auburn to stop this play.  But, notice that Fowler and Greene have engaged in their blocks very, very well.  The only two Tigers who can stop this play are in the path of our converted right tackle…

Henry Run 6

Here, you can see the running lane that Henry used to score from 25 yards out.  Fowler is holding his block on Mincy and Shepherd takes out the two Auburn defenders in one fell swoop.  The result – TOUCHDOWN!

Derrick Henry Run7

This was a beautifully blocked play and was the final death knell to the Auburn Tigers.

Derrick Henry8